The portrait of Paul O’Neill is a man striving for perfection in a game where the best men fail seven times out of ten. Baseball is not a sport for perfectionists, but Mr. O’Neill fought tooth and nail to be the best that he could be. A common occurrence at Yankee Stadium was Paul O’Neill accosting Paul O’Neill for failing in a situation: something he did far fewer than most ballplayers.
The Cincinnati Reds called up O’Neill in 1985 but they had a cluttered outfield picture with Dave Parker manning right field, speedster Eddie Milner in center and slugger Nick Esasky playing out-of-position in left. The Reds had a couple kids in O’Neill and Eric Davis looking for playing time so something had to give – and give soon. Paul spent much of ’86 in the bushes while Davis was handed a starting gig but he was given more playing time in Cincy in 1987.
O’Neill supplanted Dave Parker as the Reds right fielder in 1988 and socked 16 homers in his first year as a regular. Paul rasied his batting average up to .276 in 1989 and followed that up with his third straight year of 70 or more RBI in 1990.
His breakout year came in 1991. Although O’Neill’s batting average lowered, his on-base percentage and slugging averages rose. He clubbed 28 homers and drove in 91 runs while slugging a healthy .481. He made his first All-Star appearance that year and his only as a member of the Reds. Cooling off in 1992, the Reds dealt Paul in the off season to the Yankees for outfielder Roberto Kelly: highway robbery anyone?
Taking his game to the Big Apple, O’Neill reached the .300 mark for the first time with the ’93 Yankees, when he hit the apple at a .311 clip – best among AL right fielders. Paul was even better in the strike shortened 1994 season, copping the batting title with a robust .359 mark. He was the Yankees top man in homers, RBI and slugging average.
After the Player’s Strike, the Yankees entered their era of dominance that allowed Paul to win four World Series rings (he had a fifth with the Reds in 1990). An All-Star for the third time in 1995, O’Neill hit an even .300 with 96 RBI. His bat was on fire during the Division Series when he clobbered three homers against Seattle pitching. He reached the elusive .400 on-base percentage for the second time in 1996 when he led AL right fielders with 102 walks. He swatted a homer in that year’s ALCS and helped the Yankees win the World Series.
1997 signaled the beginning of four straight years in which Paul drove in at least 100 runs for the Yankees. A fine year for O’Neill, Paul hit .324 with 42 doubles and 117 RBI. Carrying the Yankees on his back during October, Paul hit .421 in the Division Series but his mates couldn’t pick him up and they fell to Cleveland. He hit .317 with 116 RBI in 1998 while notching 40 doubles. He won another World Series ring when his Yankees made mincemeat of the Padres.
Showing an affection for the two-bagger, O’Neill ripped out 39 doubles in 1999, giving him a total of 121 from 1997 to 1999. His Yankees beat the Braves in the World Series as Paul drove in four runs during the Fall Classic.
Paul reached 100 RBI for the last time in 2000. His Yankees remained on top and Paul was able to bring in five runs in the ALCS. He went to yet another World Series and O’Neill handled Mets pitchers with authority. Paul batted .474 against Mets moundsmen as a member of his last World Champion aggregation.
Paul played one final year in 2001, swatting 21 homers in his last campaign. Showing remarkable acting chops in an episode of Seinfeld (okay, he was no Humphrey Bogart but he was more comfortable than Tartabull and Showalter) O’Neill has made a seamless transition to broadcasting.
G 2,053/R 1,041/H 2,105/2B 451/HR 281/RBI 1,269/BB 892/SO 1,166/SB 141/BA .288/SA .470