Results tagged ‘ Paul O'Neill ’
First I’d like to apologize for not blogging in awhile. I have had a number of computer problems these past couple of weeks; my laptop has not been functioning properly and I haven’t been able to do any writing or Yankee Yapping.
Needless to say, not being able to write has been killing me!
My dad temporarily solved the problem and allowed me to borrow his laptop while mine gets fixed. So a big thank you goes out to him for that.
Anyway onto the topic of this entry…
Last Wednesday I visted Yankee Stadium for the fourth time this season and for the fourth time they won. The Bronx Bombers beat the Detroit Tigers 9-5 and went on to take three out of four from them. Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson led the way for the Yanks, each with a home run on the night.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera put on a hitting show, smacking two homers of his own. Left fielder Don Kelly also homered for Detroit, as the ball was certainly exploding off the bats last Wednesday night.
The real story however was where I went before the game.
For the first time in the New Yankee Stadium I visited Monument Park. I only remember visiting Monument Park in the old Stadium once–July 2, 2002. Monument Park in the old Stadium was positioned behind the left-centerfield wall. It now sits directly behind the centerfield wall, and I have to say, the experience of going there in the new house just wasn’t the same.
Watching one of the first games in the new Stadium on TV last year, and subsequently taking notice of Monument Park, I remember thinking to myself, “How can the Yankees take any pride in what Monument Park looks like? In all honesty, it looks as if they decorated the area behind the centerfield wall with used furniture.”
I hate to think that way, but it’s the truth.
Modern day Monument Park simply doesn’t have the old school feeling anymore. With all the up-to-date features in the new ballpark, the place where the Yankees once honored their legends seems to have become just another meaningless, new-age attraction. Of course all of the same Monuments and plaques are still out there, but it is not the same.
Although I dislike the way Monument Park is constructed, I cannot say I am entirely unhappy with it. I loved seeing all the retired numbers and momentos, which I had not seen in eight years. For the first time I saw the monument built to remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, which was a moving experience.
Along with the 9/11 monument, it was great to see the plaque the Yankees put up for Pope Benedict XVI. His Holiness celebrated mass in April of 2008, following in the footsteps of Pope Paul IV and Pope John Paul II, both of whom also celebrated mass at the old Stadium.
The aren’t kidding when they say Yankee Stadium is a cathedral.
After I left Monument Park Wednesday night I got to thinking: who will be the next Yankee to have is number retired? I came up with a number of possible candidates. Here they are…
Bernie Williams, 51
The Yankee centerfielder spent 16 seasons in pinstripes. He won four World Series Championships, six American League pennants, four Gold Glove Awards, the 1996 American League Championship Series MVP Award, the 1998 Batting Title, and was selected to the All-Star Game five times.
That’s a lot of accomplishments for one player with one team.
Looking past all of the awards and accolades, the most telling point about Williams is that he spent his entire career with the Yankees. In this day and age with free agency and trades, it’s remarkable that he was able to stay with the Yanks his whole career.
Although it almost didn’t happen.
After the 1998 season, Williams came dangerously close to leaving, due to the expiration of his contract. The Boston Red Sox were one of the leading teams that seeked out Williams and believe it or not, he almost went to the Red Sox. The Yankees were trying to acquire Albert Belle and nearly gave up their prize centerfielder.
I just could not have imagined Williams in a Red Sox uniform. It would have broke my heart, but honestly, I still would have loved him for all he did as a Yankee. Thankfully it did not get that far.
The Bronx Bombers came to their senses, dumped the idea for acquiring Belle, and Williams was back in pinstripes—not only for 1999, but for the rest of his career. He went on tho scale the Yankee all-time lists in hits, doubles, extra base hits, home runs, walks, and RBIs.
No one has worn his number 51 since he retired…or I should say since he did not return to the Yankees in 2007. If you ask me, Williams deserves the honor of having his number sit in Monument Park alongside the Yankee legends of old.
