NEW YORK — Eight years ago, the New York Yankees’ Paul O’Neill was honored for his services to their dynasty with a plaque in Monument Park.
On Sunday, the Yankees retired his No. 21 — the 23rd player or manager in franchise history to do so.
The ceremony was drastically different from others not only because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 but also because the Yankees started Sunday with 14 losses in 18 games. Such is the frustration that there were noticeable boos for managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman during the 33-minute ceremony.
New York’s first jersey retirement ceremony since 2017, when No. 2 Derek Jeters was honored, had the usual video tributes and messages, gifts and an acceptance speech.
During his eight-minute speech, O’Neill thanked the fans several times. He opened by saying, “You Yankee fans have obviously practiced and it still sounds great today.”
A four-time World Series champion as a Yankee, O’Neill earned the nickname “The Warrior” from late owner George Steinbrenner. “The fans remember the teams that won and we won,” said O’Neill. “And we won a lot.”
O’Neill hit .303 with 185 home runs and 858 RBIs for the Yankees from 1993 to 2001. He was a four-time All-Star with the team and won the 1994 AL title at batting during a strike-shortened season.
He wore the number 21 throughout his big league career, starting as a rookie with the Reds in 1985.
“That’s why I’m celebrating this day because it’s the biggest dream I’ve ever had in my life,” O’Neill said in his speech.
Former coach Gene Monahan was there, along with teammates Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Six minutes into the ceremony, O’Neill stood alongside his wife and family to unveil his retirement number at Monument Park. He was taken onto the field in a golf cart as highlights were shown on the video board – including his last home game in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series and his running catch to end Game 5 of the 1996 World Series.
Then there were short video messages from Jeter, Joe Torre, David Cone and Don Mattingly, along with a message in Spanish from Roberto Clemente Jr., the son of the Hall of Famer and a former Yankee announcer.
“Obviously, Paul is a central figure in one of the many great times in Yankee baseball and dynasties,” manager Aaron Boone said before the Yankees took on Toronto, adding, “It’s fun to have Paul[as]a friendly.” To know even silly dude sometimes between those lines is a contrast to what he was.”
Steinbrenner gave O’Neill a framed plaque of his jersey; Other gifts included a custom wine bottle featuring his #21, a framed jersey autographed by current Yankees, and a water cooler, a nod to his penchant for slamming water coolers in the dugout.
The signed framed jersey was the closest thing O’Neill had to an interaction with New York’s current roster due to his vaccination status; Unvaccinated staff are barred from interacting with players in the dugout and clubhouse.
O’Neill has been calling games on the YES Network from his home in Ohio since the 2020 pandemic season. In an interview with NJ Advance Media published Saturday, O’Neill said of his vaccination status: “I’d rather not discuss that.”
With O’Neill retiring after the 2001 World Series, LaTroy Hawkins was the only New York player to wear the number 21 early in the 2008 season, but he switched back not too long after the season began.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34436545/new-york-yankees-retire-paul-oneill-no-21-hal-steinbrenner-booed-fans New York Yankees retire Paul O’Neill’s No. 21; GM Brian Cashman, owner Hal Steinbrenner booed by fans