For a while Sunday, Yankee Stadium echoed with the sounds and memories of champions. The stable was full and loud as the Bombers honored World Series champion Paul O’Neill in a number-retirement ceremony. Fans roared as the Yankees’ dynasty teams since the 1990s were announced and chanted O’Neal’s name.
“There are so many dreams in life that don’t always come true. That’s why I really celebrate this day. Because it’s the biggest dream I’ve ever had in my life,” O’Neill said. “And I appreciate everything.”
O’Neal and his family unfurled the plaque at Monument Park and watched as his number, 21, was added to the wall above the left field stands along with such greats as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Mariano Rivera.
O’Neal, nicknamed the Warrior for his emotional play, won four World Series titles with the Yankees and appeared in five. He won the 1994 batting title and was a four-time All-Star with the Yankees, who acquired him from the Reds in 1993.
“You Yankee fans have so much fun winning here in New York,” O’Neal said. “Back in the old stadium, some of the best teams to ever play the game. I will never forget how much being sick meant to you. People didn’t want to come here and play because they were afraid of you. There are no better fans in the world than Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees presented O’Neal with a specialized water dispenser with a bat to commemorate his many frustrating hits on dugout accessories over the years.
O’Neal’s teammates Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera received boos from the crowd, along with video messages from his former manager Joe Torre and teammates Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter.
Managing partner Hal Steinbrenner was loudly booed when he was announced, and the mention of general manager Brian Cashman in O’Neill’s speech was also booed. Despite the celebration, fans’ frustration with the Yankees’ second half of the 2022 season still lingered in their minds.
The current Yankees stood in the dugout and watched the ceremony. O’Neill, a color analyst for the YES Network, has not been in the stadium since 2019 because of his vaccination status.
“Excellent. I mean, Paul is a central figure in one of the many great times of Yankee baseball and dynasties,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We hear that song, I love listening to ‘The Warrior,’ and it’s true to the kind of competitor he was, the way he played and now obviously still plays an important role in this organization with the YES network. I enjoy getting to know Paul, and he’s just a friendly, even goofy guy, and sometimes it’s just not the way he was between the lines. So an exciting day in this organization and obviously a great day for Paul and well deserved.”