It might finally be time to put the no. 21 back into circulation. The number hasn't been used regularly since Paul O`Neill retired after the 2001 season. It was briefly put back into circulation in 2008 before fan reaction caused the team to remove it completely, creating a 15-year span without the number being in full-time service. Now, in light of recent announcements, it seems time to make it available for use once again.
The issue of Paul O`Neill's number has been brought up many times over the years, but it was only tangentially acknowledged until the 2008 season when their six-year ban on the number came to an end during spring training. That year non-roster invitee Morgan Ensberg wore no. 21 for awhile before fans gave him such a hard time about it that he eventually gave it up. LaTroy Hawkins then picked it up for a time before he decided to get rid of it only weeks into the season, citing the headache it caused when fans booed him and taunted him for wearing the number. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and other veterans even told him it wasn't worth holding onto. Since that time, the number hasn't been touched.
Paul ONeill was one of the best Yankees among the dynasty era team and was absolutely deserving of such a sentiment, however, at some point, it needs to be time to move on. When the Yankees honored O`Neill with a plaque last year, it was clear that they felt he deserved some kind of recognition, but not enough that they'd permanently hang up his uniform. Now that the organization has decided to retire the numbers of Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada it seems excessive to also keep the no. 21 out of circulation as well.
I mean, it's not like they've had a long line of players who have had to give up the number, but it's still become this weird, looming issue that will eventually come into play again if anyone ever wants to wear the number at some point. It's also incredibly difficult to keep it out of circulation when someone like Roberto Clemente also wore the number, which is why Hawkins wanted to wear it in the first place.
As I've already written before, the Yankees have enough retired numbers as it is. There have been plenty of other beloved Yankees who have had their numbers reissued the season after they left. Johnny Damon's no. 18 was given to Chad Moeller in 2010; Hideki Matsui's no. 55 was reissued to Russell Martin in 2011; Robinson Cano's no. 24 was worn by Chris Young, Zoilo Almonte, and Scott Sizemore in 2014; and even now in spring training this year, Nathan Eovaldi is already wearing David Robertson's no. 30. If the Yankees aren't retiring Paul O`Neill's uniform than why is it still being kept out of circulation? There's still no one wearing it in camp this year, but should there be? I feel like 15 years and a plaque should be enough, no?