August 22, 2012
Paul O'Neill Promises Two Home Runs
In 1995, the New York Yankees, under screwball owner George Steinbrenner and lame-duck manager Buck Showalter, played a late-season game against the Cleveland Indians. Unknown to the general public, some interoffice shenanigans involving the assistant-to-the-traveling secretary and a birthday card for the Boss (whose actual birthday was on July 4, so who knows) set up one of the most memorable games for one of the Bronx's most popular players of the era.
Rightfielder Paul O'Neill, who will be the first to admit that he is not a home run hitter, went into the game with a weight on his shoulders: someone had promised a little boy in the hospital that O'Neill would hit two home runs in that night's game and Paul was going to do his best to meet that promise.
For the video, click here.
He got the first one out of the way early, depositing a 2-1 pitch into the Yankee Stadium grandstands in his first at-bat. This, no doubt, made little Bobby a happy boy. By the time the eighth inning rolled around, however, O'Neill had yet to make good on his promise. That all changed on another 2-1 pitch. The deep fly ball didn't look big enough to meet his promise, but the ball got over the head of leftfielder Albert Belle and rolled to the wall. O'Neill, not the fastest guy in baseball history, kept chugging away. From what we can hear from the game's broadcaster (sadly, there is no available video of this play), O'Neill rounded second base about 7.5 or 8 seconds into his trot. He got to third base a few seconds later and headed for home. This is where things got funny.
Twelve seconds into this trot, O'Neill had already rounded third, putting him perfectly in line with the league-standard 15.5 second inside the park home run. As he made his way home, however, the Indians misplayed the ball. Someone named Martinez relayed the ball into catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr., but missed badly, with the ball sailing over Alomar's head. O'Neill was safe at home, the Yankees took the lead and, best of all, Bobby had his promised second home run.
Except the ruling on the field changed everything, giving O'Neill a triple on the play with an error on the throw from Martinez. That means that, technically, Paul O'Neill was not able to make due on his promise to little Bobby because he no longer had the inside-the-park home run. Just a measly triple. Reports are that Bobby did not take the scoring decision well.
Even more baffling is O'Neill's trot time. Going by the audio descriptions of the play—which, admittedly, aren't always perfectly timed with the play on the field, but it's the best we can do—O'Neill finally scored 21.09 seconds after he made contact with the ball. That's roughly nine seconds after he touched third base. Maybe the Yankees were using Olympic-style hurdles on the basepath at that time?
We all know that pretty much every inside-the-park home run in existence can be called a triple-plus-error if the official scorer was so inclined. It's our dirty little secret about the most exciting play in baseball. I just find it sad that, this one time, the scorer couldn't make O'Neill, little Bobby and his friend Cosmo Kramer that much happier by giving O'Neill the home run. Really, what harm could it do?