Rheal Cormier, an Unlikely Major Leaguer


Considering his background, Rheal Cormier has to go down as one of the unlikely players to have played in the Majors in the last 30 years.

He came from a modest background.  His family wasn’t well off as he grew up in a shack.  Recently retired broadcaster Vin Scully was said of Cormier’s childhood, “from all accounts he grew up on a street with no name in nothing more than a shack. In winter it wasn’t uncommon to find snowflakes between the the beds”.  Lacking the funds for hockey equipment, he did have a baseball glove, which was his way of staying out of trouble in an area that was known for hard living.  But the Cap-Pele native watched Expos games growing up and had a dream of making it big.

Growing up in Cap-Pele he didn’t have much competition in town and had to drive to Moncton to play against the better competition.  The drive was 40 minutes each way but it helped his game playing against the better players the city had to offer.  He would later attend high school at Louis J. Robichaud in Moncton.  It was his high school years when he learnt to speak English.  He would have his first taste of international baseball in 1985 with the Junior National Team.  That year’s world junior championship was held in Albany, New York.

He would later be recruited by the Community College of Rhode Island.  During his two seasons with the Knights (1987 and 1988) he posted a 19-1 record.  The Knights would finsh third at the Junior College World Series.  While in college, Cormier would spend the 1987 summer as a member of Team Canada.  He pitched at the 1987 Pan-American Games in Indianapolis, where Canada finished in fourth place (lost bronze medal game to Puerto Rico 12-2).  That October, Cormier pitched at the Intercontinental Cup in Havana where he was the most successful non-Cuban pitcher at the event.  He would go 3-0 with a 0.57 ERA.  Canada, with both Cormier and Matt Stairs would finish 5th.

1988 was a great year for Mr. Cormier.  In the spring he was selected in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.  That summer, he returned to Team Canada and was on the roster for the Olympics in Soeul, South Korea.  Baseball was a demonstration sport that year, before becoming a full fledged medal sport four years later.  Canada would finish 1-2, but the lone victory came against the eventual gold medalist, Team USA.  Cormier also pitched in the 1988 Baseball World Cup in Italy.  Canada would finish 7-4, good for fifth place.  Cormier would finish the tournament with a 1-1 record, 5.71 ERA and 22 strikeouts.

Cormier would spent the next three seasons working his way up through the Cardinals minor league system.  He would spent the entire 1989 season with the St. Petersburg Cardinals of the Florida State League.  He would finish the season with a 12-7 record and 2.23 ERA.  The 1990 baseball season was split between the Texas League Arkansas Travelers and American Association Louisville Redbirds.  He struggled at AA Arkansas (5-12, 5.04) but appeared in four games at AAA Louisville where he did not look out of place.  Cormier would start the 1991 season back in Louisville, where he would compile a 7-9 record and 4.23 ERA.  On August 15 of that season, Acadien Day, Cormier would make his Major League debut for the Cardinals against the Mets.

Cormier would go on to play 16 seasons in the big leagues.  He would pitch for the Cardinals (1991-94), Red Sox (1995, 1999-2000), Expos (1996-97), Phillies (2001-06), and Reds (2006-07).  He missed the 1998 season due to injury when he was Indians property.  Cormier would pitch in 683 games in his career, starting 108 of them.  In other words, he was used mostly as a relief pitcher (575 to be precise).  In fact, Cormier is the main image on the Wikipedia page for relief pitcher.  He would pitch in the postseason twice, in 1995 and 1999, both seasons with the Boston Red Sox.  He would depart Philadelphia a couple seasons before the 2008 World championship.

Cormier would finish his career as a member of the 2008 Canadian Olympic team.  He would warm up for his Olympic experience by playing for the Moncton Mets of the New Brunswick Senior League.  He sold his home in Park City, Utah in 2015.  Cormier is a member of both the Canadian Baseball and New Brunswick Sports halls of fame.

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