Paul O’Neill Rated Rookie
Not only did this 1986 Donruss card proclaim Cincinnati Reds budding outfielder Paul O’Neill as a “Rated Rookie” it captured a rare moment in his career. In what appears to be a spring training contest, the young O’Neill is wearing No. 57 instead of his famous No. 21 that he sported during his remarkable career.
O’Neill wore both the Nos. 57 and 21 in five games for the Reds in 1985. The Columbus Brookhaven and Otterbein College product registered four hits and an RBI in 12 plate appearances after being called up by the Reds on Sept. 3, 1985 from the AAA Denver Zephyrs.
O’Neill was called up by the Reds in time to witness Pete Rose’s 4,192nd hit to eclipse Ty Cobb as baseball’s all-time hit leader.
Following the 1985 late season call-up, O’Neill latched on with the Reds on a full-time basis in 1987. By 1990, O’Neill and Eric Davis highlighted the Cincinnati outfield and helped the Reds sweep the Oakland A’s to win the World Series. He was selected to the National League All-Star team in 1991.
Yet in 1992, the new young, hotshot Reds General Manager Jim Bowden shipped O’Neill off to New York Yankees for outfielder Roberto Kelly just 19 days after taking the job.
The outcome of the trade, which Bowden publicly said was his worst trade with the Reds, saw O’Neill become the glue of the Yankees dynasty that won the World Series four times from in 1996 to 2000. O’Neill also won the batting title in the 1994 strike-shortened season and was played in four All-Star Games.
The Reds meanwhile wound-up with an outfield with an indentity crisis in Kelly. After getting off to a bad start in 1993, he asked the scoreboard operator and program editor at Riverfront Stadium to change his name to “Bobby.” His first time up with the new moniker in place, Kelly hit a triple and subsequently went on a 14-game hitting streak. The nickname stayed until November.
More than a season later, Kelly was shipped to the Atlanta Braves for Deion Sanders. This would be the first appearance for one of the NFL’s best defensive backs throughout the 1990s. It also allowed the Reds at one point to have more Pro Bowl players on their roster than the Cincinnati Bengals.
O’Neill also went on appear in a Seinfield episode. The slugger was coaxed by Cosmo Kramer coaxed to hit two home runs in a game for a sick boy. Kramer made the deal with the boy to retrieve a birthday card signed by the entire Yankees squad that was meant for the team’s owner George Steinbrenner.