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Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2007

Commentary: Cardinals must face responsibility

May 3, 2007

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After 48 hours of shock and denial, the St. Louis Cardinals' organization seems to be coming to grips with the circumstances that led to the death of relief pitcher Josh Hancock in a Sunday morning auto accident.

Though no official findings have been released, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty is acknowledging the likelihood that alcohol was a contributing factor in Hancock's fatal crash. Speaking before Tuesday night's Cardinals-Brewers game at Miller Park, Jocketty said the team was trying to balance the need for candor with the need to show sensitivity to Hancock's grieving family.

Jocketty on Tuesday gave an interview that represented something of an organizational shift dealing with the aftermath of Hancock's death. Monday, manager Tony La Russa tried to stonewall reporters' inquiries, and issued a vague threat about using a fungo bat on insincere journalists.

But as more information concerning Hancock's actions becomes available, it's foolish and dishonest for the team to pretend that this was a random accident. Hancock was known to have an active social life, and keep late hours. Several days before the fatal crash, Hancock was involved in another early morning accident in Sauget, Ill., and arrived late at Busch Stadium before Thursday's noon game against the Reds.

Many questions are on the table:

¢ Did the Cardinals look into Hancock's background before signing him in the spring of 2006, after his release by Cincinnati?

¢ Did Hancock display a reckless pattern of behavior in his use of alcohol? And if Hancock had a problem, did the Cardinals ignore it?

¢ Does this team have a collective problem with alcohol?

¢ Did manager Tony La Russa's arrest late in spring training on suspicion of DUI neutralize his authority to lecture, or discipline, his players over alcohol-related matters?

Jocketty addressed all of the questions. In short, Jocketty said Hancock checked out fine before the Cardinals brought him in; Jocketty has learned that a few of Hancock's teammates spoke to him about his drinking; major-league players are adults who are responsible for conducting themselves and policing each other; the team plans to take a closer look at its players' habits in consuming alcohol.

"I haven't gotten any reports from police, or our security people who say, 'Boy, we've got a problem with this guy, we've got to keep an eye on him.' That's never happened," Jocketty said.

As for La Russa setting a poor example and being damaged in his ability to insist on a disciplinary code for his players, Jocketty views it another way: La Russa's embarrassing arrest should have put the players on notice, and shaken them up.

"What it proves is that even people of notoriety and stature are not exempt," Jocketty said.

Jocketty is sincere, but I don't know if I agree. In the early 1990s, I was arrested for a DUI, and to this day I feel reluctant to preach to others about their conduct in this area. I believed I had lost my moral authority to do so.

But the more I think about that, the more I see the selfishness in this theory. A young Cardinal died in a terrible accident, and alcohol was almost certainly a factor. We can't let that pass without trying to learn something, or make a point. If anything, those of us who have demonstrated irresponsible judgement should be screaming the loudest about this behavior.

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