O’Neill’s Father Dies at 79
Tragedy found its way into the New York Yankee clubhouse again this week. It did not need to ask for directions.
Charles O’Neill, father of Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill, died early Wednesday of heart failure after a lengthy illness. He was 79, and the third Yankee dad to die in the past six weeks, after the September death of Maury Brosius, father of third baseman Scott Brosius, and last week’s death of Ambrosio Sojo, father of utility player Luis Sojo.
Where was O’Neill during Wednesday night’s Game 4? Right where he belonged, in right field in Yankee Stadium and the No. 3 spot in the order.
“I talked to his wife earlier [Wednesday] and, you know, it’s something we have to get him through,” said Yankee Manager Joe Torre, who was sidelined earlier this season by prostate cancer.
“I think the best way to do that is to write his name in the lineup and give him a couple of hours away from the grieving. I know it’s got to be tough sitting there when you have time to think about it. We can occupy his time, hopefully with a victory. It would ease some of the pain.”
It seemed to help while O’Neill went hitless in three at-bats, but after the Yankees’ 4-1 victory and series sweep of the Braves, O’Neill could be seen weeping on the field.
“If I had one wish it would be to have him here with me right now,” O’Neill later said amid the Yankees’ postgame celebration. “But God has taken him, and God bless his soul. You’re going to lose parents, that’s the way it is. To win the World Series is something special. Is this bittersweet? Maybe, but I’m as happy as anyone in here that we won the series.”
Asked how he got himself through the day Wednesday, O’Neill said, “My dad taught me to play this game, and I wanted to play. I tried not to think about it and do the best I could. All I did was run out to right field. . . . I guess I’m lucky I was able to get it off my mind for three or four hours.”
Torre said O’Neill has been “carrying a heavy heart” for several months during his father’s lengthy illness, “but he’s a warrior,” Torre said.
“He knows the other guys count on him a lot, and he’s here even though I’m sure it’s going to be tough to totally concentrate.”
Yankee veteran designated hitter Chili Davis, a former Angel, has now won three World Series rings, with the Minnesota Twins in 1991 and the Yankees in 1998 and ’99, and he realizes how lucky he has been to be a Yankee these past two years.
“I look back on my career, and I’ve been on teams that lost 100 games, teams that fizzled at the end of the season, teams that went from worst to first and won the World Series,” Davis said.
“I was hurt for most of last year and came back to be part of a World Series champion, and now this . . . man, in the future I’ve got a lot to talk about. I’ve got a lot to tell my grandkids.”