Right now, uncertainty reigns in the baseball landscape, as the rocky negotiations between the league and the players’ association hasn’t delivered any good news recently. As the country slowly overcomes the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary obstacle for a season to occur seems to be how MLB owners compensate players. Will we see the New York Yankees play this year? The answer is no one knows.
And, as there are no games, players are beginning to appreciate those days in which they would play without any bumps in the road or compensation issues. But as Yankees’ legend Paul O’Neill can teach us, no one knows how to truly appreciate something until it is gone and it will nor return.
MLB.com’s Mike Lupica talked to O’Neill about his last game for the Yankees, which turned out to be Game 7 of the 2001 World Series in Phoenix.
The New York Yankees’ right fielder back then had announced he would be gone after the 2001 season, and the home crowd gave him a huge ovation in Game 5 at the old Yankee Stadium.
â€œI never thought baseball was lucky to have me,â€ Oâ€™Neill said Sunday. â€œI always knew how lucky I was to have baseball.â€
Three days later, he thought he would be going out in style as the Yankees were defending a lead entering the last inning.
â€œI went back to the locker room and put my bats in my locker and thought, â€˜What a cool way for things to end,â€™â€ Oâ€™Neill said. â€œâ€™Mo (Mariano Rivera) will get the last three outs and weâ€™ll win one more Series, and then Iâ€™ll go home for good.â€™â€
Then, he laughed.
â€œYou know what I remember even better than putting my bats away for the last time? George Steinbrenner yelling at the guys at Fox who were putting up the stage for the trophy presentation,â€ he said. â€œHe said they were going to jinx us. And guess what? About 15 minutes later, that stage was gone.â€
After a series of broken-bat singles and a couple of outs, Luis Gonzalez’s blooper above derek Jeter’s glove gave the Arizona Diamondbacks the victory. O’Neill and the Yankees went from winners to losers
â€œWeâ€™d always been the ones having that kind of celebration,â€ Oâ€™Neill said. â€œNow I was watching them do that. It had happened to us as a group before, and killed me both times. Weâ€™d watched Junior [Ken Griffey Jr.] score the winning run at the end of Game 5 in â€™95. And then in â€™97, the Indians came back and beat us on their field in Game 5 of that Division Series. But never in the Series. Just like that, we went from winning to losing.â€
Oâ€™Neill paused and said, â€œIn the Series, that was the kind of game weâ€™d always won.â€
He considered one last dance with the Yankees
He was gone after that fateful night, but as a player, he considered the option of coming back. You see, players always want to get more games.
â€œJoe Torre called me the next season and asked how long it would take for me to get in shape,â€ Oâ€™Neill said. â€œTheyâ€™d had some injuries and some guys had underperformed. Stick [Gene Michael] called, too, and said, â€˜This might work out great, youâ€™ve had some time to rest and heal and youâ€™d only have to play half the season.â€™ That was all it took. All of a sudden, we were on a family vacation and Iâ€™m running and throwing and thinking I could do it. Then they decided to sign [Raul] Mondesi, and that was the end of that.â€
He was, as it becomes evident by now, eager to return to the New York Yankees. â€œEven then,â€ he said, â€œeven after it was over, I was thinking about getting a few more games.â€