OK, before I rant, let me explain: I am a huge Paul O’Neill fan. He was my favorite Yankee during the run of four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000. I’m not saying he was the best player on the team, or the most important, but he was the heart of the team.
That being said, I had no illusions about his No. 21 being retired. As much as he did for the club, on a team with the rich tradition of the Yankees, you have to be an all-time great to get your number retired. As much as I love O’Neill, he wasn’t an all-time great.
Besides, with the laundry list of numbers already retired, I’m amazed we haven’t seen a young prospect with No. 103 take the mound for a spring-training game.
So, now that you know where I stand on O’Neill, on to the facts. O’Neill retired after the 2001 World Series, and no one had worn No. 21 since until: LaTroy Hawkins?
The Yankees kept the number out of circulation for six full seasons, just to give it to a journeyman middle reliever?
As I said, I’m fine with No. 21 not being retired. But how about at least saving it for a special player? Or, at least, how about saving it for a player who’s been embraced by the fans, like Shelley Duncan?
I don’t dislike LaTroy Hawkins, and his contributions to the bullpen this season might turn out to be vital. I just don’t get why he’s getting to wear No. 21.
One last admission before I go: When the Yankees traded Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill, I was irate. I thought Kelly was going to be a 30/30 player, and O’Neill was coming off a down season in Cincinnati. I could not have possibly been more wrong.
So maybe I’m wrong about this, too.