There's little doubt Josh Hancock was a better fit for cities like St. Louis and Cincinnati than for Boston and Philadelphia, where he played earlier in his career. Hancock made his offseason home in St. Louis, and delighted in living in the city where he played ball. He attended hockey games and other public events, and was the sort of "regular-guy" player that not only teammates, but fans and media as well, took easily to.
A fierce competitor, Josh Hancock surely hated to lose -- or even to give up a run. That aspect of his personality fit in anywhere and everywhere. But personally, he was more the easy-going type, Mississippi-born and Alabama-schooled. The pace in the Midwest was a little better fit for him.
When the Cardinals staged the premiere of MLB Productions' world championship video, Hancock was the only active player who attended. He was around, and he was free, so he figured, why not? "I was just coming here for the DVD, hopefully sneak in the shadows and just watch it," he said at the time.
Josh Hancock leaves behind both of his parents as well as a brother and sister. His sister, Katie, is a star high school basketball player who reportedly may attend Auburn -- like her brother did for a year. His brother, Jon Jon, played baseball at the University of Mississippi.
Many Cardinals counted Hancock as a friend, but especially his mates in the bullpen. The group grew close throughout 2006, and many of the same faces returned in '07. With teammates, he was approachable.
With reporters, he was honest. He was unafraid to say what was on his mind, even from day one in a new organization. After Hancock was let go by the Reds, he didn't hesitate to tell the truth about how he felt about it. "There's a lot of bitterness," he said on his first day in Cards camp in 2006. "It still kind of stings. But I definitely think I was made an example of. It was just a shot across the bow, to the other players, to let them know that they've got to come in and be in shape and be ready."
After a play in September when he didn't cover first base as quickly as he might have, Hancock offered this honest assessment: "I'm a slow person, and I got there as quick as I could." In an increasingly regimented and corporate world of professional sports, such candor is increasingly rare and always refreshing. He wasn't a cheap-shot artist, but he told the truth.
He was a NASCAR fan, having grown up not far from the massive, famous Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Coincidentally, Hancock passed just hours before the Nextel Cup Series was set to run its first 2007 race at the track he visited numerous times.
Just this spring, Hancock tried to finagle a way to get from Jupiter, Fla., the Cardinals' Spring Training home, to Daytona Beach for the Daytona 500. He didn't make it, but the effort was surely there.
And that was pretty emblematic of how he went about a lot of things. Hancock enjoyed himself and had fun with the opportunities he was given.
He was a NASCAR fan, having grown up not far from the massive, famous Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Coincidentally, Hancock passed just hours before the Nextel Cup Series was set to run its first 2007 race at the track he visited numerous times. Just this spring, Hancock tried to finagle a way to get from Jupiter, Fla., the Cardinals' Spring Training home, to Daytona Beach for the Daytona 500. He didn't make it, but the effort was surely there. And that was pretty emblematic of how he went about a lot of things. Hancock enjoyed himself and had fun with the opportunities he was given.
The men who celebrated the 2006 World Series championship with Josh Hancock remembered him Sunday as a likeable, approachable teammate and good friend. Hancock pitched for four teams in his Major League career, playing with plenty of acquaintances, friends and teammates. From day one in St. Louis, he seemed to fit in, and he was happy to welcome new teammates into the fold as they arrived.
"He was my card-playing buddy and we hung out quite a bit," said Mariner and former Cardinal Jeff Weaver, who bonded with Hancock even though the two only played together for four months. "He was easy to talk to," Weaver said. "Very sociable. He enjoyed people's company and hanging out with guys. Baseball was what he was about."
Weaver received a call on Sunday morning from Cardinals reliever Randy Flores. "It's definitely a phone call I've never had before," Weaver said. "You always see it every day, but somebody like that where you've enjoyed one of the best experiences of your life with, it kind of sets you back."
The '06 world championship team was assembled from a wide range of different places, and Hancock was emblematic of how that club came together. Released by the Reds in Spring Training, he signed with St. Louis and went on to enjoy a fine season as a Cardinal. Weaver, like Hancock, was let go by his previous team -- traded by the Angels after being designated for assignment.
Cardinals starter Braden Looper, the team's player representative, spent the '06 season in the bullpen with Hancock before moving into the starting rotation. He addressed the assembled media at Busch Stadium on Sunday afternoon. "This has obviously been a very difficult time for me and the Cardinal family," Looper said. "Josh was a great teammate and a great friend to everybody. And he was a key part of our success last year winning the World Series. We just ask that as we try to get through this as a team, that you keep Josh's family in your prayers and thoughts. It's obviously probably unimaginable on them as well."
Brewers pitcher Jeff Suppan, who pitched for the Cardinals from 2004-2006, heard from several of his ex-teammates on Sunday morning. The Cards and Brewers are scheduled to play in Milwaukee in a series starting Monday. "It's very shocking," Suppan said. "He was a good guy, kind of quiet and soft-spoken. He was part of the team. I feel for his family and the organization."
Manager Tony La Russa met with the team in the clubhouse before they headed north to Milwaukee. For La Russa, it was the second time in five years he lost one of his players, following Darryl Kile's death in 2002. "He was a lot of fun and a terrific teammate," La Russa said. "So trust me when I tell you this is brutal to go through. If it happens in your family, it's brutal. If it happens here, where you still have to perform, what this team is going to go through is...
"So, however you can, I ask for some help."