The late-90s New York Yankees Dynasty didn’t have an MVP. Sure, the Derek Jeter lovers will chime in that he is the most important part of the dynasty, but the simple truth is that those teams were made up of key pieces that if one went missing the rest would fall apart. Bernie Williams was the cool and calm sage. Jeter was the clutch assassin. Andy Pettitte would kill any momentum an opposing team had with huge shutdown performances. The Sandman wouldn’t let them lose. Paulie? Paulie brought the fire.
No nickname was more suited for a player than The Warrior. Paul O’Neill was just that. No one hated striking out more than Paul O’Neill. There are several water coolers that could testify that is true. You can argue no one wanted to win more than O’Neill either. Losing simply didn’t seem acceptable.
I remember when the Yankees sent Roberto Kelly to the Reds for Paul O’Neill. I loved Kelly. He was a speedy, solid outfielder who was one year removed from a 20-20 season and was a back-to-back All Star. O’Neill was an average right fielder at the time that had one monster season and was solid with the glove. I didn’t think negatively of the trade, I simply didn’t understand it.
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It took his first season in New York to become a star. The 1993 season, his debut in the Bronx was the best year of his career at that point and better than most years Kelly put up in his tenure. He hit a career high .311 and got on a base at a career high .367 rate as well. It didn’t stop there either.
Six straight seasons of batting.300 or higher. He would have four straight seasons of driving in 100 or more runs. He finished in the Top 15 in MVP voting four times, was a four time All Star and led the league in hitting in 1994 with a .359 average. When O’Neill walked away from the Yankees he ended his nine-year stint with a .303 average, 185 home runs and 858 RBI.
It was more than the numbers with The Warrior. He gave it his all everyday. Some people thought his antics were childish and immature. But it was passion and fire and an all-out unwillingness to accept failure of any kind. He showed it in the field. He wasn’t the most graceful, but he’d throw his body after a ball and somehow come up with it.
The Warrior was a fan favorite and lived and breathed pinstripes. I wish we could somehow evoke him into wanting to become the next hitting coach and see him back in the Yankees uniform. We are lucky as fans to have him around on the television. He will forever be remembered as a Yankee immortal after being enshrined as the 29th member of Monument Park this past August. And I know I will always get pumped up whenever I hear Baba O’Reilly for the rest of my life.