Former Phillies relief pitcher Rheal Cormier passed away today, following a courageous battle with cancer. He was 53 years old.
A member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Cormier spent more time in a Phillies uniform than any other during his 16-year career. He appeared in 363 games out of the bullpen for Philadelphia, more than any other left-handed reliever in the history of the franchise except Tug McGraw, and fourth-most among any relief pitcher.
In his best season in 2003, he went 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA, which was the second-lowest among all relievers and sixth-lowest by any Phillies reliever in the modern era (since 1900). His 84 appearances the following season were the most ever by a left-handed Phillies pitcher, second-most among any pitcher and remain the most logged in a year by a Phillie in the last 33 seasons.
Known on the mound as a tough and durable southpaw, he was known off the diamond for his kindness and philanthropy. During his long tenure in Philadelphia, Cormier made generous contributions to Phillies Charities Inc. on a regular basis and visited patients in area hospitals. While with Montreal, he was involved in several school programs in New Brunswick and was also a spokesman for teenage anti-suicide and anti-drug campaigns.
“Rheal was one of the most vibrant people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” said friend and former teammate Jim Thome. “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, he spent his youth in his native Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, before moving to the United States to attend the Community College of Rhode Island, where he was an All-American in 1987 and 1988.
In June 1988, he was selected in the sixth round of the amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom he would debut in 1991. That kicked off a 16-year career with the Cardinals (1991-94), Boston Red Sox (1995, 1999-2000), Montreal Expos (1996-97), Phillies (2001-06) and Cincinnati Reds (2006-07), during which he appeared in 683 games (108 starts) and posted a 4.03 ERA.
He also pitched on the international stage, representing his home country in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and again 20 years later at the 2008 games in Beijing, where, at 41, he was the oldest player in the competition. He also was a member of the 1985 Canadian youth team, 1987 Pan-Am team and pitched for Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. For his career and achievements, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.
In 2004, Cormier achieved a more than a decade-long goal and became a United States citizen. He acquired his citizenship on Sept. 22 in Miami, during the Phillies’ series against the Marlins. “I think about it a lot. I almost feel like an expectant father,” he said to reporters a few months prior, while waiting anxiously for the call.
Cormier is survived by his wife Lucienne (née LeBlanc), son Justin and daughter Morgan.
Funeral arrangements are pending.