Friday, May 04, 2007

The Dark Side

The details about Josh Hancock's death are starting to come out, and they're not pretty. On Thursday, the entire Cardinals team traveled to his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi, to mourn with his family and an estimated 500 others. (Teammate Randy Flores was the only one to speak at the service, which included tributes from Hancock's sister and friends). Then they quietly filed away onto buses and got ready to head back to St. Louis with leaden hearts. On Friday, as they gear up for a set against the Astros and hope that Adam can snap them out of their funk, they, and the world, also learned the gruesome truth about Hancock's death, and it's a veritable laundry list of what not to do. This tale is still tragic, as it is any time that a young athlete is cut down in the prime of his life, but I have a feeling that Josh will not be venerated in the same way Darryl Kile was. Kile was subject to the freakish whim of nature, while Hancock seems to have played an active part in authoring his own demise.

For a start, his blood-alcohol content was 0.157, almost twice the Missouri legal limit of 0.08, and 8.55 grams of marijuana and a bong were also found in the car. He was apparently also not wearing a seatbelt and talking on his cell phone, on a notoriously tricky and twisty section of Interstate 64 in suburban St. Louis. If this isn't a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is -- quite clearly, preliminary reports that alcohol did not appear to be a factor were incorrect. It's absolutely tragic that people in general, and not just athletes, can fall prey to the high-profile, slick, reckless lifestyle and cost people the lives of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters... I suppose that the one thing we can be thankful for is that no one else was hurt. Apparently, Hancock was killed almost instantly from massive head injuries, and not even wearing a seatbelt would have saved him.

The death concluded a truly brutal opening month for the Cardinals. They're already behind expectations, dragging to a less-than-overwhelming record that currently stands at 10-16, firmly in the Central cellar and seven behind division leader Milwaukee, a surprising success story holding a strong 18-10 opening mark. Last year, the Cards roared out of the gate at 17-9 before they lost steam later, but there is hardly a more demoralizing way to begin their quest for a title defense. In a way, it seems as if the 83-win '06 squad that scratched out a ring where the 104-/105-win teams didn't was a reward for a phenomenal decade of Cardinals baseball, but everyone's older and a little more injury-prone and a little less good, and it's looking as if the Central may be open for the taking. The Cubs are still bad (I called that) but even they are better than the Cards currently. Nobody's ready to crown the Brewers the upset champs after one month of baseball, as this is a franchise without a winning season since a 92-70 run in 1992, all the way back when they were still in the American League. Things still have a long, long way to go.

On a much-needed bright side, Chris Carpenter reported no problems after a full-strength throwing session and may be on track to return to a Cardinals rotation that desperately needs him. The Randy Keisler experiment clunked, Wainwright has run into mechanical difficulty after his strong first two starts and been shelled in proceeding ones, Reyes is turning into an unqualified disaster (0-5, 5.46) and Looper, who surprisingly has been one of the stronger starters in early going, has had his recent calamities as well. The bullpen has been, well, all right, with young Ty Johnson looking untouchable (he still sports a spotless ERA) and Isringhausen being just effective enough, but the fact remains that the offense hasn't yet picked it up (although Pujols and Rolen both have shown signs of reviving) and the team is gutted by the loss of Hancock, no matter what bad choices he made that contributed to his own demise. In 2002 after Kile's death, the team picked it up and played gutsily, but I'm wondering if the current Cardinals squad can do the same. You know that La Russa will not leave any room for mediocrity, but I am sensing that the heart just may not be there this year. I do hope I'm wrong.

I still love the Cardinals. I think they all could use a hug.

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