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This Day in Yankees History: The trade that sent Paul O’Neill to the Bronx

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Long before the water cooler assaults and Studio 21 broadcasts from the basement, the Yankees made one of the best trades in franchise history.

New York Yankees v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Welcome to This Day in Yankees History. The 2020 baseball season has come to an end, so let’s dig into the history books. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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86 Years Ago

Lou Gehrig wins the American League Triple Crown (awarded when one player leads the league in batting average, home runs and RBI), one of the most difficult feats to achieve in baseball. But despite hitting .363 with 49 home runs and 165 RBI during the 1934 season, Gehrig does not win the AL Most Valuable Player Award. Instead, Philadelphia Athletics catcher Mickey Cochrane receives the honor, to the surprise of many. The decision is puzzling, as Cochrane hit .320 with 2 home runs and 76 RBI in 1934; Gehrig’s performance was far superior.

65 Years Ago

Following their loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, the Yankees take off on a six-week tour of Japan. The tour was significant, as Japan was still in a state of post-World War II recovery and baseball—which was becoming more popular in Japan—functioned as a show of diplomacy and goodwill between the two countries. On the tour, a record crowd of 64,000 Japanese fans alongside a number of homesick American troops showed up to watch New York play their first game against the All-Japan Stars in the city of Osaka. Over the course of 25 games, top performers included third baseman Andy Carey, who hit a whopping 13 home runs, and backstop Elston Howard, who batted .468 in that span.

Japanese Baseball Players Posing with Bats

28 Years Ago

Long before the water cooler assaults, long before YES Studio 21 and its plaid wallpaper existed, the Yankees traded their homegrown star outfielder Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for a left-handed right fielder named Paul O’Neill. In New York, O’Neill grew into the player he always had the potential to be. In his nine seasons in the Bronx he became a team leader, a favorite of fans who appreciated his competitive intensity, and he even carved out a special place in the heart of George Steinbrenner, who referred to the right fielder as “my warrior.” As an integral member of the last Yankees Dynasty, he played a big role in helping the team win the World Series four times.

Covering the trade in 1992, Jack Curry, who was then a New York Times sports writer, explained that in “trading Kelly for O’Neill, the Yankees have not only begun forming their outfield of the future, but they also have completed one of their off-season goals: injecting an explosive left-handed hitter into the lineup.”

After retiring as a player in 2001, O’Neill endeared himself to a new generation of Yankees fans as a color commentator on the YES Network. As a broadcaster O’Neill brings something for everyone. He provides in-depth hitting analysis, he tells lighthearted stories about his wife Nevalee, and offers his opinion on the game’s umpiring. His camaraderie with David Cone is especially funny.

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Today’s birthdays are all pitchers. Yankees born on this day include Ken Holtzman, who pitched in New York from ‘76 to ‘78; Paul Quantrill, a right-hander who spent parts of the ‘04 and ‘05 seasons with the club; and reliever Armando Benítez, who appeared on the mound in nine games for the Yanks in 2003.