Paul O’Neill, 21
“The Warrior” spent nine seasons with the New York Yankees, all of them as a fan favorite. The short-temepred right fielder was selected to five All-Star Games and won a total of five World Series titles, four of them in pinstripes.
If anyone should be in Monument Park, it’s Paul O’Neill.
The late George Steinbrenner gave O’Neill his “Warrior” nickname sometime in the mid-’90s. Steinbrenner had seen how O’Neill reacted to certain calls made by umpires. When he did not agree with a call, he would let the ump know about it…most of the time in angry fashion.
O’Neill’s toughness never came into question.
In the past I have given my opinion on O’Neill, and I cannot say enough good about him. He was one of my all-time favorite Yankees and one of the most fierce competitors I have ever seen play the game of baseball. He had a strong hatred for losing and he will always be remembered by me as a winner.
In 2008, LaTroy Hawkins wore the number 21. Running in from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, he was booed overwhelmingly. He asked Derek Jeter why he was being booed at home, and Jeter responded by saying that his number was the issue.
The next day Hawkins swapped his number 21 for 22.
Since then, the Yankees have taken the number out of circulation and no other player has worn it. It is my best guess that it will be retired by the Yankees at some point.
Joe Torre, 6
Although he is the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Joe Torre’s number is worthy of retirement in Yankee lore. Torre served as Yankee manager from 1996-2007, standing at the helm of 12 playoff appearances, four World Championships, and six A.L. pennants. He is also one of the winningest managers in Yankee history.
Before the Yanks won the World Series in 1996–Torre’s first year as Yankee skipper–the Bronx Bombers had not been to the World Series since 1981. There is no denying the fact that Torre brought the Yanks back from mediocrity and led the team to a Dynasty.
There’s no way the Yanks would have been as good as they were without his leadership.
However, the one thing that might prevent his number from being retired was his book. “The Yankee Years” (in a way) strained his relationship with the organization, and overall his departure left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Nonetheless he is still a legendary Yankee and like Williams and O’Neill, his number has not been used by another Yankee player since he left.
I have mixed feelings about Torre right now. I love and respect everything he did as Yankee skipper but some of the remarks he made left me thinking about him. I also don’t agree with how he managed the bullpen toward the end of his tenure in pinstripes.
Yet I still believe he deserves a spot in Monument Park.
The last Yankee to have his number retired was Ron Guidry, back in 2003. Before Guidry, Don Mattingly’s number was retired in 1997. Looking at every number out in Monument Park, it seems there is at least one Yankee represented for every era.
I think what the team needs now is a player from the Dynasty of the late ’90s represented. Williams, O’Neill, and Torre all fit the bill and are all deserving of the honor. The question is, when will the next Yankee number be retired?
I hope they don’t wait until Jeter is done playing. If you ask me, they should give some other players their due and then when Jeter retires, hold the biggest ceremony ever in his honor.
Until then, consider Williams, O’Neill, and Torre.
Luck: a force that brings good fortune or adversity. Yankee legend Lou Gehrig once claimed to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Yesterday afternoon, I felt I was the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
I was fortunate enough to spend the day with my friends and family at Yankee Stadium for the Bronx Bombers’ home opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Not only was it their home opener, it was their ring ceremony, held to commemorate their 2009 World Series Championship.
After a beautiful ceremony, the Yankees beat the Angels, 7-5.
But the day wasn’t just about RBIs, base hits, and runs scored. It wasn’t just about the Yankees receiving their championship rings. It went far beyond anything that anyone can really understand. Overall, it was a wonderful experience; one I will never forget.
A Meaningful Day
My cousin Thomas, who invited me and my other cousin Krystina to the game, could not have been more excited for Opening Day. He got the tickets and graciously invited us to this historic game. His father (my Uncle John) recently passed away. I know that Thomas would have loved nothing more than to share the day with his dad.
