“Swing And A Hit: Nine Innings of What
Baseball Taught Me”
The review in 90 feet or less
Any time you manage to cram the word “kerfulffle” into a website headline of questionable credibility, more word power to you.
As in: “Paul O’Neill’s strange broadcast season continues with WFAN kerfuffle,” on an aggregation-powered website called ESNY, which stands for Elite Sports NY, with the assumption you know what “NY” stands for.
Here’s the gist of it:
== O’Neill is 18 seasons in as an analyst on the Yankees’ YES Network, which is one more year than his entire MLB career that ran from 1985 to 2001.
Is he actually doing games these days in the YES broadcast booth? No. He remains unvaccinated. In 2020, he did games from the basement of his home in Ohio, which they refer to as “Studio 21.” O’Neill is back there this season. Per company policy.
(Also note: This sadly seems to not be all that unusual. Al Leiter and John Smoltz ares no longer on MLB Network after a vaccination policy took effect last fall. Smoltz remains Fox Sports’ No. 1 analyst with new partner Joe Davis, but Davis is already used to this new protocol of where Smoltz is allowed to be in the broadcast booth, but not go into the restricted areas, which means he will have to converse with players, managers and coaches over Zoom. The same applies to Orel Hershiser on SportsNet LA home broadcasts).
Monday, the Yankees’ radio flagship station, WFAN, was going to have O’Neill join Brandon Tierney and Tiki Barber on their mid-day show to promote his new book – this one here – but also talk about the recent toxic news surrounding Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson and Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.
O’Neill, perhaps wisely, didn’t want any part of that discussion. So he wasn’t brought on the air. Tierney told the listening audience exactly why that happened.
Writer James Kratch finishes the story:
“Tierney is absolutely correct. He cannot let O’Neill hawk his book without asking him about the biggest story around the team. O’Neill (and his PR handlers) should know better as well. He was going to get maybe two questions on the matter. Answer them and move on.
“As for the YES broadcasts: If O’Neill doesn’t want to get vaccinated, that’s his call. But let’s not forget all the bellyaching there was last year about the Yankees broadcast teams not being at road games. And rightfully so. Audacy and YES deserved to get raked over the coals for their cheapness. This isn’t a minor league team in Topeka; these are the New York Yankees.
“That is why it is baffling how it’s suddenly acceptable for O’Neill to call the games from his basement. It’s not like YES is hurting for bodies to put into the booth. And while O’Neill is a good broadcaster, he’s not Vin Scully here.”
Again, any time you manage to deftly insert the name “Vin Scully” into a copy block, even more word power to you.
So, back up: Paul O’Neill wrote a book. Sure, OK. He did one before, something about him and his dad maybe 20 years ago. Now we’re supposed to, what, buy this one, read it and ponder the wisdom it imparts? Because … ?
Because, he’ll forever be known as a Yankee Great, with a capital “Why” and an understated “Gee.”
Nine of his 17 seasons as an MLB right fielder/DH came with the Yankees, and you’d be incorrect to assume that, in 1992, he willingly left his hometown Cincinnati Reds to see a huge free-agent deal with New York, because he was actually part of a non-blockbuster trade (with a minor league teammate thrown in) to the Yankees in exchange for Roberto Kelly.
So 1,426 of his 2,105 total hits came in New York, as did 185 of his 281 home runs and 858 of his 1,269 RBIs. So did four of his five All-Star game selections, and five of his six World Series appearances (a combined .261 batting average, 0 HRs, 7 RBIs in 27 games and 109 at bats). All that somehow earned him a place in the Yankees’ Monument Park, with his nickname “The Warrior” emblazoned at the top, recognizing his intensity and leadership, and “his relentless pursuit of perfection.” Is also notes his 1994 batting title, without the asterisk that his .359 post came in 103 games and just 443 at bats during the strike-shortened season, but … it still counts, two points higher than Cleveland’s Albert Belle.
O’Neill’s 162-game season average would pencil out as a reliable 22 homer, 100 RBI season with a .288 average. His JAWS for a right fielder is 65th in MLB history at 33.2. Compare him to Bernie Williams, Matt Holliday, Bobby Bonilla or Shawn Green – except playing in New York on all those playoff teams makes your resume look far more glossier.
His YES broadcasting bio also notes: From July 23, 1995 until May 7, 1997, O’Neill played 235 games in right field without making an error. In 1997, he led the American League in hitting with men on base with a .429 average. On Aug. 25, 2001, O’Neill became the oldest major leaguer to steal 20 bases and hit 20 home runs in the same season. He was inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame in November 2017. In 2008, O’Neill was named “Father of the Year” by The National Father’s Day Council at its 67th Annual Father of the Year awards dinner in New York.
So, listen up: He’s a winner, not a wiener. And you’re still in the media of NY spotlight, so you’re entitled to impart whatever you can be paid for.
