None of us are immune from random tragedy. No teams are, either.
The Yankees lost Cory Lidle to a plane crash last year, 27 years after losing their catcher and captain, Thurman Munson to the same fate.
Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash while flying earthquake relief supplies to Nicaragua. Pelle Lindbergh, a great young goalie for the Flyers, died in a high-speed car wreck. Golfer Payne Stewart died in a plane crash.
The Indians lost Steve Olin and Tim Crews to a boating accident. The Thrashers lost Dan Snyder to a car crash that seriously injured Dany Heatley. Oriole Steve Bechler died from what was said to be a reaction to ephedra.
We always say at such times that the tragedy puts sports into perspective, exposing it for the game that it is. What we don’t add, but should, is that it also reminds us how important it is to pursue life — even the games we play — with as much joy and determination as we can, because we don’t know when life will end.
It was just five years ago that the Cardinals lost pitcher Darryl Kile to an undiagnosed heart defect. That’s an awful lot of perspective for one team to have to endure.
This is brutal to go through," said manager Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, to whom fell the heart-wrenching duty of calling Hancock’s father to tell him his son had been killed in an auto accident.
Police could say what happened — Hancock was killed instantly when he crashed into the rear of a wrecker that was parked on the highway to clean up an earlier accident. The truck’s emergency lights were flashing, and Hancock swerved just before impact.
Death is especially traumatic to sports teams, whose members feel themselves to be invincible, despite the many examples demonstrating that they are no more immune to tragic death than are any of us.
That Hancock died is shocking. That the cause of death was an auto accident should not be surprising.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for males aged 18-34 in the United States. In 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 11,149 men in that age group died in car crashes. That substantially outnumbered the second leading cause, homicide, which in the same year claimed 7,507 men in that age group.
With brutal monotony, car crashes have claimed at least 40,000 people of all ages every year for decades, the only exception being 1992, when 39,000 died. Some 16,000 of those are classified as alcohol-related, but the majority is attributed to other causes, most often driver inattention, inexperience, fatigue or a combination of those factors.
In a way, Hancock lost the cosmic lottery. Very few of us have gone through life without ever losing attention on the road or falling asleep for an instant, only to snap awake and jerk the car back onto the highway.
Hancock’s death is a reminder we shouldn’t need of what could have happened to us.
I don’t know how the Cardinals pick up the pieces and go on with a season that hasn’t been going that well to start with. They won the World Series last year, but on the field this year, they’ve struggled mightily; their record on Sunday was 10-13.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
At some point, their jobs will become important again, as they should. As I mentioned earlier, the lesson of any tragic death is that there are no guarantees. You can do everything right and still die.
You still plan for the future, but you can’t forget that today is all you can be sure of having. So you had better make the best of it, because you truly don’t know if you’ll get another chance tomorrow.
That’s the perspective tragedy should bring. It is not that games have no meaning, but that they may be all we have. The Cardinals still have their season, and at some point, they have to go after it as hard and as well as they can.
It’s what Josh Hancock would have done. It’s what he or any of us would want our teammates to do.
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