Yankees retire Paul O’Neill’s No. 21 jersey

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NEW YORK — Eight years ago, Paul O’Neill was thanked by the Yankees for his contributions to their dynasty with a plaque in Monument Park.

On Sunday, the Yankees retired his No. 21 – the 23rd player or manager in the franchise to have that happen.

This ceremony was slightly different from others.

Because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, O’Neill couldn’t interact with any current New York players in the dugout. And with the Yankees stuck in a 4-14 rut, there were noticeable boos for managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman during the 33-minute ceremony.

New York’s first jersey retirement ceremony since 2017, when Derek Jeter’s No. 2 was honored, had the usual video tributes and messages, gifts and an acceptance speech.

During his roughly eight-minute speech, the 59-year-old O’Neill – an All-Star right fielder and now a popular team announcer – thanked the fans numerous times. He opened by saying: “You Yankee fans have obviously been practicing and it sounds great still today.”

A four-time World Series champion as a Yankee, O’Neill was nicknamed “The Warrior” by late owner George Steinbrenner. “The fans remember the teams that win and we won,” O’Neill said. “And we won a lot.”

O’Neill hit .303 with 185 homers and 858 RBIs for the Yankees from 1993 to 2001. He was a four-time All-Star with the team and won the 1994 AL batting title during a strike-shortened season.

He wore No. 21 for his entire big league career, starting as a rookie with the Reds in 1985.

“That’s why I’m celebrating this day, because this is the biggest dream that I’ve ever had in my life,” O’Neill said in his speech.

Former trainer Gene Monahan was there, along with teammates Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

Six minutes into the ceremony, O’Neill stood next to his wife and family to unveil his retire number in Monument Park. He was brought on to the field in a golf cart as highlights played on the videoboard – including his final home game in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series and his running catch to end Game 5 of the 1996 World Series.

Then there were brief video messages from Jeter, Joe Torre, David Cone and Don Mattingly, along with a message from Roberto Clemente Jr., the Hall of Famer’s son and a former Yankee Spanish-language announcer.

“Obviously, Paul is a central figure in one of the many great times in Yankee baseball and dynasties,” manager Aaron Boone said before the Yankees faced Toronto, adding, “It’s fun to know Paul in a friendly, even silly guy that sometimes is a contrast with who he was in between those lines.”

Steinbrenner gave O’Neill a framed plaque of his jersey; other gifts included a custom wine bottle with his No. 21, a framed jersey signed by current Yankees and a water cooler, a nod to his tendencies to slam water coolers in the dugout.

The signed framed jersey was the closest thing O’Neill had to any interaction with New York’s current roster because of his vaccination status; unvaccinated personnel are barred from interaction with any players on the bench or in the locker room.

O’Neill has called games on the YES Network from his Ohio home since the pandemic 2020 season. In an interview with NJ Advance Media published Saturday, O’Neill said of his vaccination status, “I’d rather not discuss that.”

Since O’Neill retired after the 2001 World Series, the only New York player to wear No. 21 was reliever LaTroy Hawkins at the opening of the 2008 season, but he switched back not too long after the season started.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.