The Yankees announced that on August 21st, they will retire number 21 that was worn by Paul O’Neill. Finally? I guess.
The Yankees traded Robert Kelly for Paul in November 1992. During his time with the Yankees, O’Neill hit .303/.377/.492 with 185 home runs and 858 RBI. He was part of the dynasty years when the Yankees had four World Championship wins in six appearances. In 1994, he was named the AL batting champion. He was the right fielder that caught the final out in David Wells’ perfect game in 1998.
He earned the nickname “The Warrior” from the late George Steinbrenner for his love and passion for the game. His last game of his career was on October 7, 2001. The Yankees lost that World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks ending the threat of four championship wins in a row. Paul is a 5-time All Star with four of them as a Yankee.
In 2002, Paul joined the YES Network as an analyst for the regular season. He was honored by the Yankees in August 2014 with a plaque in Monument Park.
A NUMBER THAT WASN’T ALLOWED TO BE WORN
Since Paul’s retirement, only one player has attempted to wear number 21. LaTroy Hawkins in 2008. After pretty much being bullied by the Yankee fans, Hawkins changed his jersey number. Fans have demanded that the number be retired but the Yankees didn’t budge.
The number remained available to be used by other players after honoring O’Neill in 2014. Todd Frazier hinted that he would love to wear the number since he grew up idolizing O’Neill and wore 21 on other teams for that reason. Frazier ended up wearing 29.
Wow. My heartfelt thanks to the Steinbrenner family, the entire Yankees organization, YES Network, my teammates & coaches over the years, & most importantly the fans of New York. This is the greatest honor of my life. I’m forever grateful for all you have done for me & my family! — Paul O'Neill (@PaulONeillYES) February 22, 2022
IF THEY WANTED TO, THEY WOULD HAVE
When I saw the announcement, I didn’t know what to think at first. I don’t think 21 should be retired now. If the Yankees truly wanted to retire number 21, they would have done it eight years ago when they honored him. Just how it was done with Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams in 2015. To be honest, I believe the Yankees never intended for number 21 to be retired with Paul’s name attached to it. He was already honored as a player with a plaque. They were probably hoping fans will eventually not care and another player can wear it without a problem.
Majority of the fans that want the number retired are wanting it because they love Paul as an analyst since 2002. I honestly think that if Paul wasn’t part of the YES crew, fans wouldn’t care about his number being used by another player.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved watching Paul play. Always admired his passion. I just find it hard to believe that a team who already honored the person randomly decides eight years later to retire the number. And you can’t say it’s because no player wanted to wear it because when one did, he was bullied to change it. Majority of the numbers the Yankees retired are players that have played their entire career as a Yankee. Paul will be one of the few that hasn’t.
With the lockout currently happening, I thought why are the Yankees deciding to retire the number this year? The fan demand wasn’t strong enough for it to force them. Could MLB be thinking about retiring number 21 across the sport in honor of Roberto Clemente and the Yankees think fans will have a problem that the team didn’t retire the number for Paul? Would a potential signing/trading of a player “jeopardize” the number to be used by that player so to avoid that player being bullied by fans, it will be retired?
Could it be a way to make fans happy so when the lockout ends and certain players aren’t signed, the fans can’t be too mad at Hal? I mean, sure the team didn’t sign *insert player name* but at least Paul will get his number retired right? For a fanbase that loves to accuse Hal Steinbrenner of pocketing money and being cheap, they will no doubt sell out that game to watch Paul get his number retired whether Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Freddie Freeman, or whoever else are in pinstripes or not.
Again, I don’t know how to feel about the number retiring. I’m happy for Paul but my first thought wasn’t of joy. Not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because I feel like there is another motive behind it. Had the number remained available, the fans would eventually give in and not care if another person wears it. Especially if it is a player they are excited to see.
That said, Yankee fans get their way and they can enjoy it in August. Maybe they can get Gardner’s number retired too.