Happy Birthday to Paul O’Neill! The “Warrior” turns 51-years-old today. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 13 years since O’Neill decided to walk away from the game. A 5-time career All-Star (four with the Yankees), O’Neill was one of the most beloved athletes in New York during his nine seasons in pinstripes, and is fondly remembered by Yankee fans as the “heart and soul” of the team’s dynasty in the 1990s, which under O’Neill’s leadership, the Yankees had one of the most successful runs in franchise history, winning four World Series championships in five years, and winning three championships in a row (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000).
O’Neill also won the 1994 AL batting title, finishing with an average of .359, in a year in which the final 59 games of the regular season and all of the postseason were cancelled due to a players strike. O’Neill is also remembered for ending Game 5 of the 1996 World Series by robbing former Yankee teammate Luis Polonia of the Atlanta Braves of an extra-base hit, preserving a 1–0 victory for the Yankees. The Yankees would then win the series, which was their first World Series title since 1978. And who could forget in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, in what fans knew was likely his last home game as a major leaguer, when O’Neill received a sendoff from New York fans. While standing in right field in the 9th inning with the Yankees down 2–0, the entire stadium chanted his name. When the inning ended, O’Neill was still being cheered. With tears in his eyes, he tipped his cap, and another roar went up from the crowd at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won the game 3-2, but, would end up losing the series in heart braking fashion in Game 7.
His number 21, has not been worn by any Yankees player since his retirement, except for Latroy Hawkins, who briefly wore the number to start the 2008 season, but eventually switched to 22, in response to the criticism he received by many Yankees fans, all the more suggesting that number 21 may one day be rightfully be retired for O’Neill. So from all of us here at Yanks Go Yard, and from Yankees fans everywhere, Happy Birthday Paul! Thanks for everything!