New York Yankees retire number 21 of Paul O’Neill; GM Brian Cashman, owner Hal Steinbrenner booed by fans – ESPN

New York Yankees retire number 21 of Paul O'Neill;  GM Brian Cashman, owner Hal Steinbrenner booed by fans - ESPN

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

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

The ceremony was dramatically 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 past 18 games. Frustrations are running high to the point that there were notable boos for managing 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, featured the usual video tributes and messages, gifts and an acceptance speech.

During his approximately eight-minute speech, O’Neill thanked the fans many times. He opened by saying, “You Yankee 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 late owner George Steinbrenner. “The fans remember the teams that win and we won,” O’Neill said. “And we won a lot.”

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

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

“That’s why I’m celebrating this day, because this is 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 retired number in Monument Park. He was brought onto the field in a golf cart as highlights played on the video board – including his final home run in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series and his running catch to end Game 5 of the 1996 World Series.

Then there were short video messages from Jeter, Joe Torre, David Cone and Don Mattingly, along with a message from Roberto Clemente Jr., the son of the Hall of Famer and former Yankees Spanish-language announcer.

“Obviously, Paul is a central figure in one of the many great times in Yankee baseball and dynasties,” manager Aaron Boone said before the Yankees faced Toronto, adding, “It’s been fun getting to know Paul. [as] a polite, even stupid guy who is sometimes a contrast to who he was between those lines.”

Steinbrenner gave O’Neill a framed plaque of his jersey; other gifts included a custom wine bottle with his number 21, a framed jersey signed by current Yankees and a water cooler, a nod to his penchant for slamming water coolers in the dugout.

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

O’Neill has called games on the YES Network from his Ohio home 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 that.”

Since O’Neill retired after the 2001 World Series, the only New York player to wear number 21 was reliever LaTroy Hawkins at the opening of the 2008 season, but he changed it not long after the season started.

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