You might say that Paul O’Neill was an early, on-field version of Theo Epstein.

Or, at least a keen observer of Pete Rose and Lou Piniella.

Because, where Paul O’Neil went in the 1980s and 1990s, success followed — contention, World Series titles, a general polishing up of long-dormant greatness on a franchise level.

See …

After five long seasons in the Reds’ minor league system, O’Neill made his MLB debut late in 1985, just as Cincinnati was finishing off their first contending season since early in the decade.

It didn’t stick, and he spent most of 1986 at Triple-A Denver.

Fleer and Donruss, apparently thought better days were ahead, though, as they featured O’Neill on his first Major League baseball cards:

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Despite that optimism, the young outfielder wouldn’t exhaust his rookie eligibility until 1987. The next summer, he took over the right field job on the Riverfront and helped the Reds to their fourth straight second-place finish on the strength of 16 home runs and 75 RBI.

The upward trajectory was waylaid by a messy 1989 season in Cincinnati thanks to Pete Rose, and the Reds slid to fifth place.

In 1990, though, Lou Piniella came to town, and Cincy went wire-to-wire, all the way to a World Series title. O’Neill did his part by hitting .270 with 16 homers and 78 RBI, helping the Reds to their first championship since the 1976 Big Red Machine.

The next summer, he made his first All-Star appearance and smashed a career-high 28 dingers with 91 ribbies.

The 1991 season was no great shakes for the Reds, though, and, despite finishing second in 1992, Piniella departed for the Mariners in the offseason.

And, after taking a step back at age 29 in ‘92, and with young Reggie Sanders reaching the bigs, O’Neill was gone, too — traded to the New York Yankees with Joe De Berry in exchange for Roberto Kelly in Novmber.

If anyone was worried how the 30-year-old Ohio native would handle the pressure of the Big Apple, O’Neill put their minds at ease right away by hitting .311 with 20 jacks and 75 RBI in 1993.

Before the season was out, O’Neill had made his first cardboard appearance(s) in Yankees pinstripes, like this Stadium Club dandy …

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If that shot looks like O’Neill is cracking a home run, well, probably best not to mention it to him. He wasn’t really into broadcasting or predicting or promising those sorts of things, as fans of Seinfeld would find out couple years later.

In the meantime, though, there was hay to make.

For starters, in the strike-shortened 1994 season, O’Neill won the American League batting crown with a gaudy .359 mark.

The next season, 1995, the Yanks made the playoffs for the first (and only) time in Don Mattingly’s career, and then the fun really started.

With the Core Four + Bernie Williams + plenty of others gelling into a formidable team, the Yanks won the American League East and then cruised to victories in the ALDS, the ALCS, and the World Series.

It was their first title in 18 years, and the first of four in a span of five seasons.

And who was the Yanks’ rightfielder throughout their historic run?

Yep, it was Paul Andrew O’Neill.

Makes you wonder if the Red Sox or Cubs could have ended their suffering a bit earlier with a strategically placed former Red, doesn’t it?

Hobby Wow!

That 1996 Yankees team broke an 18-year Bronx championship drought and started a long run of sustained success. This ball celebrates that club …

All the big signatures are there, including — of course — Paul O’Neill.

Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).

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