Since his dad could not be there, I find it so honorable that he wanted me there to share the day with him. I could not have felt better. The fact that he asked me to go with him nearly drove me to tears.
And it didn’t get any easier when we reached the ballpark.
Getting off the train, we noticed the old Yankee Stadium. The building is nearly torn down completely. It was an unbelievable sight to behold. I can remember so many great and meaningful memories for me in that Stadium, and my only thought was, “is it really right for them to just gut it and rip it down?”
I guess they had to do it, but it didn’t make me feel very good. I could tell Thomas was taken back by the whole thing; he was as overwhelmed as I was. The same building where Babe Ruth, Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and countless other Yankee legends made history is now in shambles; it’s merely a skeleton of what used to be a beautiful ballpark.
Heartbreaking, to say the least.
When we got inside the new Stadium, it was madness. Everywhere you looked the words, “2009 World Series Champions” were visible. The Great Hall was buzzing with Yankee fans, all ready to watch the team accept their 27th World Title.
Thomas, Krystina, and I went down to the field level. There we met up with Thomas’s sister (another one of my cousins) Ashley, who went to the game with her friend Matthew. We took a picture together–in my mind, the best picture I took all day. I took a ridiculous amount of photos of the players, the ceremony, and the game.
But I would say the group shot we took together was the best. I would not be anywhere without my family and they mean so much to me. I was honored that they invited me to the game, and for that I cannot thank them enough.
Ashley and Matt went to their seats while Thomas, Krystina, and I stayed on the field level to watch the Angels take batting practice, as the Yanks took BP before the gates opened to the public. We were literally pressed directly up against the wall in right field. We had a perfect view of everything!
Thomas kept yelling for a ball. He wanted one more than anything. Former Yankee Bobby Abreu was practically right in front of us. He lobbed a couple loose baseballs into the stands, but not any that came near us. Two security guards however were standing near us and Thomas chatted with them, trying to coerce them into getting him a ball.
Whoever was in the Angels’ batting cage smoked one down the right field line. The ball ricocheted off the side of the wall and onto the grass.
“Can you get that for me?” Thomas politely asked.
“We are not allowed to go on the grass,” one of the security guards answered.
Not long after that, another ball was ripped down the right field line in foul territory, landing safely on the dirt. It was right in front of the guards.
“Please!” Thomas persisted. “Please get that for me!”
The guard smiled, bent over, picked up the ball, and placed it softly in Thomas’s glove.
I have never in my life seen a child happier. Thomas, with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon, had gotten a foul ball in batting practice, a feat I never accomplished at a Major League game. He was ecstatic and I was overjoyed that he was able to get it.
I’m sure it will be something he’ll remember forever.
What I thought was significant about the day was the team the Yankees were playing. They played the Angels. And I have no doubt in my mind that Thomas’s dad, my Uncle John, was one of the Angels at the Stadium yesterday–but he was an Angel for the Yankees. It truly felt as though he was right there with us.
After batting practice wrapped, the ring ceremony festivities were set to begin. I watched from behind centerfield and everything looked wonderful. Michael Kay and John Sterling emceed the ceremony and the World Series trophy was even on display.
First the team paid homage to owner George Steinbrenner, who was in attendance for the days’ events. I have never heard a louder ovation for a non-player in my life. The crowd roared for him and rightfully so. Without Mr. Steinbrenner, there would be no Yankee team.
Then Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra came out to help hand out the rings. Manager Joe Girardi also helped distribute the rings and he congratulated each player as they accepted their prize. One by one, every Yankee from last year’s team was called out to get their ring.
Really the only players who were missing were Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera. Jerry Hairston, Jr. (although no longer with the team) was in the ballpark to get his ring. As was Hideki Matsui, the MVP of the ’09 World Series who is now a member of the Angels.
They saved Matsui’s introduction for last, and he received a humungous, deafening ovation. I think every Yankee fan recognized Matsui’s hard work and dedication over the seven years he played in the Bronx. I know he will always be a Yankee in my heart.
