Paul O’Neill has been on his Kyrie Irving as a broadcaster for his former team, the New York Yankees, staying unvaccinated.
It meant he had to do all his season broadcasts from his Cincinnatti home and get patched in. However, it creates an awkward predicament now that he is having his No. 21 jersey retired on Aug. 21.
O’Neill played nine seasons, hitting .300 and helping the team win four of the franchise’s 27 World Series. Due to his questionable vaccine status, the organization has decided that no currently active Yankees players will be involved in the Paul O’Neill Day ceremony.
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) August 11, 2022
“Paul O’Neill Day will feature all of the traditional elements that fans have enjoyed during previous number retirement ceremonies, including the introduction of special guests on the Yankee Stadium infield, a montage on the center-field video board and the unveiling of the retired No. 21 medallion in Monument Park,” the Yankees said in a statement to The New York Post.
“O’Neill and his family will then join the special guests in the infield, where he will receive a presentation of gifts, deliver a speech from a podium in front of the pitcher’s mound and throw out a ceremonial pitch to a catcher at home plate.”
However, O’Neill can step on the field without active players, who are permitted to watch the ceremony from the dugout. Major League Baseball’s rules keep players from interacting with unvaccinated people as a “protected class.”
Now how that works with tradition is a bit problematic for O’Neill, who usually would make his way to the press box during the game for an interview and ovation.
“The intensity and the attitude of New York, I enjoyed that. The importance of every game, I liked that. It wasn’t a social event to go to a baseball game; it was, ‘Did the Yankees win or lose?’ That was all that mattered.”
~ Paul O’Neill#Yankees #RepBX pic.twitter.com/dJFCsmEjPJ
— 🅃🄷🄴 🄱🅁🄾🄽🅇 🅉🄾🄾 (@BronxZooNYY) August 4, 2022
“It’s not ideal, but it works,” YES Network president of programming and production John Filippelli said to The Post about the decision to have O’Neill broadcast from home in Ohio and the restructuring of Paul O’Neill Day.
“This situation will find itself through and I’m sure Paul will find himself back in the booth at some point.” Filippelli continued. “It is certainly not ideal, but we have managed to figure it out and work through it. I don’t think we have suffered at all, I really don’t. Have there been some hiccups? Do I think it is ideal if it keeps going? No, I don’t, but I do think we have managed to make it work and I think our fans have accepted it.”
Unpopular opinion: Retiring Paul O'Neill's number is silly. Also, he should be required to get vaccinated before setting foot on the field.
— Jeff Cohen (@JeffCohenwriter) August 11, 2022
Welcome to the new world where being unvaccinated means being celebrated at a distance. The team had a similar situation for it Old Timers Day, minus the exhibition game to match the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony. Many former pinstripes players were not allowed on the field due to their unvaccinated status, so they didn’t show up.
Many former players were on the reportedly “virtual injured list,” like David Cone, who had hip replacement surgery and is in recovery, and Bernie Williams. The latter will receive the same surgery soon. The 74th Old Timers Day, the first since 2019, was not the same, thanks to warranted COVID-19 jitters.
The almost two dozen-player turnout was one of the lowest it had been for many seasons.