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Appreciating a Yankees Legend: Paul O'Neill

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Mood Music - Scandal's The Warrior (watch the volume!)

"Paulie" is one of my most favorite Yankees. He was acquired for Roberto Kelly in the offseason between 1992-'93, and came to New York hype free. He was supposed to be a solid corner outfielder and not much more. Instead, he became a Yankee legend.

He never had a great relationship with Lou Piniella in Cincinnati. Perhaps he needed the proverbial change of scenery. After a mediocre year in which he hit .246/.346/.373, Yankees GM Gene Michael apparently saw something that made him willing to give up a formerly well-regarded prospect, Roberto Kelly.

O'Neill virtually exploded onto the New York scene in 1993, OPS'ing 1.093 over the first 10 days of the season. He came back to Earth after that, but still finished with an excellent 136 OPS+. The following season was a career year. At the age of 31, O'Neill won the batting title (.359) while contending for the MVP (where he finished fifth). He led the Yankees to the AL's best record before the strike ended the season in August.

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He was a staple in rightfield during the dynasty, helping the Bombers win four World Series and reach a fifth.

In 1997, O'Neill did his best to keep the Yankees' season alive when he used every ounce of speed he had to reach secondbase in Game 5 of the ALDS in the ninth inning with his team down by one. Even late in his career, he still produced. Despite a solid final season in 2001 (104 OPS+) at the age of 38, Paulie hung up his cleats after a thrilling World Series in which the Yankee faithful chanted his name during his last game in New York.

What was special about him that wasn't about so many others? He played hard. He cared about every at-bat, every swing, every game (managers, umpires and water coolers can attest to that). He was out there in rightfield practicing his swing. He related to us because he didn't seem like a millionaire athlete. He didn't look like one and he didn't act like one. And he was honest. (And not a bad actor.)

Do you remember the uproar when Latroy Hawkins dared to wear O'Neill's No. 21? Since he got booed every time he stepped on the field, he eventually changed his number. So, should 21 be retired?