Hancock's 2007 Ford Explorer hit a tow truck at approximately 12:35 a.m. CT and the pitcher died at the scene, possibly at the moment of impact. It's the second time in a five-year span that the Cardinals have lost an active player. Darryl Kile passed away on June 22, 2002.
The driver of the tow truck was unharmed in the wreck. The truck was parked in the left lane of the interstate, tending to a previous wreck.
According to St. Louis Police Chief Joseph Mokwa, the truck had rotating yellow lights and flashing red lights displayed. It was in an active traffic lane. Mokwa explained that despite the lights, it appears that Hancock simply did not see the tow truck until it was too late for him to avoid a collision.
Formal arrangements have not been announced for a memorial service. However, it is expected to take place on Thursday in Tupelo, Miss., where Hancock's family makes its home. The Cardinals have an off-day on Thursday and the team expects to attend.
Sunday night's Cardinals-Cubs game, scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT, was postponed. The Cardinals head to Milwaukee on Sunday for a three-game series against the Brewers that starts Monday.
Cardinals principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr., general manager Walt Jocketty, manager Tony La Russa and Mokwa addressed the media at Busch Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
"The pain our organization feels today is unspeakable," said DeWitt. "Josh was a great competitor with a strong will to win. His fellow Cardinals will tell you that Josh was a consummate teammate with a terrific spirit that served him well on the mound and in the clubhouse."
Hancock joined the Cardinals in February 2006. He quickly became a valuable member of the St. Louis bullpen, pitching 77 innings in his first season with the Cardinals. He performed a variety of roles for the Cardinals, from occasional short relief to sometimes less desirable jobs like long relief in games that threatened to get out of hand.
"The respect that we all had for his ability to take the significant or the save-our-staff type of role was a real measure of him personally and professionally," said La Russa. "He was a lot of fun and a terrific teammate. So trust me when I tell you this is brutal to go through."
Hancock appeared in eight games for the Cardinals in 2007, posting a 3.55 ERA, and pitched three innings in Saturday afternoon's game against the Cubs. He was well-liked as a fun-loving, easy-going person.
"Josh had a lot of friends in that clubhouse," Jocketty said. "You talk about it being a family, and it is a family. And it's very difficult."
Team members assembled in the clubhouse prior to the news conference to share thoughts and memories of their late teammate.
"One of the things that's really painful here is that Josh, in this town, his family was his teammates," La Russa said. "We know a little bit about his brother and sister, and mother and dad. But here's a guy that really enjoyed and was a very strong part of the family here at the ballpark and away from the ballpark. So that's a big miss, a big hole that's going to be there."
Drafted in 1998 by the Red Sox, Hancock made his way through the Boston system and made his Major League debut as a member of the Red Sox in 2002. He was traded to Philadelphia before the 2003 season, spending '03 and part of '04 with the Phillies.
Another trade sent him to Cincinnati, where he pitched through 2005. The Reds let him go early in Spring Training of '06, and the Cardinals quickly snapped him up.
Hancock was born in Cleveland, Miss., and attended high school in Birmingham, Ala., before attending Auburn University.
Less than five years ago, Kile passed away in his hotel room in Chicago. That day's game was postponed, and the club's first game back was the next evening, a Sunday-night game vs. the Cubs in which Kile had been scheduled to pitch.
Just three days ago, Hancock had given his teammates a scare when he was late arriving for a day game. He overslept, and his cellular phone wasn't working, so teammates grew very worried until they were able to reach him shortly before game time. The incident brought up memories of Kile.
"That's why it's so different here, because of what happened," Jason Isringhausen said on Thursday. "Everybody worries. That's got more to do with it than oversleeping. [Stuff] like that happens all the time."
Isringhausen is one of three players on the Cardinals who were members of the team in 2002 when Kile passed away. Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols are others. But nearly the entire coaching staff, as well as much of the front office, remains from that season.
Mokwa said that police are attempting to establish the details of both the accident and the last several hours of Hancock's life. He said it appears likely that Hancock was not driving at an excessive speed, and that no alcoholic beverage containers were found in the vehicle.
"We are in the process of investigating," Mokwa said. "The accident reconstruction people will have more information about the speeds and things of that nature tomorrow. We are in the process of re-creating Josh Hancock's last several hours, and that's not complete at this time. But we will certainly get that accomplished."
The Cardinals will wear a patch with Hancock's No. 32 on their uniform sleeves for the remainder of the season. Additionally, a memorial of some sort will be displayed in the home bullpen at Busch Stadium. Flags at Busch, including the 2006 championship banner, flew at half staff on Sunday afternoon.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.