When the ceremony was ready to conclude, the whole team ran in and showed Matsui a lot of love; the team got together one last time and embraced for a group hug. The hug almost brought a tear to my eye, because I know how close the 2009 team was.
I didn’t realize until I got home how they had tricked Matsui. Girardi handed him a bootleg ring and later during the Opening Day ceremony ran the real ring over to him. Matsui laughed and I could see his Angel teammates also teasing him for it.
A little playful humor now and then is relished by the best teams, I guess.
And speaking about the Opening Day ceremony: once again, overwhelming. They called the Angels out of their dugout and they all lined up along the third baseline. The Yankees lined up on the first baseline, and cadets from West Point stood in center field to unfurl the American flag. Not long after the anthem ended, two enormous jets flew over Yankee Stadium.
Those fighter jets were LOUD! When I tell you they were loud, they were LOUD! The ground literally shook as they flew over the new house. And once again, it was quite a sight to behold. My only word for it: “Amazing.”
After the anthem and beautiful aerial presentation, Bernie Williams, the great former center fielder, tossed out the honorable first pitch. Talk about an ovation! Williams received a rousing hand from us Yankee faithful, but it somewhat shocked us how he bounced the pitch. Being a former All-Star center fielder, you would think Williams would hit home plate! He missed, much to the surprise of the crowd. The gentleman standing next to me yelled, “Oh, come on Bernie! You gotta hit the glove!”
It’s Ok, Bernie. I still love you.
After the Yankees were finished warming up and all pre-game ceremonies were over, it was time to, as they say, play ball! Yankees vs. Angels.
The Yankees struck first in the bottom of the first. Designated hitter Nick Johnson blasted a solo home run to right field, a shot that (as I understand) landed right next to Bald Vinny–the legendary Bleacher Creature who starts the famous Yankee “roll call” at the beginning of each home game.
Unfortunately I was on line for food when this happened, but I heard the crowd roar and got into a spot just in time to see Johnson cross home plate. In any event it was the first of many home runs the Yankees will hit in their house in 2010.
As Andy Pettitte worked brilliantly through the first three innings, the Yankees held a 1-0 lead until the bottom of the frame. The Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, stepped up to the plate and crushed a solo home to right field, his first of the year.
It really is amazing how many games I have been to that have featured a home run by Jeter. It seems every game I get out to, he hits a home run. I can think of at least five games off the top of my head in which Jeter has homered. Maybe I bring some kind of luck to him, who knows.
In any event, 2-0 Yankees at the end of three innings of play.
One of the more special moments during the day was Matsui’s first at-bat. The former beloved Yankee received yet another rousing ovation from the fans while he stepped into the batter’s box. Pettitte respectfully tipped his cap and stepped off the mound and allowed his former teammate to soak up the moment.
Matsui removed his helmet and acknowledged the fans who once called him a hero. Unfortunately for the 2009 World Series MVP, the Yankees were not very kind to him in terms of his day at the plate. He was 0-for-5 on the day with a strikeout.
The Yankees tacked on three more runs before the end of the sixth inning. Jeter was at it again in the fourth, reaching on an infield single that scored Curtis Granderson. In the sixth, Alex Rodriguez reached on yet another infield single, which brought home Johnson and Nick Swisher.
5-0, all Yankees at the end of six innings. It was looking good for us.
That is, until Kendry Morales stepped up in the top of the eighth. The Angels’ first baseman smashed a long, solo home run into the second deck in right field, putting the Angels on the board, 5-1.
The Yankees got two runs back in the bottom of the eighth, both of them proving to be the difference in the game. Jorge Posada doubled to score Johnson and Granderson singled to score Robinson Cano, giving the Yankees a 7-1 edge.
Posada’s double put him ahead of Mantle on the all-time Yankee doubles list.
You would think with a 7-1 lead heading into the ninth inning everything would be safe and secure. Well, think again. Feeling that the game was practically over, my cousins and I watched the end of the game from the concourse on the first base side.
