The fans chanted his name as Michael Kay delivered an emphatic statement that Paul O’Neill’s No. 21 would never be worn again by any other Yankees player.
Sunday marked the day that O’Neill became the 23rd player or manager in franchise history honored with having their number retired at Yankee Stadium. It came eight years after his plaque was added to Monument Park and he joined Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams as members of the 90s dynasty team to have their numbers hung up for good.
He helped the Yankees win four championships in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. O’Neill played his final season in 2001 and received an emotional sendoff from the Yankee Stadium crowd during Game 5 of the World Series.
“Since 1993 I’ve been extremely proud to be associated with the best organization in baseball, and that is right here in New York with the Yankees,” O’Neill said during his speech on the field.
Posada, Petitte, Rivera, Williams, and Tino Martinez were all on hand for the roughly half-hour ceremony that took place before New York took on the Toronto Blue Jays. Jeter, Torre, David Cone, and Don Mattingly recorded video tributes for O’Neill that were played on the video board.
A special message from Roberto Clemente Jr. was also played. The No. 21 had come to have great significance to O’Neill due to its connection to baseball great Roberto Clemente.
“I am very proud and honored that I had the opportunity to watch you play all those years with that great dynasty of a team,” Clemente Jr. said in a prerecorded message. “Someone who really carried a number that’s very special to me. And carried it with such a passion to win. … I can tell you dad is looking down on you and saying congratulations and a job well done.”
The current Yankee players watched the ceremony from the dugout due to O’Neill remaining unvaccinated, which has prevented him from calling games on YES Network in the booth this season. He has done broadcasts remotely from his home in Ohio.
O’Neill spent nine seasons with the Yankees after he was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds on Nov. 3. 1992. He would become known as “The Warrior” as he left it all on the field in pursuit of success.
The Yankees outfielder was often viewed as a heart and soul player for New York and was often seen putting his body on the line in order to make a play in the field.
O’Neill has long been fan favorite and received a hero’s welcome from the sizable crowd it the Bronx on Sunday. Chants of “Paul O’Neill” echoed throughout the stadium during the ceremony and he acknowledged the impact they had on his career.
“You made it so much fun to win here in New York,” he said. “I’ll never forget you guys cheering. People didn’t even want to come here and play because they were scared of you. There’s no better fans in the world than at Yankee Stadium. I was thinking that there’s so many dreams in life that don’t always come true. That’s why I’m really celebrating this day because this is the biggest dream that I’ve ever had in my life and I appreciate everything that you did.”
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 21, 2022
In 1,254 games in pinstripes, O’Neil had 1,426 hits and batted .303 while scoring 720 runs over that time. Additionally, he recorded 858 RBIs.
He was a four-time MLB All-Star during his time in New York and won the American League batting crown in 1994. O’Neill’s .303 batting average with the Yankees is 12th in franchise history.
“Obviously Paul is a central figure in one of the great many times in Yankee baseball and dynasties,” manager Aaron Boone said ahead of the ceremony. “Good to hear that song. I love hearing the Warrior and it’s fitting the kind of competitor he was, the game he played and now still having an important role within this organization with the YES Network. It’s fun to see and to know Paul in a way. This friendly even silly guy sometimes that’s in contrast with who he was between those lines.
“An exciting day for this organization and obviously a great day for Paul. Well deserved.”
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