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The St. Louis Cardinals Canadian MVP

Yesterday, I wrote about the announcement from The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum that former St. Louis Cardinals left-handed reliever Rheal Cormier will be among their 2012 inductees.

That led to a discussion among some of the readers here as to the best Cardinal ever born in the land up North. Though the players competed in many different eras and of course played different positions, the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat gives us a comparison point to identify the best Canadian Cardinal of all time.

While many past and present members of the Cardinals system have played (and coached) in Canada – the Cardinals once had a minor league team in Hamilton, Ontario in fact – they will not be included here since they were not born in Canada. That group includes such luminaries as Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan (teammates with the Triple-A Vancouver Mounties in the Oakland system in 1968) , Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse.

New Cardinals bullpen catcher Jamie Pogue is a Canadian by birth (Guelph, Ontario), but not having reached the majors, he and his peers are also eliminated from consideration. (Interestingly, no Canadian has been a full-time manager in the majors since George Gibson of the 1934 Pittsburgh Pirates. Pogue has something to shoot for.)

In the table below, I listed all the native-born Canadian Hall of Famers that played for the Cardinals as well as all other Canadians to appear in the majors for the organization since 1925. The tables are sorted by the highest single-season WAR as a Cardinal.

Canadian Hall of Famers Province Cardinals years MLB years Career WAR StL total WAR Best StL WAR Year
Tip O’Neill* Ontario 1884-89, 1891 10 30.7 28.9 8.1 1887
Reggie Cleveland Saskachewan 1969-1973 13 10.0 4.7 3.6 1973
Larry Walker British Columbia 2004-2005 17 67.3 3.9 2.9 2005
Ron Taylor Ontario 1963-1965 11 3.6 1.1 2.7 1963
Rheal Cormier New Brunswick 1991-1994 16 7.3 1.2 1.0 1992
Larry McLean New Brunswick 1904, 1913 13 6.4 0.0 0.3 1913
Ron Piche Quebec 1966 6 -2.6 -0.2 -0.2 1966
Tom Burgess Ontario 1954 2 -0.1 -0.4 -0.4 1954
Non-Hall since 1925 Province Cardinals years MLB years Career WAR StL total WAR Best StL WAR Year
Blake Hawksworth British Columbia 2009-2010 3 -0.4 -0.1 0.9 2009
Stubby Clapp Ontario 2001 1 -0.1 -0.1 -0.1 2001
Ken MacKenzie Ontario 1963 6 -1.3 -0.2 -0.2 1963
Dave Wainhouse Ontario 2000 7 -1.9 -0.4 -0.4 2000
Cody McKay British Columbia 2004 2 -0.3 -0.4 -0.4 2004

As the data indicates, an old-time player, outfielder Tip O’Neill, had both the best single-season and total stint with St. Louis of any of the Canadians. With the Browns of the American Association in 1884-1889 and again in 1891, the Ontario native amassed 28.9 WAR, including 8.1 in 1887. However, since the Cardinals sadly disavow records set prior to the National League years beginning in 1892, we will place an asterisk next to O’Neill’s name and move down the list.

Pitcher Reggie Cleveland is hereby proclaimed the Cardinals MVCP, or Most Valuable Canadian Player of the modern era, though his total was just 4.7 WAR over five seasons with St. Louis. The right-hander’s best season was a 3.6 WAR 1973, his last with the club, also the best single year by a Canadian Cardinal in the modern era. (As a point of comparison, non-Canadian Carpenter’s best individual season was 5.9 WAR in 2009.)

As Cleveland’s excellent and in-depth SABR biography relates, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst was unhappy to see the pitcher go. Red said the following when Cleveland was dealt to the Red Sox following the 1973 season, “He’s the best I have.”

Of course, Larry Walker was the finest player of this group, hands down, but was slowed by chronic injuries by the time he joined St. Louis at the end of a fine career. Walker’s best year with St. Louis was his only full season with the club and his last as a player, as he produced 2.9 WAR in 2005.

Alas, Cormier’s best St. Louis season is only fifth on the list, fourth among modern players, behind O’Neill, Cleveland, Walker and Ron Taylor.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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8 Responses to “The St. Louis Cardinals Canadian MVP”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    I wonder why O’Neill’s are named Tip.

    Reggie Cleveland was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. This place name sounds authentically Canadian.
    The Cards signed him after the first June draft, held in 1965. So he was an undrafted free agent, which groups him with Tom Herr and Bernard Gilkey, also undrafted after high school. The Cards were pretty good in those days at signing amateurs who became effective ML starting pitchers. Cleveland was NL rookie pitcher of the year in 1971, or so I believe.

    The Cards signed Rheal Cormier, but IIRC this was after college ball in the States. How Reggie came to the attention of the Cards might be an interesting story.

    • Brian Walton says:

      The answer to how Reggie came to the attention of the Cards is spelled out in detail in the SABR bio link in the article above.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Its seems no scouts for any team were looking for amateur talent in Saskatchewan, in those days. A friend of Red gave a referral and the Cards offered the princely bonus of $1,000. Cleveland must have not had an agent or alternatives, so accepted. Its nice that he overcame long odds to rise to the majors.

  2. CariocaCardinal says:

    Any others besides Wick currently in the system?

  3. CariocaCardinal says:

    If I remember correctly, Oscar Taveras was a Canadian citizen as well.

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