Yankees to retire Paul O'Neill's No. 21

February 22nd, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. -- Eight years after Paul O’Neill was honored with a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, the Yankees have announced that they plan to retire the beloved outfielder’s uniform No. 21.

“Paul O’Neill Day” will be celebrated on Aug. 21, 2022 before the Yankees’ game against the Blue Jays, as O’Neill becomes the 23rd Yankees player or manager to have his number retired. All guests in attendance will receive a commemorative game ticket.

“Every single day, I wake up and say, ‘Did this really happen?’” O’Neill said on Wednesday. “It really means that much. These are things that you would never even dream about. When you’re playing the game, you don’t think about these things. … Every single time I go into Yankee Stadium, when that number goes up, it won’t go away.”

Affectionately referred to as “The Warrior” by fans and known for his powerful throwing arm, O’Neill spent the final nine seasons of his 17-year Major League career in the Bronx (1993-2001), winning four World Series with the Yankees (1996, ’98-2000) and appearing in a fifth (2001).

O’Neill recalled that the nickname was given to him by George M. Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ late principal owner, as an homage to his hard-charging and intense demeanor on the diamond.

“Certain people are just wired certain ways,” O'Neill said. “Every at-bat, every game, every World Series meant a lot to me. Ever since I started playing sports against my older brothers, it was about winning and losing. It wasn’t about how you played, it’s who won and who lost.” 

O’Neill concluded his Yankees career with a .303 batting average, 304 doubles, 185 home runs, 858 runs batted in, a .377 on-base percentage and an .869 OPS, claiming the American League batting title in 1994 with a .359 average. Additionally, he was a four-time All-Star with the Yankees (1994-95, ’97-98).

No. 21 has largely been held out of circulation since O’Neill retired following the 2001 season. It was briefly issued to pitcher LaTroy Hawkins in 2008; Hawkins requested the number as an homage to Roberto Clemente.

The most recent Yankee to have his uniform number retired was Derek Jeter, on May 14, 2017. Other Yankees from O’Neill’s playing days to have had their numbers retired are Don Mattingly (No. 23), Andy Pettitte (No. 46), Jorge Posada (No. 20), Mariano Rivera (No. 42), Bernie Williams (No. 51) and manager Joe Torre (No. 6).

“It was so much fun playing in that stretch of the late ‘90s, where winning almost seemed natural,” O’Neill said. “You took it for granted. And now you look back, especially being part of those teams, [you see] how hard it is to continually win.”

Paul O'Neill and his wife unveil his Monument Park plaque on Aug. 9, 2014Arturo Pardavila III/MLB.com

Currently a game analyst for the YES Network, O’Neill was previously celebrated at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 9, 2014, when he received a plaque in Monument Park. The plaque describes O’Neill as “an intense competitor and team leader” who “was beloved for his relentless pursuit of perfection.”

“When I was traded over from Cincinnati, I had the opportunity to meet Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, and have a relationship with Whitey Ford,” O’Neill said. “You never put yourself in a position where you think you’re going to achieve something like those great players before you did. To have something like this … to look up there at some point and see a ’21,’ that means so much to me. It’s the highest honor that I’ve ever been given in baseball.”