And we received a pleasant surprise followed by a not-so-pleasant surprise, followed by a happy ending.
Right before the ninth inning began, two gentleman sitting in the field box seats decided to leave. One of them tapped me on the shoulder and handed me his tickets.
“Here you go,” he said. “You guys can watch the end from the field level seats.”
“WOW!” I exclaimed. “Thank you very much!”
“Don’t mention it,” he replied.
How awesome is that?! You never really see that type of chivalry anymore. A man, not knowing who I was, just gave up his seats to me, a stranger. Granted, the game was almost over, it was still a very noble gesture and overall a kind act.
Who says New Yorkers are mean-spirited?
In any event my cousins and I, now sitting in comfortable, padded box seats, watched David Robertson surrender hit after walk after hit, eventually loading the bases. I still thought the Yankees were in great shape, even if they only gave up a run or two.
To our dismay, former Yankee Abreu stepped up and slaughtered a grand slam home run to left field, something he specialized in when he played for the Yankees. I will always like Abreu; in my mind he was the best Yankee right fielder since Paul O’Neill. But yesterday…I did not like him. He burned us pretty bad.
I mean, Abreu’s home run was a real shot. I’m talking way back into the left field seats.
Now with the score at 7-5 and a save situation in place, Girardi was prompted to bring in Mariano Rivera. The great Rivera struck Torii Hunter out swinging and then got his former teammate Matsui to pop out to end the game.
Ballgame over. Yankees win. THEEEEE Yankees win!
We stayed and watched the Yankees take congratulations and improve their record to 5-2.
We exited the ballpark and once again looked at the demolished old stadium. Thomas looked at it once more, and looking at it again, I could not help but think of all the games his father took us to. I think a part of us went down with that stadium.
But then we glanced back at the new stadium and thought about the days’ events. The Yankees had just won and we had just witnessed history; the first ring ceremony in the new Stadium, a batting practice foul ball, a great game, a seat upgrade from a gracious fan and a Yankee win.
And not only that, a day spent with my friends and family.
I could not have asked for anything better. It was just a day where nothing went wrong. I can truly say that I felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth yesterday.
And Uncle John: I know you were there with us. We miss you.
Keep smiling down on us and the Yankees.
With one week and one day left of spring training baseball, the Yankees are starting to get into regular season form. Saturday afternoon the Bronx Bombers beat the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland by a score of 2-1.
Here’s what I made of it…
Coming into this game A.J. Burnett was 0-1 this spring, not exactly setting the Yankees on fire. I recently wrote a blog about Burnett, calling out his inconsistency and how everyone compared him to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last season.
Today, he was “Dr. Jekyll-Burnett.”
The Yanks’ number two man tossed 91 pitches over 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He only gave up three hits, struck out two, and issued three walks. Not a bad day at the office for Burnett and it was a good sign, considering the Tigers played most of their regulars.
Manager Joe Girardi liked what he saw from Burnett today too; the skipper said he was “mixing his pitches, using the fastball more effectively, and was demonstrating better control than his last few starts.”
Could not have said it better myself. Burnett was also in a good rhythm with Jorge Posada, who was catching him this afternoon. Many people have made issues about the Burnett-Posada battery in the past, but if they work together as nicely as they did today there won’t be many problems.
Overall, Burnett looked great. A smooth and effortless delivery, a good fastball, a great breaking pitch, and everything was working for him. Let’s just hope he pitches like this for the better part of the upcoming season.
Burnett will have one more start this spring before April 6–his first regular season start in Boston vs. the Red Sox.
What was interesting about this game was the scoring. The Yankees scored two runs, both of which were brought on by former Tigers. The Tigers plated one run, which was scored by a former Yankee.
In the top of the first, Curtis Granderson knocked in Posada with a two-out RBI single. Of course Granderson played for the Tigers last season, as did Marcus Thames.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the top of the fourth, Thames took Tigers’ starter Nate Robertson deep to left for a long solo home run, a blast that gave the Yankees the lead they would not relinquish.
