O’Neill, immense figure of the Yankee dynasty

In August, the Yankees Paul O’Neill’s number will be retired, who would have fit in with any great Yankees team of any era. The ceremony will take place on the 21st, for No. 21. It’s a fitting honor for someone who became a true Yankees great after Gene Michael traded him in November 1992. From the moment When he arrived at the old Yankee Stadium, O’Neill represented all the values ​​that he believed the uniform should still represent. It means that he arrived knowing exactly where he was.

In O’Neill’s second season with the Yankees, when he was hitting .400 for a long stretch early in that season and would go on to win the batting crown, I sat next to him at his locker one afternoon. Here’s part of what O’Neill had to say about the team a kid from Cincinnati now played for:

“I have always been enthralled with the history of the game. And just in that sense, Yankee Stadium is the only place to be,” he said. “There are several special parks in the game, at least the ones that still work. I have a picture of myself when I was 4 or 5 years old that my father took at Crosley Field. “He always instilled in me an appreciation for history. So, I appreciated Fenway Park and I appreciated Wrigley Field. But you have to start here. I think about it every night as I walk down the hall from the clubhouse to the dugout. I appreciate it every night.”

O’Neill had already won the World Series with the Reds in 1990. He won four more titles with the Yankees in his nine seasons with the pinstripes, and nearly won a fifth championship until the D-backs rallied in the bottom half of the game. ninth in Game 7 in 2001. He was a career .300 hitter with the Yankees, and though Don Mattingly was still playing in the Bronx when O’Neill came to New York, and though Derek Jeter began to become the face of the franchise once Mattingly left, O’Neill became one of the most beloved modern Yankees because of the way he played baseball.

“He was embarrassed when they put him out,” recalls Buck Showalter, O’Neill’s first manager with the Yankees.

“He was our old-fashioned player,” David Cone said.

There was always a great friendship between Cone and O’Neill. They were born within seven weeks of each other in 1963. Cone was selected by the Royals in the third round of the 1981 Amateur Draft, while O’Neill was selected in the fourth round by the Reds. O’Neill got to New York first. Cone came to the Bronx in the middle of the 1995 season. After that, all they knew how to do was win together.

“There really were a lot of similarities in our career paths,” Cone said. “Both of us were drafted by our home teams and were able to debut with our home teams. But there was just something about New York that brought out the best in us.”

Cone then went on to talk about some of his favorite memories of No. 21. First is the catch O’Neill made while running on his good leg (he had a hamstring injury in the other) toward a ball hit by Luis Poland to end Game 5 of the 1996 World Series and preserve the Yankees’ 1-0 victory, the last play at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, one that O’Neill capped by hitting the fence with his hand. right forest.

And Cone fondly recalled, as Yankee fans do, O’Neill’s 10-pitch at-bat against Armando Benítez in Game 1 of the 2000 Subway Fall Classic vs. . the Mets. It was the bottom of the ninth act when O’Neill stepped into the plate. The Yankees trailed by one run. But O’Neill eventually walked. The Yankees tied the game in the ninth inning and won it in extra innings. The Bombers ended up winning that World Series in five games. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if O’Neill hadn’t battled Benitez the way he did that night.

“But even that’s not my best memory of Paul,” Cone said. “My best memory is sliding vs. the Indians”.

Oh yeah. The Slide. Game 5 of the 1997 Division Series, New York vs. Cleveland.

The Yankees had come within four outs of winning the series in Game 4. Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar hit the fence off Panama’s Mariano Rivera and the series was tied. The next night, the Indians took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Two out. Clean foundations. O’Neill had already been a giant for the Yankees in that series. He had seven hits (including a pair of home runs and a grand slam) and would end up batting .421.

“He wasn’t going to get converted for the last out of the game, or our season,” Cone said.

O’Neill hit a drive that hit the fence in right-center field. Although he knew that if he was thrown out at second base the season would be over for them, getting a double was always on his mind. Marquis Grissom made a terrific one-handed play off the rebound in the outfield and his shot to Omar Vizquel seemed to have done O’Neill. But somehow, O’Neill slid past Vizquel at second and went down hard on one knee, managing to touch the base with his right hand to get safe. The next batter, Puerto Rican Bernie Williams, would be the last out of the season for the Yankees, who saw the defense of their 1996 title over.

But Paul O’Neill did everything humanly possible to make the opposite happen.

“The way he slid made it clear to us that he was willing to risk his physicality to try and get in scoring position,” Cone recalled. “It was because of that slide that George [Steinbrenner] He started calling him, ‘The Warrior.’”

The nickname stuck with him. For being a great Yankee. No. 21. The number that will be retired in August. Another way to honor a player who has always honored the New York Yankees.

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O’Neill, immense figure of the Yankee dynasty