Paul O’Neill recalls final Yankees recreation, how close he came to return in new book

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

My Final, Unforgettable Night At Yankees Stadium

The Yankee followers knew I used to be retiring. Everyone knew. No matter how a lot I attempted to deflect questions on 2001 being my final season, the followers had been keenly conscious of the inevitable and that’s why they turned my final recreation at Yankee Stadium into probably the most superb, humbling, and emotional nights of my career. We had been enjoying a pressure-packed Game 5 of the World Series towards the Arizona Diamondbacks, however, at instances, the followers made this night time about my exit. To this present day, I’m honored and flabbergasted by their reactions.

Before this momentous recreation, my feelings had been flowing in completely different instructions and I didn’t need to converse to reporters. But, since this was my final night time in the Bronx, I grudgingly agreed to answer some questions. I made positive to speak in regards to the glory and majesty of the Yankees, not about me.

“If you see a picture representing baseball, you see an old-fashioned baseball with Babe Ruth’s autograph and the old bats,” I stated. “When you walk into this Stadium, you feel that because of the history that’s been here. Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio. Things haven’t changed that much. Those are the things that meant the most to me when I got here and those are the things that stick with me the whole time I’ve been here.” And they nonetheless do.

Yankees Paul O’Neill leaves the sector previous cheering followers in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series towards the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.

Running pregame sprints throughout the outfield, the followers chanted my identify again and again. When I jogged to my position in proper area in the primary inning, they gave me a standing ovation.

Already? I hadn’t completed something. Well, significantly, I knew it was a thanks for my 9 seasons in New York. I lifted my glove to acknowledge them after which I took a few deep breaths and gazed across the stadium to take in all the pieces that was occurring, if that was even potential. I noticed posters that learn, “Thanks, Paulie.” It was so surreal.

Standing in the batter’s field in the eighth, I used to be greeted with one other standing ovation and my eyes had been blitzed by a stream of flashbulbs popping. There had been no mobile phone cameras again then. The followers had been standing once more for me in the ninth as I stood in proper area and I clutched my cap and pulled it over my eyes. I actually thought I would cry. That’s when the “Paul O’Neill, Paul O’Neill,” chants intensified.

Yankee followers maintain indicators up for Paul O’Neill in the eighth inning throughout Game 5 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
Francis Specker

When I heard these chants, I used to be overwhelmed. I lowered my head a couple of instances and stared on the outfield grass as a result of I didn’t know what to do. We had been dropping the sport, a World Series recreation! So, it wasn’t as if I might wave to the followers or tip my cap and even whisper “Thank you.” When you’re dropping a World Series recreation, that’s not the way in which you act. But the truth that the followers cheered whereas we had been dropping was fairly an honor. It’s one of many biggest presents I’ve ever acquired, on or off the baseball area.

And, fortunately, the sport, not me, turned the only real focus as Scott Brosius hit a two-out, game-tying homer off the embattled Byung-Hyun Kim in the ninth. It was the second straight recreation in which Kim had surrendered a ninth-inning lead. We had been alive once more. I batted once more in the tenth and grounded out. That was my final at-bat in the Bronx as a result of Alfonso Soriano rapped a run-scoring single in the twelfth to raise us to a second straight dramatic win. We led the sequence, 3-2. No doubt, the devoted followers and the ever-present ghosts guided us in the Bronx.

The euphoria of New York didn’t lengthen to the video games in Arizona. We had been walloped 15-2 in Game 6, and Andy Pettitte, who was rocked by the Diamondbacks, later came upon he had been tipping his pitches. We had a one-run lead in Game 7 with the ball in Mariano Rivera’s hand. Three outs to go together with Mariano pitching? Ninety-nine instances out of 100, we might win that recreation. But this time, we didn’t.

Luis Gonzalez’s broken-bat, bloop single over a drawn-in infield knocked in the successful run and shocked Mariano, shocked us, and upset New York. After the bloop, I walked again to our dugout and lingered. I rested my arms on the railing and watched the Diamondbacks have a good time, a scene I might have discovered inconceivable fifteen minutes earlier.

In that second of reflection, I considered how my career had ended with a loss in the World Series. But, in time, right here’s my recollection of that sequence: the one moments I bear in mind are the three dwelling video games due to how gripping they had been, how impactful they had been, and how a lot they meant to the town following 9/11. Perhaps it’s as a result of I retired and I need my final recollections to spark some pleasure, however that’s what I’ll endlessly cling to from that sequence.

Did we wish to win one other title? Of course, we did. The final result was upsetting. But when it was throughout and I used to be packing my gear for the final time, the worth of these three video games in New York outweighed the final consequence for me. I’m unsure anybody else shares my opinion, however that’s how it felt to me.

