Thursday, June 1, 2023

Books: "Swing and a Hit" By Paul O'Neill and Jack Curry

Swing and a Hit: Nine Innings of What Baseball Taught Me

By Paul O'Neill and Jack Curry

Grand Central Publishing; paperback, 272 pages; $18.99

Paul O'Neill had his number 21 retired by the Yankees last season, a recognition of what a key piece he was of their dynasty in the 1990s when he embodied what it meant to put on the pinstripes.

Known for his hard-nosed play and never taking anything for granted, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner called him "The Warrior." 

O'Neill began his career with the Cincinnati Reds, where he won a World Championship in 1990, and then he came to the Yankees in 1993 when the Bronx Bombers were building their way back to being a contender. That season, the Yankees won 88 games and fell short in the race for the American League East crown with the defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays, and then they were on their way to the postseason in 1994 when the strike cancelled the season. O'Neill flirted with hitting .400 that season. 

The Yankees made the postseason the following year, and then, in 1996, they made it to the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, where O'Neill made perhaps his most famous play when he made a running catch along the warning track in right field to clinch the Yankees' 1-0 win in Game 5, and they won their first championship since 1978 two nights later. That was the first of four championships the Yankees would win with O'Neill, including in 1998, when they won 125 games.

O'Neill collaborated with YES Network analyst Jack Curry on the New York Times bestselling book Swing and a Hit, which is now out in paperback. Curry covered baseball for twenty years at the New York Times, including as the Yankees beat writer in the 1990s, and he is also the author of the new book, The 1998 Yankees, and two other New York Times bestsellers, Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher, with David Cone, and The Life You Imagine, with Derek Jeter. It will certainly take its place as a cherished baseball book capturing one of its most memorable players. 

In addition to many stories on his illustrious carrer, O'Neill also focuses on what made him one of the best hitters of his era. He reveals how he adjusted to pitchers, how he boosted his confidence, how he battled with umpires, and sometimes water coolers, which Paul gives interesting insights into; and the advice he would give to current hitters. He recalls how he started to swing a bat competitively as a 5-year-old and kept swinging it professionally until he was 38 years old, when he retired after the 2001 season. O'Neill took a lot of inspiration from Ted Williams, who said using a round bat to hit a round ball is the most difficult thing to do in sports, and once received a call from The Splendid Splinter, which was filled with hitting advice.

I recently caught up with Jack Curry to discuss the paperback version of Swing and a Hit:

Jason Schott: How was the reception for Swing and a Hit been since it was released a year ago?

Jack Curry: The reception for Swing and a Hit was excellent. In the first week, we sold about 4,500 books and made it to the New York Times bestseller list. That's every author's dream. After all of the hard work, it was very cool to call Paul and deliver the news to him.

JS: Last year, the Yankees retired Paul's number 21. How much did that drive interest in the book?

JC: Fortunately, Paul told me about his number being retired a few days before it was officially announced so we were able to include it in the book. When Paul mentioned me and the book during his number retirement ceremony I'm sure that helped drive sales.

JS: Did it affirm how beloved he is by Yankee fans? 

JC: No doubt. When I started working on this book, I knew that was true. Once the book was completed and I saw the interest in Paul's hitting philosophies and his career, that emphasized it even more.

JS: It's now been 30 years since Paul came to New York and he was a major part in the leap they took in 1993. How important is that season in the early steps of their dynasty?

JC: It was of vital importance. Don Mattingly has credited O'Neill with being the player who spearheaded that turnaround because he wouldn't accept losing or mediocrity.

JS: How will this complement your new book, The 1998 Yankees?

JC: When I worked on a pitching book with David Cone and a hitting book with Paul O'Neill, I noticed how much reverence they had for the 1998 team. I was already thinking about revisiting that team as a possible book, but their reactions reinforced to me how great an idea it would be and how much interest people would have in that team.

Please check out our interview with Jack Curry when Swing and a Hit was released last year (click here) and his recent interview on The 1998 Yankees (click here)

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