It was a year ago today that Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a drunk driving accident. Since then, sports has learned its lesson, and no longer do alcohol advertisements appear on telecasts of sporting events.
We feared our initial post about Hancock would read a little overwrought a year later, and it does, a little, but our initial point stands: It's so strange how much psychic weight we attach to people we know nothing about.
The relationship that we, as fans, have with the athletes we follow is as genuine as it is bizarre. Not a single day has gone by since Opening Day 2006, when Hancock first appeared on the Cardinals' roster, that he has not been on our mental radar. We cheered him, we cursed him, we forgot about him, we repeated the process; he occupied a real place in our lives. We did not know him, and we were not particularly curious to do so; if he got batters out, he made us happy, and that was enough. His sudden departure — shocking, horrible, insane — makes us feel as if we have lost something that we never realized we had. We want to go back and cheer harder for him, forgive his mistakes more easily ... treat him as human in a way we never did as a mere fan. He shifts from middle reliever to human being only in death; this can drive a fan mad with guilt and confusion.
But we did not know him. Many did, in far more depth than our parents' fleeting encounter 10 days ago. To those, he was never a middle reliever. He was just Josh, quiet, friendly, reserved, living the contradictory life of a Major League Baseball player who toils in relative anonymity. We cannot pretend to have known him, or to understand the anguish of those who did. We can only know that we have lost something small but real, and hope and pray that those who lost more than that can find some sort of peace.
Rest in peace, Josh Hancock, Eddie Griffin, and anyone else who left us too early, for one reason or another.