Which brings us to the book highlights:
He learned a lot from Pete Rose, Joe Torre, Ted Kluszewski, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter. He wasn’t really fond of Lou Pinella, but he understood him OK. His sister Molly, a food critic/writer at the New York Times, once interviewed Ted Williams and put the Splendid Splinter on the phone with him to impart some life-long batting wisdom.
And he’s embarrassed that his BaseballReference.com stat page refers to him as batting, throwing and kicking “left” (click on the link to see why).
A real jaw-dropper from page 109:
Call me a curmudgeon or accuse me of being old-school, but I prefer a balanced lineup, not an everyone-swing-for-a-homer lineup. If I were divising a lineup, I would want a couple of speedy contact hitters who average .300 and got on base a lot at the top. I would want some power hitters in the middle, and I would want some players who put the ball in play at the bottom. Keep the pressure on the pitcher!”
No one is calling you an old-school curmudgeon. You’re opinion here is probably shared by 99 percent of today’s viewers older than 40.
Finally in the 10th chapter — the chapter that goes past what the nine innings taught him, if we’re going by the title — we get chapter and verse on the seven pieces of advice he’d give to young hitters:
Be yourself, hit line drives, be a tough guy mentally, have a plan, look for fastballs, be a balanced batter, practice makes perfect and … sorry, that’s it.
In other words, don’t dodge, duck, dip, dive or dodge. Unless you’re playing the Dodgers? We dig it.
How it goes in the scorebook
If there are 152 shades of white and off-white on the Benjamin Moore color palate down at the hardware store, this project probably aligns best with a swatch of parchment oatmeal eggshell bland.
We defer to a more middle-of-the-road review by Rob Merrill of the Associated Press:
” ‘Swing and a Hit’ isn’t as heavy on the biography, but like a well-honed baseball swing, it repeats itself again and again … Subtitled ‘Nine Innings of What Baseball Taught Me,’ the book doesn’t really impart nine distinct lessons, though there are nine chapters and a bonus one called ‘Extra Innings.’ The best parts of the book are the behind-the-scenes stories, but there aren’t nearly enough. In the end, Yankees fans who are collecting the books written by anyone associated with the team’s last dynasty will probably buy this one. But it’s hard to imagine anyone who is not a diehard fan of the storied team in the Bronx dropping $29 on the hardcover.”
But wait, there’s more: He’s got an upcoming number retirement ceremony that will certify his greatness — the 23rd such occurrence in franchise history, so it is pretty special (just ask Mike Mussina):
For some snippets, the New York Times somehow used its book section for an excerpt, about his Ted Williams conversation (remember his sister’s help on that and why). The New York Post did an excerpt on him taking about his final game.
If you’re in COVID-protocol self-hyperbolic-hibernation and need something to pass the time, you’d be better off kerfulffling up a pillow and taking a productive nap. Or track down the other far more illuminating bio from a former Yankee broadcaster who played for the team, Jim Kaat (a 2-4 record and 4.12 ERA for the franchise in 1979 and ’80 at age 40 and 41), which we’ll review and post on his Baseball Hall of Fame induction day this July.
And if you are in COVID lockdown, consider: Back in 2016, O’Neill endorsed a particular presidential candidate in Ohio.
You can look it up: More to ponder
Among the other Yankees-related books that pop up right about now with the expectation of being reasonably read-worthy, just not in this space, but we can lump them together and roll them along on their way:
== “Lore of the Bambino: 100 Great Babe Ruth Stories,” by Jonathan Weeks (Lyons Press, $22, 224 pages, released April 1). More stuff rehashed about the other great Yankees star right fielder.
== “The Ultimate New York Yankees Time Machine Book,” by Martin Gitlin (Lyons Press, 224 pages, $19.95, due out July 1). “How to make a book exceptional when champonships (sic) are routine, and scores of a team’s player are imortal (sic)? Emphasize a variety of players, teams, moments, events and contributors that made the Yankees unique in the annals of American sport, which this book ably does,” according to the typo-filled blurb on the Amazon site.
== “The Franchise: New York Yankees – A Curated History of the Bronx Bombers,” by Mark Feinsand/forward by Joe Torre (Triumph Books, 256 pages, $28, due out June 7). It has the quip of endorsement by Ken Rosenthal, Tom Verducci and Jeff Passan. We’re going to assume they’ve read some or parts of the index. Feinsand has also cranked out the 2019 book, “Mission 27” A New Boss, a New Ballpark and One Last Ring for the Yankees’ Core Four” about the 2009 team, and the ’17 book, “The New York Yankees Fans’ Bucket List,” which is helpful since “long-distance Yankees fans can cross off some items off their list from the comfort of their own homes.”
== “CenterStage: My Most Fascinating Interviews – from A-Rod to Jay-Z,” by Michael Kay (Scribner, $28, 384 pages, released last June 15). Thought we’d throw this in because … maybe it will connect O’Neill with someone he knows while he’s in his basement refusing to do interviews. (Note: O’Neill isn’t included among the 35 interview subjects).