Saturday, July 29, 2006

Featured Player: Paul O'Neill

Paul Andrew O'Neill (born February 25, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio) is a former Major League Baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds (1985-1992) and New York Yankees (1993-2001).

Youth and Cincinnati career
An Ohio native, O'Neill and his family were fans of the Reds. On a visit to the Reds' Crosley Field shortly before it closed, six-year-old Paul had his picture taken wearing a Reds batting helmet and holding a toy bat. Over his shoulder could be seen Roberto Clemente of the opposing Pittsburgh Pirates. Like Clemente, O'Neill would become a right fielder and wear uniform number 21.

O'Neill made his major-league debut on September 3, 1985, and singled in his first at-bat. In a 1989 game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium, O'Neill fielded a base hit, couldn't hold onto it, and kicked it, left-footed, back to the infield, to prevent baserunner Steve Jeltz from scoring. Jeltz scored on a wild pitch anyway, but the incident is remembered as one of the all-time baseball "bloopers," even though it turned out to be a good play.

Career with New York Yankees
On November 3, 1992, the Reds traded O'Neill to the Yankees for Roberto Kelly. In 1994, with O'Neill winning the batting title, the Yankees led the East division by six and a half games when a strike ended the season. The next season, the Yankees made the playoffs, and did so in every season remaining in O'Neill's career.

O'Neill famously was his own worst critic, seemingly never satisfied with his own performance and known for his emotion on the field; when disappointed with his performance or angry with an umpire's decision he would attack water coolers or toss bats on the field. His tirades were both praised and criticized by the media and fans.

O'Neill is fondly remembered by Yankee fans as the "heart and soul" of the team's dynasty in the 1990s. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner also gave him the nickname "The Ultimate Warrior."

O'Neill was a member of five world championship teams: Cincinnati Reds in 1990 and the New York Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.

In Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, O'Neill got possibly one of the most emotional sendoffs in baseball history. While standing in Right Field in the 9th inning with the Yankees down 2-0 Yankees fans chanted his name in rhythmically and in unison. When the inning ended, O'Neill was still being cheered and he tipped his cap. The Yankees won the game 3-2, but lost the series 4 games to 3. Since his retirement after the 2001 World Series, his number 21 has not been worn by any Yankee player.

After retirement
Starting after his retired from baseball in 2001, O'Neill now serves as a Pre and Post Game Studio Analyst for the YES Network.

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