NEW YORK (AP) – Paul O’Neill lifted his front leg, whipped a level swing through the strike zone and lined a crisp single to right field – a most familiar sight.
He sure didn’t look like an old-timer.
“Yeah, he could still play,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
“Out there hitting line drives. If I knew that I wouldn’t have pinch-hit for him in Game 7 of the World Series in ’01.”
The 44-year-old O’Neill was back in pinstripes Saturday for his first appearance at a New York Yankees Old-Timers’ Day. A longtime favorite of fans – and owner George Steinbrenner – for his intense approach and sweet left-handed swing, the former outfielder received a huge ovation from the sold-out crowd.
“You’ve got to be big around here to get an invitation,” O’Neill, now a Yankees broadcaster, told the YES Network. “Let’s face it: When you get out on this field, it brings back a lot of memories.”
Fans in the right-field seats even held up those old signs, spelling out O’Neill with a bull’s-eye.
“I’ve been working around the outfield just in case,” the five-time All-Star said. “One thing I’ve noticed, I’ve got a little stomping ground out in right field.”
O’Neill, who helped New York win four World Series titles during his tenure with the team from 1993-2001, joined Old-Timers’ Day regulars such as Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson – all Hall of Famers.
Don Mattingly was at first base, Goose Gossage on the mound and Darryl Strawberry in the lineup. Bobby Murcer even got in the game, seven months after having surgery on a malignant brain tumor.
The Yankees also commemorated the 30th anniversary of their 1977 World Series championship team. Fourteen members of that squad attended the festivities, plus late manager Billy Martin’s son and the widows of Thurman Munson and Catfish Hunter.
The Bombers beat the Clippers 4-0 in a three-inning game, capping the 61st annual event.
In a fitting coincidence, Roger Clemens started on the mound for New York against the Los Angeles Angels later in the afternoon. Clemens, who will turn 45 next month, was older than five of the old-timers, including O’Neill and ex-Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius.