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Yankees honor Paul O'Neill

NEW YORK -- On the day the New York Yankees honored Paul O'Neill with a plaque in Monument Park, O'Neill said he was just thankful to have been a Yankee.

"Let's face it, we were all lucky to play for the New York Yankees, especially at that time," said O'Neill, who was a part of four World Series winners from 1996 to 2000.

In the infield ceremony hosted by the voices of the Yankees, Michael Kay and John Sterling, on a sunny Saturday, O'Neill was surrounded by former teammates Mariano Rivera, David Cone, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre, former general manager Gene "Stick" Michael and former trainer Gene Monahan, as well as his family.

Kay introduced O'Neill as, "The Warrior, Paul O'Neill." Fans then chanted his name in the familiar cadence of the Bleacher Creatures' roll call.

After the plaque unveiling, captain Derek Jeter emerged from the dugout and gave O'Neill a framed picture of the plaque. Next, Joe Girardi presented O'Neill a special Yankees ring commemorating the day. O'Neill took the mic and thanked his family, friends and the fans.

"When I look at this plaque and I think about what the Yankees mean to the sports world, basically, they are the best," O'Neill said. "That's just the way it is."

Afterward, O'Neill emphasized how much he appreciated being included with the other players the team considers its legends.

"I hope it came across how big of an honor it is," O'Neill said. "It was an unbelievable thing to look behind yourself and see your kids and your wife and your mom and your brothers here, just to know you were a part of something big here. That I'm proud of."

After Michael traded Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for O'Neill in November of 1993, O'Neill played the final nine seasons of his 17-year career with the Yankees. He was the right fielder when the Yankees won four World Series in five years from 1996 to 2000.

During the strike-shortened 1994 season, his first with the Yankees, he took the American League batting title by hitting .359. He made the AL All-Star team four out of his nine seasons.

Overall, he hit .303 as a Yankee with 185 homers, 304 doubles and 858 RBIs.

O'Neill joined Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage and Martinez with a plaque presentation from the Yankees this season. Torre will have his No. 6 retired on Aug. 23. Next season, the Yankees plan on honoring another O'Neill teammate, Bernie Williams, with a plaque in Monument Park.

With that dynasty era being honored and Jeter retiring, it feels like the conclusion of a period in the team's history.

"It is [the] end of a time, a time that people remember," O'Neill said.

O'Neill was known for his fiery personality, often beating up water coolers when he wasn't successful. Girardi, a teammate of O'Neill's, said the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of O'Neill was his competitiveness, but there was more to him.

"Paul was unique," Girardi said. "I have to tell you I had as much fun being his teammate as anyone I've ever played with."

Girardi said O'Neill were bridge partners on many team flights.

"It is not a game that you see baseball players play too often, but we loved it," Girardi said. "It was a thinking game."

Girardi has talked to O'Neill about one day coaching, but O'Neill has wanted to spend more time with his family.