Reporters Raised Early Flags on Booze in Death of Cardinals' Pitcher

By: E&P Staff It may have ruffled a few feathers earlier in the week, but two St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriters who raised questions about alcohol likely playing a role in the death of Cardinals' baseball pitcher Josh Hancock have turned out to be on the mark, and then some.

An official report today revealed that not only was Hancock legally drunk at the time of the late night car accident -- he was also talking on a cell phone. Marijuana was also found in the car. And it was his second accident in two days.

The Post-Dispatch reporters had urged the Cardinals and readers to face the issues squarely and not sweep it under the rug.

Yesterday, Bernie Miklasz wrote: "Well, the search for truth in such terribly cruel circumstances is never easy. Some can't handle it. But others can; there is a silent faction of players who believe that exploring unpleasant truths is necessary. Some are second-guessing themselves, wondering if they could have prevented Hancock's fatal accident.

"If alcohol indeed played a role in Hancock's demise, it should be discussed, and openly. At least one Cardinals official, general manager Walt Jocketty, has displayed the courage to face up to evolving information and do just that.

"This is no time to look away. By connecting alcohol to Hancock's death, and raising awareness, then maybe, just maybe, one person will take note, and call a taxi at closing time. And if one intoxicated person does that, then something good can come of this. And it won't matter if Tony La Russa is mad, or the players are upset, or readers are canceling subscriptions."

LaRussa was arrested earlier this year for DUI.

On Wednesday, Bill McClellan anticipated the finding of booze-involvement, saying that most such accidents involving young people late at night have this component. He added the following.

Still, there has been an understandable desire to "honor Hancock's memory" by turning his death into a reprise of the death of Darryl Kile, the Cardinals pitcher who died of natural causes five years ago. Kile was a seemingly healthy young man. His death was a lightning bolt from a clear sky. Unforeseen and unavoidable.

A cultural anthropologist would not say the same about Hancock's death. He played in a stadium named after a beer, and he played for a manager who recently was arrested and charged with driving under the influence ? and who then received a standing ovation at a Florida ballpark the next morning.

Drinking and driving is part of our culture....

But maybe incremental change is all we can hope for. We have learned that a restaurant manager offered to call a cab for Hancock moments before his death. That ought to be a lesson. A rule for every drinker: If a bartender suggests a cab, you need a cab.

There are a couple of ways we can treat this story. We can do it the La Russa way. Pretend that it's sad, but sweet. After all, we don't "know" the facts. Then when the toxicology report comes in ? hey, it's already old news.

Or we can be honest about the story. It takes nothing away from Hancock's memory to say he was drinking before his fatal crash. Nice people sometimes drink and drive. That's the truth of it. And if the truth about Hancock's death causes one person to stop and think before having that one last drink before heading home, that's a good thing. If the truth causes one person to decide to take that offer of a cab, that's a good thing, too.

Dealing with this honestly is the only way to honor the memory of Josh Hancock.


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