Yankees legend Paul O’Neill deserves a little more love for his playoff antics.
Paul “The Warrior” O’Neill was a certified Yankees legend from the second he slipped on the pinstripes in 1993, embodying the exact mentality the franchise needed before they knew they needed it.
The final nine years of O’Neill’s career were spent in the Bronx, featuring four All-Star appearances, a batting title, four championships, and a complete rebranding to stardom for the Ohio boy. He wasn’t just a Cincinnati Red anymore — he was the No. 1 firebrand on a dynasty, crushing mistakes AND water coolers.
But sometimes, O’Neill’s efforts get lost in the dynasty.
After all, he wasn’t in the so-called “Core Four” (Bernie Williams would like to lodge a very similar complaint), not drafted and developed by the Yankees. Regardless, he was certainly the engine that helped make everything possible, and his arrival (prior to Mo, Jeter and Co.) changed the tone for the never-give-up, veteran-laden crew that won an unimaginable number of titles.
So let’s celebrate him during another Yankees postseason that he helped usher in, huh? While he gives us the Views from the Basement, we’re here to enjoy three awesome O’Neill moments that showed what a warrior he really was.
3. Game-Saving Catch in 1996 World Series
Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill beat the Braves on one leg in 1996.
There’s simply nothing like playing 1-0 games in the playoffs, eh? In that it sucks, is a bad feeling, and nobody should do it.
The intense stress of a typical postseason contest is ratcheted up to 1,000 when there’s so little margin for error, which is why it’s still downright stunning that second-year lefty Andy Pettitte was able to hold the defending World Champion Atlanta Braves down in a pivotal Game 5 of the ’96 Series.
But the Yankees would’ve fallen one out short of grabbing the win if not for O’Neill’s superhuman effort in right field on a bum hamstring.
With two on and two out in the ninth and the winning run on first, John Wetteland surrendered a gap shot into deep right-center, and O’Neil summoned every ounce of his strength to be in a position to blindly stab at the ball and … nab it.
In Oct. 1996, Jack Curry of the New York Times summed up O’Neill’s injury struggle thusly:
"“Paul O’Neill has a chronic pain that shoots through his left hamstring whenever he tries to push off and swing and whenever he pursues a fly ball. While O’Neill refuses to use the injury as an excuse, it has sapped his productivity and turned him into the player most likely to be benched in the American League Championship Series.”"
But as O’Neill put it, in the very same article? “Nobody wants to hear that garbage about me being hurt.”
Glad they didn’t bench him, huh?