Home Home wear New York Yankees retire number 21 Paul O’Neill; General manager Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner booed by fans

New York Yankees retire number 21 Paul O’Neill; General manager Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner booed by fans

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NEW YORK — Eight years ago, Paul O’Neill was thanked by the New York Yankees for his contribution to their dynasty with a plaque in Monument Park.

On Sunday, the Yankees retired his number 21, making him the 23rd player or coach in franchise history to be honored in this manner.

The ceremony was radically different from others, not only because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, but also because the Yankees entered Sunday with 14 losses in their last 18 games. Frustrations are high to the point that there were notable boos for general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman during the 33-minute ceremony.

New York’s first jersey retirement ceremony since 2017, when Derek Jeter’s No. 2 was honored, had the usual video tributes and messages, gifts and an acceptance speech.

During his approximately eight-minute speech, O’Neill repeatedly thanked the fans. He started off by saying, “You Yankees fans obviously practiced and it still sounds great today.”

A four-time World Series champion as a Yankee, O’Neill was nicknamed “The Warrior” by the late owner George Steinbrenner. “Fans remember winning teams and we won,” O’Neill said. “And we have won a lot.”

O’Neill hit .303 with 185 homers and 858 RBI for the Yankees from 1993-2001. He was a four-time All-Star with the team and won the American League batting title in 1994 during a a shortened season.

He wore number 21 throughout his big league career, starting as a rookie with the Reds in 1985.

“That’s why I celebrate this day, because it’s the biggest dream I’ve ever had in my life,” O’Neill said in his speech.

Former coach Gene Monahan was there, along with teammates Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

Six minutes into the ceremony, O’Neill stood next to his wife and family to reveal his retirement number in Monument Park. He was taken to the field in a golf cart as highlights were played on the video board – including his last home game in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series and his run catch to finish Game 5 of the 1996 World Series.

Next were brief video messages from Jeter, Joe Torre, David Cone and Don Mattingly, as well as a message from Roberto Clemente Jr., the Hall of Famer’s son and former Yankees Spanish-speaking announcer.

“Obviously, Paul is a central figure in one of the many great moments in baseball and Yankees dynasties,” manager Aaron Boone said before the Yankees faced Toronto, adding, “It’s fun to know that Paul [as] a friendly, even silly guy who sometimes contrasts with who he was between these lines.”

Steinbrenner gave O’Neill a framed plaque from his jersey; other gifts included a bottle of wine personalized with his No. 21, a framed jersey signed by the current Yankees, and a water cooler, a nod to his tendency to slam water coolers in the dugout.

The signed and framed jersey was the closest O’Neill had to any interaction with the current New York roster due to his vaccine status; unvaccinated staff are prohibited from interacting with players in the dugout and clubhouse.

O’Neill has been calling games on the YES Network from his home in Ohio since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. In an interview with NJ Advance Media published Saturday, O’Neill said of his vaccination status, “I’d rather not discuss it.”

Since O’Neill retired after the 2001 World Series, the only New York player to wear No. 21 was reliever LaTroy Hawkins in the 2008 season opener, but he changed it little from time after the start of the season.