Cubs saddened by loss of Hancock

Cubs saddened by loss of Hancock

ST. LOUIS -- When Jason Marquis was leaving Busch Stadium after Saturday's game with his family, he happened to see Josh Hancock.

Hancock was a former teammate, and one of the St. Louis Cardinals players who came onto the field for the pregame ceremony earlier that day when Marquis received his 2006 World Series ring. Marquis, now with the Cubs, had shaken Hancock's hand and given him a hug on the field. They exchanged a few hellos as they left the park.

"I happened to see him walking out of the stadium after the game," Marquis said. "I had my family here. It was, 'Hey, I'll see you tomorrow.'"

Unfortunately, and tragically, the next time Marquis heard Hancock's name, it was because the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher had died in a traffic accident early Sunday. Hancock was killed instantly when his Ford Explorer slammed into a tow truck on a highway in the St. Louis city limits around 12:35 a.m. CT on Sunday. It was a shock.

"It's even more weird because I played with him and am only a couple months removed from that," Marquis said. "Sometimes you see it where it's a guy on another team, and you don't feel it as much. This hits home a little bit -- this is your family away from your family. You get to know guys so well. It's like losing one of your own. I think everybody's strong, and we can get through this."

The Cubs were scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday night in a nationally televised game, but that was postponed. Instead, they gathered in the clubhouse for a late afternoon flight to Pittsburgh and their next series.

For most of the Cubs, their last image of Hancock was watching him pitch three innings in relief in Saturday's 8-1 win over the Cardinals. For the record, Hancock gave up one run on two hits, walked one and struck out two. The run came on Jacque Jones' RBI single in the seventh. That seemed trivial on Sunday.

"He was fun-loving, outgoing," said Marquis, who played for the Cardinals from 2004-06. "I watched the press conference [Sunday], and what Tony [La Russa] said was true, whatever job [Hancock] was handed, he took the bull by the horn without complaint. He was loved by everybody. He was one of the guys in the clubhouse everybody loves hanging around. You'd hang out for whatever it was, dinner, whatever it was, just hang out and talk."

For Cubs manager Lou Piniella, the news brought back memories of a phone call he received Aug. 2, 1979, with the news that his New York Yankees teammate Thurman Munson had died in a plane crash.

"I went through this as a player in 1979," Piniella said. "I had a phone call on an off-day, Aug. 2. Thurman Munson, a really good friend and teammate, had died in an airplane accident in Ohio. In a way, I know what those kids in that clubhouse, those young men, are going through and it's really a tough thing. A baseball team, that's your second family."

The Yankees had kept Munson's locker open for the remainder of the '79 season.

"Every time you walked into that clubhouse, it was a constant reminder," Piniella said. "You've got to go forward.

Josh Hancock, 1978-2007

"It's something that happens that people don't have explanations for but it shows you how dear and fragile life can be. We all worry about wins and losses, and when something like this happens it puts things in perspective rather quickly."

Piniella and La Russa have known each other more than 50 years, from growing up in Tampa, Fla., to their current status as Major League managers. On Sunday, there wasn't much Piniella could do for his friend.

"What words can you give somebody in a situation like this? A nice hug and a tender embrace is probably more than words can describe," Piniella said.

And after he spoke to the media, Piniella stopped by La Russa's office to offer just that.

This is the second time La Russa has had to call a family after the death of one of his players. Darryl Kile died in a Chicago hotel room in June 2002, and a circle with his initials is still in the Cardinals bullpen at new Busch Stadium.

"I couldn't imagine -- that hasn't happened to me, thank God," Piniella said about having to make that phone call not once, but twice. "You have to be a strong person. To listen to Tony having to make the phone call today, I think he described it very well when he said it was 'brutal.' I hope I never get put in that situation."

It just emphasizes how fragile life is.

"My family was just here," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said, "and the thought of what his family might be going through is really tough. It's something hard to deal with and our hearts and prayers go out to the Hancock family and to his teammates."

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry had called Piniella around 9:30 a.m. Sunday to give him the news about Hancock and Sunday's game. No makeup date has been set.

"Major League Baseball is a very close-knit fraternity and when something like this happens, it really affects everybody," Piniella said. "It's a terrible, terrible thing that happened, and we don't have any explanations for it."

How long will it take to get over the shock?

"It'll be a while, it really will," Piniella said, speaking from experience. "Whether it happens in your clubhouse or somebody else's, these clubhouses are your extended families and you create a lot of friendships and a lot of bonds. It goes to show you how fragile life is and how dear and precious it is. And really what it does, in a way, is put things in perspective -- you worry about wins and losses so much, and probably rightfully so. When something like this happens it brings you down to reality really quick."

For Marquis, it will be tough not to look at his ring or think about the 2006 season without thinking about Hancock.

"My thoughts and prayers are with his family," Marquis said. "That's a call you never want to get, being a parent myself. Playing with Josh last year was a treat, especially the season we had. He's a friend and he'll always be in my heart. My thoughts and prayers are not only with him but also with the grieving teammates he has on the other side."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.