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Yankees To Retire #21 for Paul O’Neill

The New York Yankees announced yesterday, in the form of a tweet, that on August 21st, 2022 the organization will be honoring the career of Paul O’Neill and retiring the number 21 in his honor.

Let’s take a brief look at his Yankee career, some of his better Yankee moments, and lets talk number retirements:

8.21.22 Paul O’Neill’s No. 21 enters Monument Park. — New York Yankees (@Yankees) February 22, 2022

Paul O’Neill’s Yankee Career:

Paul O’Neill had established himself as a solid baseball player during his 8 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds from 1985-1992. (To be fair, those first two years were a brief 5 and 3 game stint coming in September/October and April as O’Neill was 22 and 23-years old, respectively.) He was a World Series champion and received some down-MVP votes in 1990, was an All-Star in 1991, and was traded to the New York Yankees after the 1992 season for Roberto Kelly.

Paul O’Neill then spent the next 9 years until his retirement after 2001 with the New York Yankees. During this time, he collected 4 more All-Star appearances in 1994-1995 and 1997-1998. During each of those years he also received some down-MVP votes, having his best result in 1994 after leading the AL in batting average (.359) and finishing 5th overall. He was also a contributor towards 4 World Series championships for the New York Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.

As a Yankee, Paul O’Neill played in 1,254 games while putting up a .303/.377/.492 (.869 OPS/125 OPS+) extended triple-slash and collecting 1,426 hits, 185 home runs, and 858 RBI’s with a +26.7 bWAR/+26.5 fWAR.

As a Yankee, Paul O’Neill ranks 35th in bWAR (just 0.3 bWAR ahead of Aaron Judge), is one of 14 Yankees with a career batting average above .300, played in the 30th most games, the 24th most hits, 19th most home runs, and his best ever Yankee-specific statistic is his 2nd place ranking in sacrifice flies (69; behind only Don Mattingly with 96).

After his retirement, Paul O’Neill stayed around the Yankees organization as a member with the YES Network and has been with them in one role or another since 2002.

A good-to-great Yankee during his tenure, the Yankees honored Paul O’Neill with a plaque in monument park in 2014.


Paul O’Neill’s Best Yankees Moments:


Ethan’s Feelings on Paul O’Neill’s Number Retirement:

So, I was born in 1998. I don’t remember Paul O’Neill as a Yankees player. I don’t personally know of the good grace that Yankees fans had for him, I don’t know how hard of a player he was, or how he became a small icon (Though, I do know he appeared on Seinfeld and was mentioned once in Friends).

And, regardless of that, I think all Yankees fans saw this coming.

Now, LaTroy Hawkins was (unjustifiably) booed by Yankees fans when he wore the number ‘21’ to honor Roberto Clemente. He wore the number for just 6 games in 2008 before switching to the number 22 after both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera talked to him about wearing the number 21. Now interestingly enough, Morgan Ensberg previously wore the number 21 in Spring Training, before giving it up, which allowed Hawkins to try and adopt the number. Since that minor fiasco (and how petty is it that Jeter and Mo tried to keep a player from wearing a number?), the number has not been issued in any capacity: spring training, regular season, coaches, etc.

The number has sat vacant for essentially 20 years. This was going to happen eventually. And, I am not a fan.

Paul O’Neill was not a ballplayer worthy of a number retirement. He was a quintessential monument park plaque kind of guy. The Yankees had already done right by him.

Before anybody tries to say it, O’Neill is also not a legendary broadcaster. “Studio 21” and listening in on the home antics of the O’Neill’s during a baseball game is strange. His constant talking about the size of Michael Kay’s forehead is not slightly engaging or funny. He’s fine in the booth, but truthfully I’d rather (and usually do) watch Yankees game on silent. This part of his tenure with the Yankees should have very little to do (or so I hope) with the decision to retire his number.

What this number retirement does is devalue the honor of having a number retired by the New York Yankees. I’m not claiming every player has to be a Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig/Mickey Mantle/Derek Jeter/Joe DiMaggio/Mariano Rivera to get their number retired. There are some great Yankees in history who deserve the honor and were not obvious hall of famers and/or icons of the game. Think Thurman Munson.

Now ask yourself, is Paul O’Neill on the same level as Thurman Munson. (He’s not.)

This is why, 2 years ago, I set out to come up with a standard set of requirements for a player to earn the honor of having their number retired.

On Thursday and Friday those posts will run again, updated for this latest announcement of Paul O’Neill.


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