"I hope it came across how big of an honor it is," O'Neill said. "It was an unbelievable thing, to look behind yourself and see your kids and see your wife, your mom and your brothers here. You just know that you were part of something big here. That, I'm proud of."
As the chants of O'Neill's name echoed rhythmically throughout Yankee Stadium, it was impossible not to recall the right fielder's tearful final home game in the 2001 World Series, which served as confirmation that his intensity on the field had been appreciated.
There are seven monuments and now 29 plaques in Monument Park. Goose Gossage and Tino Martinez were recognized with plaques earlier this season, Joe Torre's No. 6 will be formally retired later this month and the Yankees plan to celebrate Bernie Williams' career in 2015.
O'Neill's mother, Virginia, and his wife, Nevalee, were among the family members on hand for Saturday's ceremonies. The tribute also included appearances by David Cone, Gene Monahan, Martinez, Torre, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
"An intense competitor and team leader, O'Neill was beloved for his relentless pursuit of perfection," the plaque reads. "In nine seasons with the Yankees, he won four World Series and made four All-Star teams, compiling a .303 batting average with 185 home runs and 858 RBIs. Was also known for his strong arm and reliable glove in right field. Won 1994 AL batting crown with a .359 average."
Jeter said that the ceremony for O'Neill, who currently works as an analyst for the team's YES Network, was "great and well deserved."
"Being a former teammate, I know how much he's meant to the success of the organization, and how much the fans appreciate him," Jeter said. "It was a wonderful day to bring back some ex-teammates and have his family here. I'm sure he'll remember it forever."
O'Neill started his career with the Reds, with whom he won the 1990 World Series before being traded on Nov. 3, 1992, for outfielder Roberto Kelly. With the Yankees, Torre said that O'Neill was "relentless" and became "part of the glue that kept this thing together."
"This whole group never admired what they had accomplished," Torre said. "They always kept wanting to accomplish more, which was great for me. They never got tired of winning. A lot of times, you win the World Series and say, 'Oh, I got mine,' and then you celebrate the rest of your career. But these guys kept wanting to do more."
A five-time All-Star, O'Neill helped raise the Commissioner's Trophy in 1996, marking the Yankees' first title since 1978. O'Neill said the crushing playoff loss to the Indians in 1997 galvanized the club's spirit, rallying it to win the next three titles.
"You couldn't get it off your mind," O'Neill said. "I think the fear of going through that again helped us unbelievably, and that's why I think we won in '98, '99 and 2000."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he loved what O'Neill's attitude brought out in the rest of the team. Girardi recalled O'Neill participating in heated bridge games in the back of the team plane, as well as the episodes when O'Neill would punish his batting helmet or the water cooler for witnessing an out.
"I laughed," Girardi said. "I really believe that most players wish they felt comfortable doing that. It's got to be a great release."
"He expected perfection," Jeter added. "He was a guy who couldn't understand ... if you hit a ball hard and it wasn't a hit. I don't know if he understands that now."
O'Neill said that if he was playing today, he might have given more of an effort to hide those dugout outbursts from the television cameras, but he does not apologize for them. They were part of O'Neill's athletic makeup.
"That's the only way I knew how to play, no matter what it was," O'Neill said. "I grew up with brothers who at the time were older and better. It's not like you can wake up one day and be big just to play with them. You get used to losing and playing over your head. Every one of my brothers was that way. You want to win."
That was true on the cold November day in 1992 when O'Neill learned he'd been dealt to the Yankees, a team that had just finished in fourth place with a 76-86 record and hadn't tasted postseason baseball since 1981.
O'Neill said that he recalled feeling some disappointment, thinking that he hadn't played well enough to stay in Cincinnati. He said that was quickly replaced by a sense of the Yankees' history, the fabric of which O'Neill is now permanently a part.
"Let's face it: we're all lucky to play for the New York Yankees, especially at that time," O'Neill said. "It didn't take long to feel the tradition and this team. You talk about the perfect time to come here; it started turning around and we started winning, and being part of that is something I'll never forget."