Paul O’Neill salutes the Yankees crowd.
Francis Specker

And as I reminisce about our run from 1996 to 2001, successful 4 titles in six seasons was a legendary achievement. There hasn’t been a back-to-back champion since we did it greater than twenty years in the past. Looking again on these wonderful seasons, I pinch myself day by day as a result of I can proudly say I used to be a part of that dynastic interval. It was an historic run full of wonderful gamers and memorable moments. For me, there was additionally one final bow on the Stadium, an evening that also replays in my head like a beautiful, dizzying dream.

Almost Coming Out of Retirement For The Yankees In 2002

Rested and retired in June 2002, I used to be attempting to act like a reporter (and possibly failing at it) whereas working for the YES Network. I used to be hanging out in the Yankees’ clubhouse and speaking about hitting with some gamers. That’s when a serious-looking Joe Torre, my outdated supervisor, approached and requested to see me in his office. Oh, no — had I damaged a media rule or one thing?

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

“How long would it take you,” Torre requested, “to get ready to play?” I laughed as a result of I assumed Joe was joking, however he repeated the identical question and added, “We’ve got some issues we need to address here.”

The Yankees had been utilizing Shane Spencer, the 1998 superhero, and John Vander Wal in proper area and so they weren’t happy with their manufacturing. When Spencer injured his wrist and Torre had to use infielder Enrique Wilson in proper, Wilson appeared unsteady. That angered proprietor George Steinbrenner, who informed reporters, “We may make some changes.” I suppose I used to be a part of that potential change.

Swing and a Hit

My thoughts went from cruising at twenty-five miles per hour as I ready to announce a baseball recreation to dashing at ninety miles per hour as I attempted to course of whether or not I wished to play in one other baseball recreation. Since my household was leaving for a trip in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina the subsequent day, I informed Joe I might focus on it with Nevalee, my spouse, and determine if this was one thing I wished to take into account.

But guess what? I stuffed a few baseball gloves in my suitcase and my first day on the seashore was spent long-tossing with my son Aaron. Just in case, proper? I additionally ran sprints on the seashore, one thing I hadn’t completed in over seven months. Just in case, proper?

With every hour that handed, I began to suppose this sudden comeback may occur and I would get one other probability to play baseball. Something that had not even been a faraway thought for me was now a really current thought.

And then I heard from Gene Michael, the Yankees’ vp of major-league scouting, and the final manger who had acquired me from the Reds in 1993. After that life-changing commerce, Michael was the primary Yankee official I spoke with and the primary one who satisfied me I might thrive in New York. And now he was supporting this concept, too. “This would be one of the best things that ever happened to you,” Michael stated. “You’ve had a mental break and now you can come back. You can still play. You know that and I know that. You can come back and you can do it.”

Stick was proper. I knew I might have performed past 2001, however I actually wished my spouse and my three youngsters to have a extra steady life and never the all-consuming lifetime of a baseball-player household. Before I retired, I believed I might have performed in a reserve position in 2002. But I didn’t need to try this. I used to be at all times considering in absolutes: if I wasn’t ready to play day by day anymore, then I wasn’t the participant I felt I needs to be.

Still, after Stick’s cellphone name, I took this unofficial provide very significantly. I stored operating and throwing on the seashore, my thoughts drifting again to the Bronx with each toss and each stride. The Yankees had some inside discussions about me probably going to play for the Triple-A farm workforce in Columbus, Ohio, which was very close to my dwelling. Could this occur? Could my baseball career all of the sudden be revived? My eagerness was palpable.

Paul O’Neill

The Yankees couldn’t wait on me. Not lengthy after my dialog with Joe, the Yankees acquired the power-hitting Raúl Mondesí from the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees determined they wanted a proper fielder instantly and couldn’t wait the three or 4 weeks that it will have taken me to prepare.

I by no means had a second act and I stayed retired. It’s humorous, although. I spotted how a lot I missed baseball and how a lot I nonetheless cherished baseball, as a result of the potential for enjoying once more excited me. It scared me, too, however I used to be poised to hit a couple of extra line drives.

In retrospect, I’ve at all times puzzled what it will have been like to come again and compete after a layoff. My thoughts and my physique had been each so relaxed. The comeback by no means occurred, however I handled the concept significantly. I by no means superior to the purpose of getting right into a batting cage, so I’m unsure how rusty or how easy my swing would have been.

Who is aware of? I might have skilled for a couple of weeks to make this grand return and been billed as a savior of types. And, realizing me, I in all probability would have began out 0-for-10 and remembered how maddening it’s to be in a droop and stated, “The heck with this. I’m going back on vacation.”

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

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