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|
|Larry Walker||British Columbia||2004-2005||17||67.3||3.9||2.9||2005|
|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|
|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|
|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.