I think Thames needed that home run, considering the abysmal spring he is having. Heading into that at-bat, he was only averaging .114 at the plate. Yikes!
As for the Tigers, former Yank Johnny Damon scored in the bottom of the third on an RBI single off the bat of Magglio Ordonez. After Damon hit a two-out double Ordonez drove him in from second with a base hit to right field. I have to give credit to Randy Winn, who nearly made a spectacular outfield assist.
Damon just beat the throw to home plate, which was right on the money. A solid effort and a great throw by Winn, but the former Yankee was called safe at home.
It was just a strange day in terms of the scoring. Not many runs and a former player on each team lent a hand in each run. Crazy!
As announced on Thursday, Joba Chamberlain will begin the season in the bullpen. Phil Hughes won the fifth starting pitcher’s spot, much to the dismay of many people including Chamberlain.
A good friend of mine called me almost immediately after the Yankees made the decision. I answered my phone and he literally went off about how angry he was how Hughes was named the fifth starter over Chamberlain. His argument was that the Yanks wasted time with the “Joba Rules” and how they treated him last year.
Think about it: they put Chamberlain on six days rest and then had him go out and throw 4 1/3 innings in some instances. They put him through all of that just to make him a reliever again? My friend said,
“He may not have been Roy Halladay right off the bat, but Rome was not built in a day.”
Excellent point. Chamberlain is only 24 years old. If he was 34 years old and not performing at a high level as a starter, then I would say leave him in the bullpen.
I think many people forget what he did in July 25, 2008 against the Red Sox at Fenway. Chamberlain started the game and tossed seven shutout innings against the BoSox, beating the ace of the Red Sox staff, Josh Beckett. Not only did he pick up the win in that game, he only allowed three hits and fanned nine batters.
The capability and talent is there. He just needs a chance to put it to use.
Chamberlain said Hughes did a better job during spring training and earned the spot, but he also said he was disappointed. He has a right to feel that way. Everyone was expecting him to be the fifth guy and I can tell he wanted to be. But I think one thing has to be made clear:
Even though Hughes is starting the year in the rotation, it doesn’t mean Chamberlain won’t be there. If Hughes struggles (the way he has in the past as a starter) Chamberlain could very well be plugged into that spot and get some starts. Nothing is set in stone; it just means Hughes is starting the year in the rotation!
Maybe everything will work out fine. Perhaps Hughes will find his niche in the rotation while Chamberlain finds his in the ‘pen. Just as he has proven to be a dominant starter, Chamberlain can be just as deadly as a reliever.
After all, he did pitch a scoreless ninth inning today and pick up a save.
–The Tigers’ spring training field is named “Joker Marchant Stadium.” Detroit officially wins the award for silliest Stadium name. Ever.
–David Robertson took over for Burnett and got out of the sixth inning. The more I watch him, the more I like him. He is great!
–Chad Gaudin was released by the Yankees. He made seven starts for the Bronx Bombers last year and the Yanks were 7-0 in those games. I hope he finds a new team, he can really help a ball club the way he helped the Yankees.
–Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Robinson Cano did not make the trip over to Lakeland today.
–Nick Johnson played first base this afternoon. I think it’s good he can play the field, but unfortunately he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts at the plate. He did draw a walk though.
–As mentioned before, Randy Winn almost made a great outfield assist. Even though he missed it, he still did a great job in right field. He made some nice catches and even doubled up a runner at first after an awesome snag. I’ll give him a lot of credit–he won some battles with the sun and wind today!
–The Tigers have a minor leaguer named Michael Rockett. Deik Scram, Michael Rockett…Jeesh, the Tigers are chuck full of minor leaguers with funny names!
–Chan Ho Park’s nickname is “Chop.” Cool. Even cooler, he worked his way out of a 1st and 3rd, one-out jam in the eighth inning.
