CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The inside of the Green Monster at Fenway Park is a seldom-seen museum of baseball history. Countless players have signed their names on the walls. Rhéal Cormier once printed his. He also left a message: “La vie est belle.”
Life is beautiful.
The Phillies announced Monday that Cormier died following a long battle with cancer. He was 53. He squeezed everything he could from his life. He pitched 16 years in the big leagues with five organizations, including six with the Phillies from 2001-06. Following his baseball career, Cormier spent more than a decade traveling the world, golfing, skiing and pursuing his passions with family and friends.
“Rhéal was one of the most vibrant people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” friend and former teammate Jim Thome said. “He loved baseball, but he always put his family first. Frenchy was the kind of guy who would do anything for you and I’m lucky to have called him my friend for many years. Our time spent together in Philadelphia as teammates was unforgettable. He will be greatly missed but never forgotten.”
Born on April 23, 1967, to Ronald and Jeanette Cormier, Cormier spent his youth in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, before he attended Community College of Rhode Island in 1987 and 1988, where he earned All-America honors. The Cardinals selected Cormier in the sixth round of the 1988 Draft.
He pitched for the Cardinals (1991-94), Red Sox (1995, 1999-2000), Expos (1996-97), Phillies (2001-06) and Reds (2006-07). He posted a 4.03 ERA over 683 appearances (108 starts). He appeared in 363 games for the Phillies. The only left-hander to appear in more is Tug McGraw (463).
Cormier went 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA in 2003, the sixth-lowest ERA by any Phillies reliever in the Modern Era. He made 84 appearances in 2004, which remains a record for Phillies left-handers. No Phillies pitcher has made more appearances in a season since.
Cormier pitched for Canada in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, and again in 2008 in Beijing, where he was the oldest player in competition at 41. He represented Canada numerous times and earned induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.
He became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 22, 2004, in Miami, while the Phillies were playing a series against the Marlins.
“I think about it a lot. I almost feel like an expectant father,” he told reporters months earlier.
Cormier was a big leaguer, but he never acted like one. He was unassuming off the field. He once told a story about going to one of his children’s Little League practices. He noticed his daughter stepping on first base with the wrong foot. He politely instructed her how to catch the ball properly.
A coach looked at Cormier funny, perhaps thinking he was just another dad getting involved.
Afterward, a few parents took batting practice. A few fathers hit a few balls hard. Then Cormier stepped into the box.
Cormier hit .188 in 228 plate appearances in the big leagues, which is tied for the 49th highest batting average in baseball history among pitchers with 225 or more plate appearances.
Cormier started launching baseballs like Babe Ruth.
“Did you play before?” a parent asked Cormier.
“Yeah, I play in the big leagues,” Cormier said.
During his time in Philadelphia, Cormier made contributions to Phillies Charities and visited patients in area hospitals. While with the Expos, he worked with several school programs in New Brunswick. He was a spokesman for teenage anti-suicide and anti-drug campaigns.
Cormier is survived by his wife Lucienne (née LeBlanc), son Justin and daughter Morgan.
Funeral arrangements are pending.