Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My favorite Paul O'Neill moment is one that never made the highlight reels

Back in the day, I was a big Paul O'Neill fan. And my late father was, too; that was his favorite player of the 90s dynasty years. (My mother thought O'Neill was a big baby for his temper tantrums, though!)

Anyhow, I was very happy to see the O'Neill has finally gotten the honor he deserves, getting a plaque in Monument Park. If I hadn't already made previous plans to participate in the Asbury Park 5K this past Saturday, I definitely would have gone to the O'Neill ceremony.

I wrote in 2012 about how O'Neill and the rest of the Other Core Four have not gotten the attention and recognition they deserve, while writers like Tom Verducci call Jorge Posada a Core Four member, even though he had a relatively small part in those dynasty years. Here is what I wrote back then:
Newsflash: there was another Core Four in Yankeeland in the late 90s. You may have heard of them, although the Tom Verduccis of the world seem to have forgotten about who they were, relegating them to a footnote. Their names were Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, David Cone, and Tino Martinez. All four of them had much more to do with the Four Rings than Posada ever did.
Incidentally, why no David Cone plaque? Not only was he the Yankees' ace for much of those years, but he also had a perfect game in pinstripes! While I don't think any of these four players, with the possible exception of Williams, deserve their numbers to be retired, they do deserve more recognition for their great moments in pinstripes. And while O'Neill did get that in 2001 from the fans, when they chanted his name in Game 5 of the World Series, I am glad to see that he has been recognized in Monument Park.

My favorite O'Neill moment, though, is not one many people saw. It wasn't in a game, or an interview. In 1996, I flew up from Texas to New York to see Game 1 of the World Series in person. While the game itself was a debacle, I did see something from O'Neill before the game that impressed me to no end. I got to the Stadium many hours ahead of time, in order to get a ticket and check out the scene. So I saw most of the players enter the ballpark from the parking lot, an experience I believe no longer exists at the new ballpark. Anyhow, when I saw O'Neill in street clothes, I was struck by how much he was limping. It looked like even walking from the parking lot to the stadium entrance caused immense pain.

It wasn't a secret that his left hamstring was bothering him then, but seeing him limping in person helped hit home how badly he was hurting them, and made me respect him even more. Especially when we saw him leap in that last play of Game 5 that year to save the game for the Yankees. O'Neill only hit .167 in that series, but he made one of the most famous defensive plays of that era. All on that bad leg.

Anyhow, that is my favorite Paul O'Neill moment. What is yours?

1 comment:

Uncle Mike said...

The homer off Mel Rojas, and the walk off Armando Benitez. Because they came against the Mets.

Oddly, I don't recall him ever having a big moment against the Red Sox, but then, the Sox weren't nearly the same threat from 1993 to 2001 that they became thereafter.

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