Even though the Yankee Stadium he played in for nine seasons was different from the one he visited for the first time this year, Paul O’Neill still felt like at home.
Before the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, O’Neill, a five-time World Series champion and current YES Network broadcaster, had his No. 21 retired.
His former Yankee teammates Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Tino Martinez all made appearances, and others, including Joe Torre, David Cone, Derek Jeter, and Roberto Clemente Jr. (whose father, a Pittsburgh Pirates icon and celebrated humanitarian, also wore No. 21), sent video messages.
Since O’Neill has not been vaccinated against Covid-19, the day began with considerable uncertainty due to his continued remote coverage of Yankees games.
Fans in attendance and watching from home were likely oblivious to any additional security measures because the event on Sunday went off without a hitch.
The Yankees (74-48) gave O’Neill, their fiercely competitive former right fielder, a variety of gifts, including a customized water cooler with a bandage on it and a baseball bat ripped through it, a nod to the dugout equipment he frequently destroyed during his 17 major league seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and the Yankees.
The event was accompanied by “The Warrior” from Scandal, and the crowd showered O’Neill with chants of his name. (O’Neill was called a “warrior” by former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.)
O’Neill began his professional baseball career in 1985 with the Cincinnati Reds.
After being traded off to New York in a 1992 deal for Roberto Kelly, O’Neill spent the next decade there as a fan favorite and won four titles and a batting crown.
O’Neill hit at least.300 for the Yankees in his first six seasons there, and he finished with 1,426 hits, 185 home runs, and 858 RBI. Over the course of his career, he amassed a .288 batting average, 2,105 base knocks, 281 home runs, and 1,269 RBI.
Over the course of 85 postseason games, including 27 World Series games, O’Neill hit.284 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI.