I met Paul O’Neill in May of 2009 at the now-closed Crowne Plaza in Secaucus. He was one of a number of former Yankees participating in an autograph signing held by memorabilia company MAB Celebrity.
If you have never been, basically you show up and purchase a ticket which allows you to obtain an autograph on an item of your choosing (you can provide said item or buy one there) from an athlete.
Of course, being 30, I remember the ‘96 team and made some of my first trips to both Manhattan and Yankee Stadium during the championship run from 1998 to 2000. Growing up in Niagara Falls, I would also frequently drive up to Toronto so I could watch the Yankees play the Blue Jays in the then-SkyDome.
Anyone who followed those teams loved Paul O’Neill. He was as George Steinbrenner so notoriously dubbed him, “The Warrior.” He always left it all on the field and certainly racked up his fair share of clutch hits and memorable moments in route to helping the Bombers secure four World Series championships.
On the field, he was as intense as they come (just ask the water coolers in the dugouts that felt his wrath following a strike out or missed opportunity). But off the field, O’Neill is now known as a pretty fun-loving guy, mostly due to the personality he showcases as a color commentator in-game on the YES Network.
So when I met him, I asked him why Michael Kay and the other guys in the booth rib on him so much for always talking about collecting free swag, like clothes and equipment. He got a kick out of that and we had a good laugh before he signed my 8×10.
If I ran in to O’Neill tomorrow, I’d ask him something similar: perhaps jokingly inquiring how he puts up with Kay and David Cone for a full season of broadcasts. Maybe I would want to discuss what the team’s chances of a playoff run are this year. I might even see if he has any favorite spots in my neighborhood, the Upper West Side.
You know what I wouldn’t ask him? His views on politics. Want to know why? I don’t care, and quite frankly it’s none of my business.
As a fan that buys tickets and merchandise and invests time in to following the team, the only thing O’Neill “owed” me and anyone else in Yankees Universe was effort and integrity. I wasn’t supporting him because I thought he was going to lower taxes and feed the homeless, I cheered for him because I wanted the Yankees to win. That’s something we received from “The Warrior” ten-fold. He helped bring us four rings and never compromised the Yankee tradition us fans adore.
But the overriding issue here is the lack of perspective we have in regards to the opinions we value. The guy we’re talking about is a retired baseball player. He is not an elected official, nor does he work in the public sector. He’s an American citizen who talks about sports on TV. I love Paul O’Neill, but like the Starbucks red cups had zero effect on my celebration of Christmas, number 21’s pick for President will have no impact on my own political views.
If O’Neill ever cheated or abused drugs or committed an act of domestic violence, then I’d certainly revisit his canonization in the Bronx. I’d lead the way on the “Appall O’Neill” headlines. But until then, I’m not holding O’Neill’s political preferences against him the same way I’m not judging Mayor de Blasio based on his baseball allegiances or for that matter, judging “The Boss” over who he liked to hang around with in his day.
Because you know Trump and Steinbrenner were good friends, right?