As the calendar turns to 2010 and Spring Training approaches, the Yankees are entering their 9th year since the retirement of RF Paul O’Neill. Since his retirement, only one person has worn his number, LaTroy Hawkins. However, only a few weeks into the 2008 season did LaTroy switch his number to 22 because Yankees fans still viewed the number sacred in Yankees history, thus causing problems for LaTroy. It got so bad at one point that at homestands when LaTroy would pitch, fans would chant O’Neill’s name. Since LaTroy switched teams, no one else has worn 21 which begs the question, should the number retired?
Most Yankees fans will answer a resounding yes and I am one of those fans that believe so as well. However, there are those people who believe that he didn’t do enough to deserve to have his number retired.
Looking at the retired numbers, there is a player on the list that O’Neill compares to in regards to numbers, for the most part. That person is Reggie Jackson. Their numbers to compare are listed below.
The first thing one notices when looking at these numbers is that O’Neill has played many more games than Reggie which doesn’t help his case. If Reggie played with the Yankees as long as O’Neill had, its arguable that Reggie would have doubled the numbers you see above.
Going even further, during Reggie’s 5 years, he only hit above .300 once, while O’Neill hit .300 and above on 6 of 9 seasons while winning the batting crown in 1994 with an average of .359. However, O’Neill transcends numbers, as Steinbrenner coined him a ‘Warrior’ and no one argued the nickname. It is debatable that while O’Neill was with the team, he was the heart and soul of it. He always demanded perfection from himself and wouldn’t stop until he had it. At times it would make him look selfish, but from everyone that has spoke on the subject O’Neill was far from selfish.
Numbers wise, O’Neill probably shouldn’t have his 21 retired, but I believe that he meant more than those numbers and most Yankees fans will agree. While it is hard for me to put in words, Vince Russo at A Letter A Week has put it perfectly into words what he meant. For all those reasons and many more I think O’Neill’s number should forever join Yankee lore.
The more time goes on without a player wearing 21 makes it hard to decipher whether or not it will be retired or the Yankees don’t want fans to revolt like when LaTroy Hawkins wore it. Considering the fans response to Hawkins wearing 21, without retiring the number, it might be a very long time until it’s worn again. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t hurt anyone and would only provide the proper respect for a true warrior…