Saturday, August 9, 2014

Remembering Yankees of The Past: Paul O'Neill

Paul O’Neill was widely considered to be the “heart and soul” of the dynasty teams in the 1990’s, which is saying something since they had the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and others on the squad. I guess when George Steinbrenner labeled him a “Warrior” that kind of helped his cause, and so did the 194 water coolers he physically violated in his time with New York. The Yankees have only issued O’Neill’s #21 one time since his retirement in 2001 when LaTroy Hawkins wore it for a few weeks in 2008 before switching to #22 after receiving criticism from Yankee fans.

O’Neill came over to the New York Yankees before the 1993 season when the Cincinnati Reds traded him to New York for Roberto Kelly. O’Neill was immediately inserted into the heart of the Yankees order and would replace Yankee captain Don Mattingly in the third spot in the order. O’Neill would put up solid numbers in 1993 and would be selected to the All Star team and win the batting title in the lockout-shortened 1994 season. The Yankees led the American League East division by 6.5 games when the players locked out and ended the season and had a .359 batting average and 83 RBI’s in 103 games. O’Neill, with the help of Mattingly, would lead the Yankees to the postseason for the first time since 1981 when they clinched the first ever American League Wild Card berth but would eventually lose an exciting five game series to the Seattle Mariners despite winning the first two games of the series.

O’Neill would be part of the 1996 World Series Yankees squad and even robbed the Braves Luis Polonia of an extra base hit in that 1-0 pitcher’s duel in Game 5 between John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte. While the Yankees were eliminated in the postseason in 1997 in the division series with the Cleveland Indians the Yankees would return to the promised land with O’Neill in right field in 1998 with a sweep of the San Diego Padres. That 1998 Yankees squad won a total of 125 games, a major league record, and only lost one game in the entire postseason drawing reviews as possibly the greatest team of all time. The Yankees followed up the 1998 season with a sweep of the Atlanta Braves in the 1999 World Series and the 25th championship of the franchise’s history. The New York Yankees would once again be crowned World Series champions in 2000 in a five game Subway World Series beating the New York Mets for O’Neill’s fourth ring as a member of the Yankees. O’Neill’s final season was in 2001 when the Arizona Diamondbacks shocked the world and broke the hearts of all Yankees players and fans when they won the World Series in seven games.

O’Neill now works in the YES Network booth with Michael Kay. O’Neill has also been rumored to be interested in managing his former team, the Cincinnati Reds, so maybe managing is in his future but for now O’Neill is just a plaque in Monument Park. That’s okay with me and I am sure it is okay with him too. Congratulations Paulie.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)