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As Paul O’Neill’s No. 21 Is Retired, One Last Kick of a Water Cooler


The Yankee Stadium that honored Paul O’Neill on Sunday differed from the one he played at throughout his nine seasons in Recent York, but he felt right at home in his first trip to the ballpark this 12 months.

A five-time World Series champion and a current YES Network broadcaster, O’Neill had his No. 21 officially retired before the Yankees’ 4-2 win against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The festivities featured appearances by a few of his former Yankee teammates — Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez — and video messages from the likes of Joe Torre, David Cone, Derek Jeter and Roberto Clemente Jr., whose father, a Pittsburgh Pirates icon and celebrated humanitarian, also wore No. 21.

The day got here with some query marks because O’Neill, who’s unvaccinated against Covid-19, continues to be broadcasting Yankees games remotely. But for essentially the most part, the ceremony Sunday played out much as all of them do, with the fans in the group and at home probably unaware of any heightened precautions.

The Yankees (74-48) presented O’Neill, their intensely competitive former right fielder, with various gifts, including a customized water cooler with a bandage on it and a baseball bat ripped through it, a nod to the dugout equipment he ceaselessly destroyed in his 17 major league seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and the Yankees. O’Neill playfully gave it a kick.

Scandal’s “The Warrior” played over the loudspeakers throughout the ceremony and chants of O’Neill’s name rained down from the group. (When George Steinbrenner owned the Yankees, he referred to O’Neill as a “warrior.”)

“Some things never get old,” O’Neill said, responding to the fans’ serenade.

“I’ll always remember how much it meant for you guys cheering. People didn’t want to return here and play because they were petrified of you,” he told the group.

An Ohio native, O’Neill began his profession with the Reds in 1985. A 1992 trade for Roberto Kelly sent him packing to Recent York, where O’Neill won 4 of his championships and a batting title while cementing himself as a fan favorite from 1993 to 2001.

O’Neill, who batted .300 or higher in each of his first six seasons with the Yankees, collected 1,426 hits, 185 home runs and 858 R.B.I. with Recent York. Overall, he finished his profession with a .288 average, 2,105 hits, 281 homers and 1,269 R.B.I. O’Neill added a .284 average, 11 home runs and 39 R.B.I. over 85 postseason games, including 27 World Series contests.

The Yankees have honored O’Neill before: They dedicated a plaque to him in Monument Park, beyond center field at Yankee Stadium, in August 2014. While he never won a Most Useful Player Award, and dropped off the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame after only one 12 months, Sunday offered a fitting accomplishment for a player who meant an excellent deal to a team and its fans.

“To hitch these greats and to know that the No. 21 won’t ever be worn by a Recent York Yankee again is by far the largest personal honor that I actually have ever achieved,” he said in remarks meant to shut his speech.

He then quickly returned to the microphone to acknowledge Yankee Stadium’s Bleacher Creatures before throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Posada. That concluded O’Neill’s day; he didn’t speak to reporters after the ceremony.

Due to his vaccination status, O’Neill has been calling YES Network games from his home within the Cincinnati area this season. YES has a vaccine mandate within the workplace, and the network’s other personalities have been broadcasting on-site. That features the play-by-play announcer, Michael Kay, who helped M.C. Sunday’s ceremony while standing next to O’Neill.

O’Neill, who didn’t appear at Old-Timers’ Day on July 30, thanked YES’s president of production and programming, John J. Filippelli, and his co-workers for his time on the network. “It’s a giant a part of what my life is now,” O’Neill, who’s in his twenty first 12 months with YES, said during his speech.

Per Major League Baseball protocols, unvaccinated personnel cannot have contact with energetic players, nor can they enter dugouts and clubhouses. While no current Yankees participated within the ceremony, those restrictions weren’t a problem with O’Neill’s ceremony, which took place in Monument Park and on the infield grass as energetic players watched from the dugout.

Before the sport, a number of Yankees and Blue Jays players weren’t aware of any limitations in place for the ceremony and said that Covid-19 has change into less of an on a regular basis concern in M.L.B. circles, whilst the pandemic continues.

“I don’t concentrate to it,” Yankees reliever Lou Trivino said when asked if Covid rules still impacted each day routines. “Whether it is, I don’t know because I just don’t really care.”

Ron Marinaccio, his bullpen mate, added: “Our travel is just about back to normal, other than the Toronto trip, obviously, after we’re crossing our country borders. But I don’t think it affects an excessive amount of apart from extracurricular stuff like that.”

Marinaccio, a rookie right-hander, was referring to when teams visit the Blue Jays in Canada, where vaccination is required upon entry. The constraint has occasionally led to opposing unvaccinated players missing such games — the Kansas City Royals, as an example, had to position 10 players on the restricted list before a series in July — but Toronto infielder Cavan Biggio identified that the Blue Jays have to satisfy those self same standards each time they head to the USA.

Aside from those occasional absences and keeping an app with all relevant information on one’s phone for border-crossing trips, Biggio said the baseball world was largely unimpeded by the pandemic as of late.

“Our team, us being in Canada typically, we’re essentially the most affected by it,” said Biggio, who tested positive for the coronavirus in April after showing symptoms. “Early within the 12 months, we were getting tested each time we were coming back into the States and whatnot. We don’t get tested anymore, but now we have to fly to Buffalo or do customs within the U.S.”

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