Thursday, January 12, 2012

Paul O'Neill #21

I get asked all the time as to who are my favorite New York Yankees players. I mean, that’s a hard question to ask. Put that question up to my dad and he’ll tell you that it was Lou Piniella. Back in the day he’d tease me by saying "Ese es tu papa" (That’s your dad) whenever Piniella came up to bat. I have to admit, I was partial to those Yankees teams of the mid to late 1970’s since I was a child watching those teams play ball. Who wouldn’t want to count players like Mickey Rivers, Goose Gossage, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry and the forever missed Yankee Captain Thurman Munson among their favorite players.

Add to that such Yankees players from the 1980’s such as Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Don Baylor and from the 1990’s such as Jimmy Key, Graeme Lloyd (his actions in that fight against the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 are unforgettable), David Cone, Cecil Fielder and not to overlook the core four (Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte) with Bernie Williams. I can go on and on and on. But for the sake of the post I want to focus on one player who I’ll always say is on the top of my list of favorite Yankees players. This player came to the team in a trade for the future heir apparent to the fabled Center-field position of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Remembering that I sat there dumbfounded as to who the hell this player was when reading about it in the paper, watching him play year after year reinforced that the team had made a steal of a deal. The player I am talking about is #21, the player George Steinbrenner dubbed "The Warrior" Paul O'Neill.

Up to the point when O'Neill was traded to the Yankees, all I really knew about him was that he played on the 1990 World Series Champion Cincinnati Reds and that he basically was shipped out of Cincinnati due to some bad blood with Reds manager Lou Piniella. So after hearing that Roberto Kelly was untouchable in trade talks, I found it hard to believe that they had traded him to Cincinnati for Paul O’Neill and minor league first baseman Joe DeBerry on November 3, 1992. Looking back on it now the trade made sense. Here is how New York Times writer and current YES Network analyst Jack Curry described the trade in his November 3, 1992 article Yankees Trade Roberto Kelly to Reds for O'Neill:

Joe DeBerry, a minor league first baseman, also came to New York in the deal, which essentially centered on the 29-year-old O'Neill, a .259 career hitter with 96 home runs and a contract through 1994, being swapped for the 28-year-old Kelly, a .280 career hitter with 56 home runs and an opportunity to become a free agent after next season.

According to Curry, the team had gotten tired of waiting for Kelly’s potential to become reality. His career never developed as was expected though he did play mainly as a platoon player for 14-seasons retiring after playing with the Yankees during the 2000 season. O'Neill on the other hand, became the heart and soul of the late 1990’s Yankees dynasty.

After showing flashes of what was to come with the Reds, O'Neill was solid for the Yankees. From 1993-1995 O'Neill averaged a .321 batting average with 142 hits (30 2B/2 3B/21 HR), 85 RBI, 3SB, 62 BB and 67 Ks. His average OPS was .940 (.401 OBP/.539 SLG). Keep in mind the numbers are a bit skewed since the year O'Neill won the AL Batting Title in 1994 with a .359 batting average that season was shortened due to the players strike and the 1995 was shortened as well. He seemed to rev it up a few notches in 1996.

From 1996-2000 his numbers and production for the Yankees are amazing. Consider this, that during those years, O'Neill averaged a .302 batting average with 173 hits (36 2B/1 3B/20 HR), 107 RBI, 10 SB, 70 BB and 90 Ks. His average OPS was .850 (.374 OBP/.476 SLG). His intensity on the field (and against Gatorade buckets in the dugout) labeled him a cry-baby on the field by many including former manager Lou Piniella but who can forget O’Neill’s break neck hustling on a two-out double in the top of the 9th of Game Five of the 1997 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. Ask A-Rod on how hard it can be to get the respect and adoration of the New York Yankees fans. Paul O'Neill had it and still does. The memory of the chanting of Paul O’Neill’s name after his last at-bat in the major leagues during the 2001 World Series and his emotional curtain call still gives me goosebumps.

It’s a shame that O’Neill only got 2.2% of the Hall of Fame vote in 2007 losing his eligibility for the Hall. I’m not saying that he was a Hall of Famer, but it would have been nice to see him get a few more years of eligibility. I guess I’ll take with the memory of watching Paul O’Neill on top of the celebration pile after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series. Thanks for the memories Paul. (PHOTO CREDIT Linda Cataffo/New York Daily News)

As per the Paul O’Neill website, here is a list of his career highlights:

- Six World Series appearances, five World Series rings.

- Winning twenty-three of the thirty World Series games he has appeared in. Paul is the only player to ever play in a World Series sweep in both the National and American leagues.

- Five All-Star games.

- 1994 American League Batting Title - .359 average.

- Shares record for for most games in a season with four or more extra base hits (2): May 11 and September 13, 1991.

- Paul played 235 consecutive games in right field without making an error, part of 1995, all of 1996 and part of 1997.

- Led American League in hitting with men on base 1997 - .429.

- Relentlessly gunning guys out over the years with an arm designed like a Howitzer for the battlefield.

- 15 of 17 steal attempts in 1998. Who says 6'4" guys can't steal?

- The only player in Major League Baseball history to play on the winning side of three perfect games (Browning, Wells and Cone).

- August 25, 2001 - Paul becomes the oldest major leaguer to steal twenty bases and hit twenty homeruns in the same season.

- As a full time, non-designated hitter, Paul was on the winning side of 16 of 19 post-season series.

- Paul is the first Yankee since Mickey Mantle from 1952-62 to hit at least 18 homeruns in nine consecutive seasons.

- Paul batted .474 in the 2000 Subway Series, tying a five-game record with nine hits.

- Had 24 hits and 16 walks in 27 World Series games.

- Led Reds in HRs, RBI, doubles and walks in 1991.

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Paul O"Neill's career statistics from

- Click Here to access Jack Curry's article Piniella Takes Advantage of Another Chance to Taunt the Yanks' O'Neill dated August 30, 1996 from the New York Times website.

- Click Here to access Jack Curry's article Yankees Trade Roberto Kelly to Reds for O'Neill dated November 4, 1992 from the New York Times website.

- Click Here to access Paul O'Neill's official website

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