Tony La Russa wants to talk about agendas. That's his word: agendas.
The St. Louis Cardinals' manager said he warned his players about the media and possible "agendas" as reporting continued on the death of relief pitcher Josh Hancock early Sunday morning. Reporters, he said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, might "want to turn this into . . . some kind of story that's not all sweet. I've already seen signs of that. I'm sitting here listening."
La Russa gestured with the fungo bat he happened to be holding.
"The first time I hear insincerity," he said, "I'll start swinging this fungo, because it doesn't have its place."
Let's keep it sincere, then, when we examine La Russa's own agenda and how it might have factored into the events that led to Hancock's fatal accident.
The Post-Dispatch reported in yesterday's editions that Hancock was involved in another serious accident about 5:30 a.m. Thursday. That's a little under three days before he died. According to police officials, Hancock's SUV rolled into an intersection on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River and was struck by a tractor-trailer.
Hancock, 29, was not cited by the officer on the scene. He was driving near a cluster of nightclubs and strip bars that stay open until 5 a.m. - three hours after last call on the Missouri side of the river.
The truck sheared off Hancock's front bumper and damaged his radiator. That's why he was driving a rented SUV when he died.
"Just another inch or so and he could have died two days earlier, because that tractor-trailer was traveling about 45 to 50 m.p.h.," the police chief of Sauget, Ill., Patrick Delaney, told the Post-Dispatch.
The Cardinals had a day game Thursday. Hancock was late for it. Teammates, remembering all too well the sudden death of pitcher Darryl Kile in 2002, nervously called Hancock a number of times. When he showed up, team sources told the Post-Dispatch, he was too hung over to pitch.
It is not clear whether La Russa knew the full story of the Thursday accident. He declined to answer a direct question about that on Monday. According to the paper's story, Hancock told people he was fined $500 for being late.
The official word from the Cardinals on Thursday: Hancock thought the game was later and, having just purchased a new, comfy bed, simply overslept. La Russa himself, according to the Post-Dispatch, said: "It's not worth discussing. It's personal and not baseball-related."
Toxicology reports from the night of Hancock's fatal accident are not yet ready. But the newspaper's account of the hours preceding the crash, citing eyewitness accounts, reads like any typical night out after a major-league game. The pitcher had been seen drinking in one bar-restaurant - the manager felt compelled to ask if he wanted a cab, which tells you something - and left for another. He was on his way to meet teammates at a third when the SUV crashed into the back of a 26,000-pound tow truck.
It is part of the game's culture. You play hard, you go out and drink. Sometimes you drink too much. It is also part of the game's culture to cover up when someone makes a mistake. Hung-over players are sometimes scratched from the lineup for some vague reason. A sore ankle. A case of the flu.
The point is that everyone went out of his way to cover for Hancock on Thursday. Reporters with their agenda - to find out what really happened and write about it - were given a cheerful lie. Keep that in mind if you're uneasy about reporting what unnamed sources said. The team had a chance to be forthright, and chose not to.
Here's the picture that emerges. After a scary near-miss that may have involved alcohol, Hancock went out drinking two nights later and got killed. There is no "sweet story" here, whatever La Russa thinks. Of course, on Thursday, he thought Hancock's absence from the ballpark was "not worth discussing."
A few months ago, La Russa was cited for driving under the influence while in Florida for spring training. The publicity that caused had to be a terrible, humbling experience for such a proud man. Could that make him want to spare a young player from the same kind of experience? Maybe. Or maybe he really didn't know what happened. It's possible.
You wonder if a newspaper story about Hancock's first wee-hours accident, or a DUI arrest, would have changed his behavior just a couple of nights later.
You wonder if, had the agenda been to hold him accountable instead of to cover for him, things might have been different.
You wonder how many rules were bent for him before Hancock ran into some of those rules that don't bend for anyone.
It's enough to make you want to swing a fungo bat at something.