Paul O’Neill remembers Yankees’ final sport, how shut he was to coming again in new e book

Extract of “Swing and a Hit: Nine Innings of What Baseball Taught Me” by Paul O’Neill and Jack Curry.

My Final Unforgettable Evening at Yankees Stadium

Yankees followers knew I used to be retiring. Everybody knew. Irrespective of how onerous I attempted to deflect questions on 2001 being my final season, the followers have been nicely conscious of the inevitable and that is why they turned my final sport at Yankee Stadium into one. most unbelievable, humble and emotional nights of my profession. . We have been enjoying a pressured Sport 5 of the World Sequence in opposition to the Arizona Diamondbacks, however, generally, the followers made that evening about my exit. To at the present time, I’m honored and flabbergasted by their reactions.

Previous to this memorable sport, my feelings have been flowing in numerous instructions and I did not wish to speak to reporters. However because it was my final evening within the Bronx, I reluctantly agreed to reply a number of questions. I made certain to speak in regards to the glory and majesty of the Yankees, not me.

“Should you see a baseball image, you see an quaint baseball with Babe Ruth’s autograph and the previous bats,” I stated. “If you stroll into this stadium you are feeling that due to the historical past that has been right here. Mickey Mantle, Joe Di Maggio. Issues have not modified that a lot. These are the issues that meant essentially the most to me after I got here right here and people are the issues that caught with me the entire time I have been right here, they usually nonetheless do.

Yankees Paul O’Neill stroll off the sector in entrance of cheering followers through the ninth inning of Sport 5 of the World Sequence in opposition to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.

Operating pregame sprints throughout the outfield, followers chanted my title time and again. Once I ran to my place in proper area within the first inning, they gave me a standing ovation.

Already? I had finished nothing. Properly, critically, I knew that was a thanks for my 9 seasons in New York. I lifted my glove to acknowledge them, then took a number of deep breaths and regarded across the stadium to absorb all the pieces that was happening, if that was even doable. I noticed posters that stated “Thanks, Paulie”. It was so surreal.

Standing within the batting field within the eighth, I used to be greeted by one other standing ovation and my eyes have been lit by a stream of flash bulbs popping. There have been no cellphone cameras again then. The followers stood for me once more within the ninth as I stood in proper area and grabbed my cap and pulled it over my eyes. I actually thought I’d cry. That is when the “Paul O’Neill, Paul O’Neill” chants intensified.

Yankee followers maintain sign-ups for Paul O’Neill within the eighth inning throughout Sport 5 of the World Sequence at Yankee Stadium.
Francois Specker

Once I heard these songs, I used to be overwhelmed. I put my head down a number of occasions and regarded on the outfield grass as a result of I did not know what to do. We have been dropping the sport, a World Sequence sport! So, it wasn’t like I might wave to the followers or tip my cap and even whisper “Thanks.” If you lose a World Sequence sport, that is not the way you act. However the truth that the followers cheered whereas we misplaced was fairly an honor. It is one of many best presents I’ve ever obtained, on or off the baseball area.

And, fortunately, the sport, not me, turned the one focus as Scott Brosius hit a two-out homer in opposition to the beleaguered Byung-Hyun Kim within the ninth. It was the second straight sport through which Kim had given up a ninth-inning lead. We have been alive once more. I struck once more on the tenth and retired. It was my final at bat within the Bronx as a result of Alfonso Soriano singled within the twelfth to offer us a spectacular second straight win. We led the sequence, 3-2. Little question the loyal followers and ubiquitous ghosts guided us via the Bronx.

The New York euphoria didn’t prolong to the video games in Arizona. We have been overwhelmed 15-2 in Sport 6, and Andy Pettitte, who was rocked by the Diamondbacks, later came upon he tipped his pictures. We had a one-point lead in Sport 7 with the ball in Mariano Rivera’s hand. Three withdrawals to accompany Mariano’s throw? Ninety-nine occasions out of 100, we’d win this sport. However this time we did not.

Luis Gonzalez’s damaged bat, a single infield bloop shot, hit within the profitable run and shocked Mariano, shocked us and dissatisfied New York. After the bloop, I returned to our dugout and lingered. I rested my arms on the railing and watched the Diamondbacks rejoice, a scene I’d have discovered inconceivable fifteen minutes earlier.

In that second of reflection, I considered how my profession ended with a loss within the World Sequence. However, over time, this is my recollection of that sequence: the one moments I keep in mind are the three residence video games due to their grip, affect and significance to the town after 9/11. Perhaps it is as a result of I’ve retired and need my final recollections to spark pleasure, however that is what I’ll eternally cling to on this sequence.

Did we wish to win one other title? After all we did. The consequence was surprising. However when it was throughout and I packed up my gear for the final time, the worth of these three video games in New York outweighed the top consequence for me. I am unsure anybody else shares my opinion, however that is how I felt.

