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Paul O’Neill is the Yankees’ quarantine broadcast MVP

O’Neill’s Thoughts from the Basement are can’t-miss TV.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu battle it out on the field to determine the Yankees’ team MVP, the race in the broadcast booth has already been settled. Deliver the championship hardware to a plaid-wallpapered basement somewhere in Cincinnati, because Paul O’Neill has made his segments must-see TV.

The five-time world champion connects to each YES Network broadcast remotely, joining Michael Kay and David Cone in a picture-in-picture box. He caught everyone’s attention with his bold taste in interior design, as his green-and-gold plaid wallpaper hit Yankees Twitter and took center stage. He later added a dark curtain to cover the wall, but there’s no forgetting that wonderful choice in wallpapering.

Now each game features a scouting report delivered by O’Neill, titled Thoughts from the Basement.*

It’s not just the environment that makes O’Neill the star of the booth; his commentary has been so funny and light that, for a small period of time, you forget the pandemic unfolding outside of the broadcast. From his tales stuffed animals getting “surgery”, or his love of breakfast for dinner, he nails each story with the right balance of levity and relatability.

He has added a new segment of late, a little show-and-tell, where O’Neill heads into his trophy room and picks out memorabilia to share. There’s been his batting title from 1994, a ball signed by Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, as well as bats autographed by Al Kaline and George Brett. Viewers get a history lesson, a little Antiques Roadshow: Baseball Edition, when O’Neill digs into his collection. It’s flat-out cool to watch.

O’Neill joined the YES Network team in 2002, after a 17-year career, playing for both his hometown Reds and the Yankees. A fan-favorite, The Warrior played a key role in establishing New York’s dynasty in the late ‘90s. The team honored him with a plaque in Monument Park in 2014, and his no. 21 has been kept out of circulation since 2008.

Even on the best of days, baseball broadcasters have a tougher assignment than fans realize. They do a lot more than just chat during a ballgame. Announcers write up scouting reports, prepare fastidious notes, and score the game, among other tasks that aren’t observed by viewers. That’s not to mention accurately calling the events on the field, no easy job in itself, and filling airtime with insightful, interesting, and entertaining commentary.

Getting behind the mic during the coronavirus pandemic, however, presents an entirely new set of challenges. Play-by-play announcers can’t judge crowd reactions, because the seats are empty. When the team heads on the road, broadcasters have to report to the stadium, yet watch the action unfold on monitors in the press box.

O’Neill has made the best of the circumstances, though, and he seems to be having fun doing it. Yankees fans are lucky to tune in and see him for a few hours each night.

*You can share your own Thoughts from the Basement with Pinstripe Alley’s Zoom background.