The Yankee dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s featured many great players and they combined to form a fabulous team who rarely lost in the post-season. In some ways Derek Jeter was the brains, Mariano Rivera was the steely nerves, Bernie Williams was the soul, Jorge Posada was the muscle, and Andy Pettitte was the focus of that club. That leaves Paul O’Neill as the guts.
O’Neill already had one World Series ring when he was traded to the Yankees by the Cincinnati Reds in 1992 for Roberto Kelly. The trade was made for two reasons: to get the troubled Kelly out of New York and to fill a gap in right field. O’Neill was the same in the Bronx as he’d been in Cincinnati – grouchy, fiery, and bent on winning at all costs. He soon transferred that electric energy to many of his young teammates (Jeter, Rivera, Williams, Posada, and Pettitte all came up as rookies in short order after O’Neill arrived in New York).
While he had been a tough hitter for the Reds, O’Neill matured at the plate in New York. It didn’t hurt that he had a great swing for Yankee Stadium. In 1995 he won the batting title with a .359 mark, the highest batting average by a Yankee since Mickey Mantle 38 years earlier. O’Neill batted .300 or higher in each of his first six seasons as a Yankee, but even more importantly he utilized his beautiful left-handed swing to frequently reach the seats at Yankee Stadium. A model of consistency, O’Neill hit between 18 and 24 homers in each of his nine years as a Yankee, while driving in 90 runs or more in six consecutive seasons.
The Yankees won five pennants during O’Neill’s tenure with the team and they never had to worry about right field – he stayed healthy every year of his career with the Bombers. The team won titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
O’Neill announced prior to the ’01 seasons that it would be his last. In Game Five of the 2001 World Series, the final game played at Yankee Stadium during the series, the fans in right field started the chant of “PAUL O’NEILL” and maintained it throughout the final innings of the contest.
For his career as a Yankee, O’Neill hit .303 185 homers and 858 RBI in nine seasons. Counting the title he won in 1990 with the Cincinnati Reds, he won five World Series rings.