Wednesday, April 15, 2015
PAUL O'NEILL: A YANKEE GREAT OF OUR GENERATION
When we think of the great Yankees teams of the mid-to-late 1990’s, almost every single one of us thinks of the core four, as we should. But there was one guy who arrived in town prior to the 1993 season, a few years before the 1996 World Series Championship, that deserves just as much credit as the core four. That man is none other than the YES Network’s own Paul O’Neill.
O’Neill was obtained via a trade from the Cincinnati Reds for Roberto Kelly and that kind of jump started the Yankees in their progression upward. O’Neill was a solid right fielder whose career average at the time was just .259. Obviously GM Gene Michael saw something he liked in the struggling 29-year-old O’Neill. It goes without saying he was right.
O’Neill proceeded to bat .311 in 1993 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI. In 1994 he won the AL batting crown with a .359 average to go with 21 home runs and 83 RBI. He was a four-time All Star while in the Bronx and went on to win four World Series rings with the Yankees. He truly became a star when he joined the Bombers.
The thing I remember and admire most about Paul O’Neill was how he played the game was passion, fire and energy. He always expected great things out of himself and he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Although stats were never officially kept, I’d bet he led the league in damaged equipment, water coolers and any other objects he could get his hands on when he wasn’t happy with himself. And I’ll tell you what, I LOVED it!
Every team needs a guy like that. A guy that has that kind of passion and cares so much about success that he needs to let loose occasionally. Or more than occasionally. Now kids, that is not acceptable behavior on a ball field for you youngsters. But don’t tell Paul that. We don’t need any more water coolers or helmets to feel the wrath of O’Neill!
Hey Paul, if you’re reading this, I have a question. How many practice swings do you figure you took out in right field between pitches? I know it was a long time ago, but if I remember correctly, every time the camera panned to you out in the outfield, there you were working on mechanics! Never ending work!
He also had a humble way about himself when he played the game. When he got a hold of one and sent it into the right field seats, he would put his head down and take a brisk trot around the bases. Never gloating or acting like a fool. By the way kids, acting like a jackass and showing someone up is also not acceptable on the ball field. Not unless you want to wear a fastball your next at bat.
Paul O’Neill finished his nine seasons with the Yankees with a batting line of .303/.377/.492, adding 185 home runs and 858 RBI, including four straight 100 RBI seasons from 1997-2000. As for Kelly, whom he was traded for, he played for eight teams over the next eight seasons and never materialized into the great ballplayer that many thought he was going to be.
Who would have thought that the under performing outfielder on the Reds would become one of the better Yankees of our generation? Gene Michael perhaps, but even that is a stretch!
Paul O’Neill didn’t start out a Yankee like many of the Yankee greats, but he finished a Yankee and he finished strong. In five full seasons in Cincinnati O’Neill’s best year, in terms of average, was in 1989 when he batted .276. Once he joined the Yankees, he eclipsed that mark every year except his final year in 2001. He would bat over .300 six consecutive seasons from 1993- 1998. His four 100+ RBI seasons came at the ages of 34, 35, 36 and 37 years old. Not bad!
The Yankees, rightfully so, honored O’Neill with a plaque in Monument Park last August. I know O’Neill considers it a great honor and it truly is. But he deserved it. He earned it. He earned it with his bat, with his hustle and with his passion. Paul O’Neill was an old-school kind of Yankee. Not only was his passion and fire that of some of the older generations, but he was no spring chicken when he had his finest years in Pinstripes.
Thanks for all your hard work over the years Paul and for helping the Yankees to four World Series titles when I was a teenager. You were one of my favorite Yankees of the era and I always respected the way you played the game. Long live number 21, a truly great Yankee.
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