FOR THE LONGEST time Josh Hancock couldn't find a home. The righthanded pitcher, who died on Sunday at age 29 of injuries suffered in a car accident, lasted only one season in college and was cast off by three major league organizations before landing in St. Louis, where last year he became a reliable setup man in the Cardinals' bullpen. He always had great stuff—he set a state record at Vestavia Hills ( Ala.) High with 27 straight wins—but struggled to find consistency.
An Alabama fan, Hancock instead went to Auburn because the Tigers offered him a better scholarship. But he didn't crack the rotation right away and missed too many classes. "He was a terrific kid, he was just a young fella going through the sociological and academic transitions," says former Tigers coach Hal Baird. Hancock left after one season, but later said his time at Auburn taught him he couldn't go on thinking that baseball was always going to be as easy as it was in high school. "If I made that mistake as a pro, [my career] would have been over," he said in 2006.
As it turned out, Hancock would get plenty of opportunities to make good. A fifth-round pick by the Red Sox in the 1998 draft, he was traded to the Phillies and then the Reds. After arriving in Florida overweight, he was released by Cincinnati in January 2006. After the Cards picked him up, he pitched his way onto the team in spring training, then went 3--3 with a 4.09 ERA in 62 appearances.
Early Sunday, hours after he pitched against the Cubs, Hancock was traveling alone on a highway in St. Louis when his Ford Explorer struck a tow truck that was assisting another vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police are still investigating the accident. Hancock is the second St. Louis pitcher to die during the season in recent years; Darryl Kile died of coronary artery blockage in 2002. "Josh was a great teammate and a great friend to everybody," said Cardinals pitcher Braden Looper.