Paul O’Neill has been barred from the YES Network booth this season because of his vaccination status, and thus calls Yankees games from his Ohio home.
While not ideal, YES has worked to accommodate the unvaccinated former Yankees outfielder into its massive rotation of analysts. But things with O’Neill are about to get a little more awkward later this month, as the Yankees prepare to retire his number on Aug. 21.
According to Andrew Marchand of The New York Post, O’Neill (seen above) is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and therefore not compliant with YES Network’s vaccine mandate which required employees to get the jab by Jan. 1, 2022. YES has not made a statement on O’Neill’s vaccination status, although they don’t hide the fact that he’s calling Yankees games from Ohio while the rest of their broadcasters are at the stadium.
Separate from the YES mandate, MLB protocols prevent unvaccinated people from having contact with any players, entering the dugout or clubhouse. O’Neill will be allowed on the field for the celebration, provided all current players remain in the dugout. A visit to the broadcast booth, as is typical with these celebrations, will not be permitted because of his vaccination status.
“Paul O’Neill Day will feature all of the traditional elements that fans have enjoyed during previous number retirement ceremonies, including the introduction of special guests on the Yankee Stadium infield, a montage on the center-field video board and the unveiling of the retired No. 21 medallion in Monument Park,” the Yankees told Marchand and The Post in a statement. “O’Neill and his family will then join the special guests in the infield, where he will receive a presentation of gifts, deliver a speech from a podium in front of the pitcher’s mound and throw out a ceremonial pitch to a catcher at home plate.”
Despite the Yankees appearing to work hard in accommodating O’Neill, the popular outfielder waited more than 20 years to see his number get retired, and it’s going to occur under unusual conditions. And as much as the celebration is about his accolades on the field, O’Neill’s two decades as a broadcaster with the Yankees are equally important to maintaining relevance and popularity with the team, yet he won’t be allowed to visit the booth on Aug. 21 to talk about it.
“This situation will find itself through and I’m sure Paul will find himself back in the booth at some point.” YES’ president of programming and production John Filippelli told The Post. “It is certainly not ideal, but we have managed to figure it out and work through it. I don’t think we have suffered at all, I really don’t. Have there been some hiccups? Do I think it is ideal if it keeps going? No, I don’t, but I do think we have managed to make it work and I think our fans have accepted it.”
The Yankees have watered down the idea of retiring numbers in recent years by eliminating the seemingly obvious requirement of being an all-time great player. And now O’Neill has watered down his retirement ceremony by forcing the team to build an atypical celebration because of his vaccination status.