The ORIGINAL Canadian Crusher

Tyler O’Neill had a HUGE season for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2021, smacking 34 home runs. There was a lot of hype surrounding his outburst of power. So much so, that announcers (especially Dan McLaughlin [“Danny Mac”]) and fans alike have dubbed him “The Canadian Crusher”. However, Tyler O’Neill of Burnaby, British Columbia – a suburb of Vancouver (also the hometown of actor Michael J. Fox), not to take away from his fine season last year, is by no means the the Cardinals’ first Canadian-born star. There was also Larry Walker, a native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, who helped power the Cardinals to the 2004 National League pennant – one of 19 won by the Redbirds. However, he is not the Cards’ first Canadian-born superstar either.

To find the identity of the ORIGINAL Canadian Crusher, one has to go back to the team’s origins.  To the days of Chris Von der Ahe when the team was known as St. Louis Brown Stockings (they would not assume the moniker of “Cardinals” until the 1900 Season).

In their early days, the franchise now known as the Cardinals was a member of the American Association, one of the earliest and most successful (until the emergence of the American League in 1900) on field challenges to the National League.  Based mainly in the Midwest, the AA was founded on November 2, 1881 at the Hotel Gibson in Cincinnati and Brown Stockings owner, Von der Ahe was elected as the first meeting’s chairman.    Previously, the Gibson was noted for having hosted then-President Rutherford B. Hayes on September 15, 1877.  Interestingly enough, four AA franchises continue to operate to this day – the Cincinnati Reds (NOT to be confused with the Red Stockings of 1869 – baseball’s first all-professional team), the Pittsburg (then spelled without the “h”) Alleghenys (now the Pittsburgh Pirates), the Brooklyn Atlantics (now the Los Angeles Dodgers and, of course the aforementioned Brown Stockings (now the St. Louis Cardinals).  Because most of its owners had ties to the brewing and distilling industries, the American Association became known as “the Beer and Whiskey League”.

It was immediately clear that Von der Ahe’s boys would become the flagship franchise of the brand new league.  They won four consecutive AA pennants from 1885 to 1888 and also won baseball first postseason series – the WORLD’S (as opposed to WORLD) Series – in 1886, making them baseball’s first-ever dynasty.  It was claimed by some that the Brown Stockings had won the 1885 “Fall Classic” as well, but it is recorded in the annals of baseball history as a disputed 3 games apiece tie.  Von der Ahe built a powerhouse lineup.  Among his stars were:  First Baseman and manager Charlie (“The Old Roman”) Comiskey, Third Baseman Arlie Latham (“The Freshest Man on Earth”), pitchers Jumbo McGinnis, Silver King and “Parisian Bob” Caruthers, pitcher/outfielder Dave Foutz and the ORIGINAL “Canadian Crusher” Springfield, Ontario native James Edward “Tip” O’Neill.

Tip moved with his family from Springfield to Woodstock, Ontario when he was a boy and his play was noticed at an early age.  Because of his high caliber of play, he became knows as “The Woodstock Wonder”.  He jumped to the Brown Stockings and the American Association from the New York Gothams (later the New York [now san San Francisco] Giants) of the National League after the 1883 Season.  In 1884, his first year with the new club and in the new league, he posted a .276 average – his worst as a member of the Brown Stockings.  In 1885, he upped his average to .350, which, perhaps, was a sign of things to come.  It was in 1886, that Tip’s career began to really take off.  He hit .328 and led the Beer and Whiskey League with 107 RBI’s (which didn’t become an official statistic until 1920). He also led his team to the WORLD’S Championship in 1886 – triumphing over the National League Champion Chicago White Stockings (now known as the Cubs) 4 games to 2.  The next year, 1887, would be even better.  He led the American Association in TEN offensive categories (though two of them had yet to become official):  167 runs, 275 hits, 52 doubles, 19 triples, 14 home runs, 123 RBI’s, 357 total bases, a. 490 on base percentage, a .691 slugging percentage (also not an official statistic until 1920) and a batting average of…..are you ready for this?…..492!  Uhhhhh…..wait a minute…..not so fast!  In 1887, O’Neill and many others were the beneficiaries of a rather quirky rule.  In 1887, it was decided that Bases on Balls would count as Base Hits.  However, this change was not to last very long.  The very next year, the rule was stricken down because it had been felt that baseball had an over abundance of .400 hitters.  This meant that O’Neill’s average was subsequently adjusted to. 435 and his hits total was reduced to 225 – both STILL very good numbers.  The adjusted totals have remained the accepted figure by MLB ever since.  It should be noted that in 1887, Tip O’Neill became the first player in MLB history to lead ANY major league in doubles, triples AND home runs in the same season and he is, to date, the ONLY player to have done so.  That same year, Tip won the Beer and Whiskey League Triple Crown – the first in franchise history.  The next year, 1888, O’Neill’s numbers were still good, but not as spectacular as his 1887 stats had been.  He led the AA in hits with 177 and repeated as batting champion with a .335 average – exactly 100 points below his adjusted 1887 mark.  1889 turned out to be Tip’s last year in the Gateway City…..or so it was thought.  He again batted .335 (though he didn’t lead the league this time) and had 33 doubles, 8 triples, 9 homers and 110 RBI’s to go along with it.

In 1890, a third major league was formed as John Montgomery Ward, a star pitcher and shortstop mainly with the New York Gothams (later the Giants) led a brotherhood of players and formed the Players’ League.  Many players jumped to the new league and Tip O’Neill was no exception.  He played for the league’s Chicago entry, the Pirates and posted a .302 batting average.  The Players’ League folded after the 1890 Season and O’Neill came back to St. Louis and the American Association.  In 1891, he proved to be almost as good in his return to St. Louis as he had been during his previous stint there.  He batted .323 with 28 doubles, 10 homers and 95 RBI’s.  1891 was Tip’s last year in St. Louis and in the American Association as the Beer and Whiskey League folded for good after the 1891 campaign.  1892 would be O’Neill’s last year in professional baseball.  He joined the Cincinnati Reds, now of the National League, and his batting average dipped all the way down to .251!  During his years in St. Louis, O’Neill batted .344 with 1385 hits, 52 homers and 757 RBI’s.

After his retirement from The Game, Tip worked as an umpire and as a scout for various organizations (most notable the Chicago White Sox).  He also worked to bring a minor league team to Montreal, Quebec.  On New Year’s Eve in 1915, James Edward “Tip” O’Neill died suddenly while riding a street car in Montreal.  The cause of death was later found to be heart disease.  Because of his on-field prowess, Tip was called, “Canada’s Babe Ruth”.  in 1983, he became one of the first inductees of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  The Tip O’Neill Award, an annual award which honors Major League Baseball’s most outstanding Canadian player, bears his name.  It has been won nine times by the aforementioned Larry Walker and seven times by Cincinnati Reds’ First baseman Joey Votto.  Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas Philip O’Neill was given the nickname “Tip” as a child because of the 19th Century Baseball superstar.

Leave a Reply