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Former Canadian major-leaguer Rheal Cormier dies after battle with cancer

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Canadian pitcher Rheal Cormier, who spent 16 years in the major leagues, died Monday after a battle with cancer.

The native of Moncton, N.B. was 53. The Philadelphia Phillies, one of Cormier's former teams, confirmed his passing.

"We are saddened to learn of the passing of former relief pitcher Rheal Cormier after a courageous battle with cancer," the club tweeted.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame says Cormier ranks second all-time for games pitched by a Canadian with 683. 

“I am shocked and saddened to learn of Rheal’s passing,” said Baseball Canada president Jason Dickson. “He was a tremendous pitcher and competitor who represented our country on the biggest stage. Above all, Rheal was a great person and family man who will be dearly missed.” 

A sixth-round pick by the St. Louis in 1988, Cormier broke into the big leagues with the Cardinals three years later. After being traded to Boston (1995), Cormier was shipped to the Montreal Expos in 1996. 

Cormier spent two years with Montreal before finishing his major-league career with Boston (1999-2000), Philadelphia (2001-06) and Cincinnati (2006-07). For his career, Cormier was 71-64 with a 4.03 earned-run average.

Cormier's best year was 2003 with Philadelphia when he was 8-0 as a reliever with a 1.70 ERA. According to the Phillies, that was the second-lowest among relievers and sixth-lowest by any club reliever in the modern era (since 1900).

Cormier made 84 appearances the following season, the most ever by a left-handed Philadelphia pitcher. The franchise said in a statement it was also the second-most among any pitcher and remains the most logged in a year by a Phillies player in the last 33 seasons. 

During his tenure in Philadelphia, Cormier appeared in 363 games as a reliever. It's the second-most in club history behind Tug McGraw and fourth-most of any relief pitcher.

Cormier was also active in the community while with the Phillies. According to the team, he contributed regularly to Phillies Charities Inc. and visited area hospitals.

And during his time with Montreal, Cormier was involved with many New Brunswick school programs and served as 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," Jim Thome, a former teammate of Cormier's in Philadelphia and friend, said in a statement. "He loved baseball, but he always put his family first.

"(Cormier) 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."

Cormier also represented Canada at the 1987 Pan American Games, the 1988 and 2008 Olympics and the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He became an American citizen in 2004 and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.

"Not only was he was one of the greatest major league relief pitchers ever to come from Canada, but he was a wonderful and charismatic guy who was proud of his Canadian roots and loved his family deeply," Scott Crawford, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's director of operations," said in a statement.

Cormier is survived by his wife Lucienne (nee LeBlanc), son Justin and daughter Morgan. 

Funeral arrangements are pending.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

The Canadian Press