–Joel Zumaya of the Tigers struck out the side in the sixth inning. He whiffed Granderson, Winn, and Ramiro Pena. I am officially scared of him again. He has been practically a non-factor these past two seasons, but his fastball hit 99 mph on the speed gun and his curve ball was NASTY. I am not looking forward to facing him this year.
–During the telecast, Michael Kay and Tino Martinez had a discussion about the pies to the face after a walk-off win. Kay said the dynasty teams were “very conservative” and that Paul O’Neill (at first) did not like the pies after the walk-off wins.
Martinez however liked them and said the team did not look like they were having fun the last five-six years. “The pies loosened them up,” Martinez elegantly stated.
I have to side with favorite player during the dynasty (Martinez) and say he was right.
–Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees take on the Tigers yet again, only this time they will play in Tampa at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
“He was really my first…you know,’ warrior’ guy.”–George Steinbrenner on Paul O’Neill.
Right field is a sacred position in Yankee history. Reggie Jackson, Roger Maris, and even the immortal Babe Ruth have all played the glorious corner outfield position. It’s one of the most beloved positions ever.
Growing up a Yankee fan during the late 1990s, I was brought up with one right fielder. A man who hated to lose. A man who worked probably harder than 90 percent of the players in the league. A man who defined the word “game.”
I am of course speaking about Paul O’Neill.
There’s no doubt that in my lifetime, O’Neill was the absolute best right fielder the Yankees have had. His love of winning and powerful clubhouse presence helped propel the Yankees to four World Championships and five pennants in the nine years he played in pinstripes.
It’s almost as if O’Neill needed to win.
Buster Olney, beat writer for The New York Times in the ’90s and author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty,” basically described O’Neill as a “lifetime must-winner;” even when he was a child he hated to lose.
For example, he would play basketball games against his brother Robert as a young man, the first to 25 points wins the game. O’Neill would reach 23 points, victory in his sights. Then Robert would sink bucket after bucket until he reached 25, a tactic used to demoralize O’Neill.
Siblings can be so cruel, can’t they?
O’Neill would call his mother at work and claim that Robert cheated. And after a loss, he wanted more. He would goad his brother to give him a return match. “What’s the matter cheater,” he would antagonize. “You’re not getting lucky again!”
He hated to lose, but even when he won, the past defeats clung to him.
For instance, if he went 4-for-5 in a game, he would sit by his locker and think about the one hit he missed out on. He would not focus on the four hits, but the one he missed and he tried to think about what to do differently the next time up.
I would say O’Neill was a little hard on himself; it’s difficult to get a major league hit, let alone multiple hits in a single game. But really any poor at-bat he saw as a failure, and it affected his psyche.
Another interesting point Olney made in his book about O’Neill (that really struck me) was how his attitude rubbed off on his own children. His kids saw how he behaved while playing baseball and mimicked it in a way when they played organized sports.
His son Andy played in an eight-year old basketball league. During a game, he missed a shot and began to cry as he made his way back down the court. O’Neill and his wife Nevalee were in the bleachers watching the game. Nevalee tapped her husband on the shoulder.
She could only say one thing to her husband as she watched her son cry:”It’s all your fault.”
It’s obvious that although O’Neill had that warrior-like mentality and gamesmanship, it went the other way sometimes and had negative effects on those around him.
He also drew criticism from it; when he was extremely upset with a call from an umpire or a failed at-bat, he would toss his helmet, throw his bat, argue, smash the bat rack and Gatorade coolers, and/or throw his batting gloves.
He used to fume when things didn’t go his way and his teammates drew fascination and amusement from it. His opponents thought he was acting like a child. Basically his antics were amusing to his friends but not his enemies.
Me–I thought he was awesome. It was never something I incorporated into my own routine as a Little Leaguer; I always tried to be as respectful as possible (and still do). But watching O’Neill was great. He just never gave up and never wanted to lose.