Paul O’Neill waves to the Yankees crowd.
Francois Specker

And as I keep in mind our run from 1996 to 2001, profitable 4 titles in six seasons was a legendary feat. There hasn’t been a back-to-back champion since we did it over 20 years in the past. Pondering again to these wonderful seasons, I pinch myself each day as a result of I can proudly say that I used to be a part of that dynastic interval. It was a historic race full of nice gamers and memorable moments. For me, there was additionally a final bow on the Stadium, an evening that also replays in my head like a fabulous and dizzying dream.

Nearly out of retirement for the Yankees in 2002

Rested and retired in June 2002, I attempted to behave like a journalist (and possibly failed) whereas working for the YES community. I used to be hanging out within the Yankees clubhouse and speaking about hitting with some gamers. It was then {that a} severe Joe Torre, my former supervisor, approached and requested to see me in his workplace. Oh, no – did I break a media rule or one thing?

Barely. It was one thing far more intriguing than that.

“How lengthy would it not take you,” requested Torre, “to get able to play?” I laughed as a result of I believed Joe was joking, however he repeated the identical query and added, “Now we have points that we have to handle right here.

The Yankees have been utilizing 1998 superhero Shane Spencer and John Vander Wal in the best area they usually weren’t pleased with their manufacturing. When Spencer injured his wrist and Torre had to make use of infielder Enrique Wilson on the best, Wilson regarded unsteady. This angered proprietor George Steinbrenner, who informed reporters: “We might make some modifications. I suppose I used to be a part of that potential change.

Swing and a shot

My thoughts went from cruising at twenty-five miles an hour as I ready to announce a baseball sport to ninety miles an hour as I attempted to find out if I needed to play in one other baseball sport. As my household was happening trip to Hilton Head Island, SC the subsequent day, I informed Joe that I’d focus on this with Nevalee, my spouse, and determine if this was one thing I needed to think about. .

However guess what? I stuffed a number of baseball gloves in my suitcase and spent my first day on the seaside enjoying lengthy video games with my son Aaron. Simply in case, proper? I additionally ran sprints on the seaside, one thing I hadn’t finished in over seven months. Simply in case, proper?

With every passing hour, I started to suppose that this surprising comeback would possibly occur and that I’d get one other probability to play baseball. One thing that hadn’t even been a distant thought to me was now a really current thought.

After which I heard Gene Michael, the Yankees’ vp of main league scouting, and the final supervisor who acquired me from the Reds in 1993. After that life-changing commerce, Michael was the primary official Yankee I spoke to and the primary one that satisfied me I might thrive in New York. And now he supported that concept too. “It could be probably the greatest issues that ever occurred to you,” Michael stated. “You had a psychological break and now you’ll be able to come again. You’ll be able to nonetheless play. You already know it and I do know it. You’ll be able to come again and you are able to do it.

Stick was proper. I knew I might have performed previous 2001, however I actually needed my spouse and three children to have a extra secure life and never the all-consuming lifetime of a baseball-playing household. Earlier than retiring, I believed I might have performed in a reserve position in 2002. However I did not wish to do this. I all the time thought in absolute phrases: if I used to be now not capable of play each day, then I used to be not the participant I believed I needs to be.

Nevertheless, after Stick’s cellphone name, I took this unofficial supply very critically. I stored operating and tossing on the seaside, my thoughts drifting to the Bronx with every throw and stride. The Yankees had inner discussions that I’d play for the Triple-A farm crew in Columbus, Ohio, which was very near the place I dwell. May this occur? May my baseball profession all of the sudden be revived? My eagerness was palpable.

Paul O’Neill

The Yankees could not look ahead to me. Shortly after my dialog with Joe, the Yankees acquired powerhouse Raúl Mondesí from the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees determined they wanted a proper fielder instantly and could not wait the three or 4 weeks it might have taken me to arrange.

I by no means had a second act and I stayed retired. It is humorous, although. I spotted how a lot I missed baseball and the way a lot I nonetheless love baseball as a result of the opportunity of enjoying once more excited me. It scared me too, however I used to be about to hit a number of extra strains.

Wanting again, I all the time puzzled what it might have been like to return again and compete after a layoff. My thoughts and physique have been each so relaxed. The return by no means occurred, however I took the concept critically. I by no means superior to the purpose of getting right into a batting cage, so I do not know the way rusty or easy my swing would have been.

Who is aware of? I might have educated for a number of weeks to make this large comeback and be offered as a savior of some kind. And, realizing me, I most likely would have began 0 for 10 and remembered how infuriating it was to be in a hunch and stated, “Fuck with that. I am happening trip.”

Copyright @2022 by Paul O’Neill and Jack Curry. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.


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