The New York Yankees announced Tuesday that Paul O’Neill would be having his number retired on Aug. 21, 2022.
While Yankees fans got to celebrate for a few moments upon learning the news, opposing fans flocked to question the decision and further lament the organization “retiring too many numbers” for their taste.
Following O’Neill getting his No. 21 retired, the only active numbers between 1-25 will be 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 22, 24 and 25. And there are more in Monument Park beyond that! We’re sorry, though, it’s the Yankees fault for having such a rich history of legendary players. Let Yankees fans apologize to opposing fans, who have no rooted interest in the Yankees, for that.
And that wasn’t even the worst of the arguments. Some — again, those who aren’t well-versed in Yankees history or fandom — called into question the legitimacy of O’Neill’s contributions and legacy with the Bombers.
And to that there are two responses: 1) You don’t know what you’re talking about and; 2) Even if his numbers weren’t that good, what’s the harm in retiring a number of a beloved player? Don’t you want to remember your favorite players who meant so much to you and your team’s success?
O’Neill’s No. 21 had been in circulation just once since his retirement when LaTroy Hawkins was forced to change it back in 2008 due to fan outrage. Nobody wanted another player wearing that number.
Opposing fans know nothing about Yankees legend Paul O’Neill.
Paul O’Neill is not a Hall of Famer, but he is a Yankees legend. Is Dustin Pedroia a Hall of Famer? Absolutely not. But you can bet there’s a strong chance the Red Sox will retire his number someday for what he did for the city of Boston … because he’s a Red Sox icon for winning a Rookie of the Year, MVP and three World Series. It’s just how it works.
As for O’Neill, even the dumbest people on the internet can research his success and understand why the Yankees ultimately arrived at this decision. Here’s a quick bullet point list of what O’Neill accomplished after arriving in New York AT THE AGE OF 30:
- .303 average, .869 OPS, 125 OPS+ across nine seasons in the Bronx
- Four-time World Series champion
- Four-time All-Star
- Led Yankees in RBI (858) and doubles (304) from 1993-2001
- Second on the Yankees in hits (1,426), homers (185), extra-base hits (503) and runs scored (720) over that same span
- In 85 career playoff games (76 with Yankees), O’Neill hit .284 with an .828 OPS, 39 runs scored, 11 homers, 39 RBI, 17 doubles, 38 walks, and just 41 strikeouts
- Accumulated 26.7 bWAR in nine seasons
And he got screwed out of a potential career campaign due to the work stoppage in 1994 (he was leading the league in batting average and had 21 homers, 83 RBI and a 1.064 OPS in 103 games).
Now that we’ve shown you the numbers do the decision justice, let’s discuss his impact among the fanbase. For non-Yankees fans who know nothing about the organization and waste their energy on solely hating/criticizing, O’Neill was a fan favorite. He might’ve actually embodied what a fan favorite was because his stats didn’t pop off the page — it was his penchant for being in the right spot at the right time, delivering in clutch situations, and bringing the fire and passion every single night. Whether it was throwing his helmet down the first base line after grounding out, destroying a water cooler, fist-pumping after a huge defensive play, or celebrating like a maniac after watching his teammates succeed, many could argue O’Neill was the intangible driving force behind the Yankees’ dynasty from 1996-2001. That would at least explain why he endeared himself to New Yorkers — and still does, to this day!
Other pockets of the anti-O’Neill number retirement corps suggest that this decision takes the shine off what other legends have accomplished, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, etc. You get the picture.
Does it, though? Some of those who have their numbers retired (accompanied by plaques or monuments) in Yankee Stadium played their days pre-integration. They played their days with postseasons where the only series was the World Series. No ALCS. No ALDS. No Wild Card. The route to success was shorter. Some played when the game was straight up different! It’s gotten more intricate and complicated over time. Yeah, life kind of sucks.
There’s no sense in arguing era vs era. Time happens. Things are different. People make history during that particular moment, we remember, we celebrate and move on (or at least that’s how it should be). Too often we’re debating “who’s better than who” when it should just be “this guy was great, and so was this guy! This is fun! More please!” For example, are we about to say Mickey Mantle’s seven titles aren’t as legitimate because he didn’t have a more arduous road to the Fall Classic? Hope not.
The general Hall of Fame argument has a lot to do with individual success, but time and consequence should also play bigger roles. It’s why David Ortiz was a first ballot Hall of Famer this year. Could you tell the story of baseball from 2004-2016 without David Ortiz? No, you couldn’t, and that’s what likely played a role in the writers electing him in expedited fashion (even though MOST previous first-ballot Hall of Famers have had much greater “success” than Ortiz).
In the case of O’Neill, he played a much lesser role in the grand picture of baseball, but a much larger one in the Yankees’ microcosm. The Yankees chose to honor him because of it. And it’s nobody’s business except for the Yankees’ and their fans’. Haven’t you learned from watching mob shows and movies that it’s best to mind your own business? Don’t be a wise guy.
And feel free to call any Yankees fans out when your franchise inducts a certain “undeserving” player into the team Hall of Fame. If there’s one thing Yankees fans understand, it’s what a player brings to a franchise in a certain point in time. O’Neill’s situation should make that a bit clearer for all the naysayers … even though it probably won’t.