My favorite memory of O’Neil came in 1997; I was in fourth grade and at Yankee Stadium on a class field trip and it was the first regular season Subway Series. In the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 2-2 and O’Neill standing on third base, Tino Martinez hit a long fly ball to center, a sac fly that allowed O’Neill to score the winning run.
Yankees beat the Mets, 3-2. It was one of my more special games attended and one of my favorite sports moments ever.
I was also happy to see O’Neill play in the Old Timer’s game in 2007; I went to the game with my family and it felt like the old days, watching O’Neill and all the former players put on their cleats for one more day. That was also a great memory I had of him and the Yankees in general.
After the 2001 season, O’Neill called it a career. It was heartwarming in Game Four of the World Series that year; the Yankee faithful serenaded the beloved Yankee, chanting, “Paul O-Ne-ill” for almost an entire half inning. You could just tell how emotional it was for him by his body language; I think it nearly brought him to tears.
Even though the Yanks lost the World Series in ’01 to the Arizona Diamondbacks, O’Neill finished his career on a high note; Five World Series titles (including the Championship he won in 1990 with the Cincinnati Reds) Five All-Star selections, 281 home runs, a .288 lifetime batting average, 1,269 RBIs.
He certainly left a lifetime of memories for us fans.
Since he retired, I don’t think there has been a right fielder who has made as much of an impact as O’Neill. Even after he retired (in 2002, to be exact) then-Yankee manager Joe Torre reached out to O’Neill asking him to come out of retirement because he was in dire need of a right fielder.
A year after he retired, they wanted him back because nobody was as good as him.
O’Neill maintained his retirement and turned Torre down, which prompted Torre and the Yankees’ front office to make a trade for Raul Mondesi, who played right field for about a year in pinstripes before he was traded away.
They say true heroes live on in those who continue their legacy. And there have been many players who have taken over right field, yet none of them staying as long as O’Neill.
Mondesi lasted until 2003 and after Karim Garcia ruined right field for me, it was Gary Sheffield, who could hit but also ran his mouth too much. Sheffield publicly stated that he should have been the team captain.
Yeah…sure, Sheff. You were in pinstripes for a cup of coffee; Derek Jeter played his whole career in pinstripes with an enormous amount of success. You, not Jeter, should be captain. Dream on, buddy.
Sheffield played 2004, 2005, and was injured for the majority of the 2006 season, which yet again forced the Yankees to make a trade for a right fielder.
In ’06 the Yankees acquired Bobby Abreu, who I think without a shadow of a doubt, was the best right fielder since O’Neill. His calm personality and humble demeanor was a stark contrast to O’Neill’s, but he could hit for average, power, and maintained control of right field the way O’Neill would have wanted.
Abreu was and still is a very special player and even though he is an Angel right now, I still like him, respect him, and wish he was still with the Yankees.
In 2009, the Yankees called on Nick Swisher to play right field, due to the season-ending elbow injury of Xavier Nady. Swisher was not too shabby, what with his goofy personality and funny antics.
But no matter who plays right field in the years to come, O’Neill will always hold a special place in Yankee lore and certainly in my heart.
Now the real question is, will they retire his number 21? I was so happy to see his giant banner in the Great Hall at the New Yankee Stadium this year and when you think about it, no one has really worn the number 21 since he retired. The Yanks have sort of taken it out of circulation.
LaTroy Hawkins tried out the number in 2008, only to get booed by the Yankee fans. Hawkins asked Jeter why the fans were booing him, and Jeter told him that his number was “close to the fans.”
Hawkins then changed his number from 21 to 22.
Whatever happens with his number, O’Neill will forever be immortal. No Yankee fan like me, who grew up with the Yankee Dynasty of the late ’90s, will forget him. He was just an everyday guy who everyday went out and played his guts out.
He was a warrior. And I don’t think we will ever see another Yankee quite like him.
“Paul O’Neill’s daily fight for success became our fight.“–David Cone