What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? My son carries a long-held family name. My daughter is named after the librarian in The Mummy. My wife’s name was surreptitiously changed at birth to that of a country singer while her mother was still under the effects of anesthesia.

My father-in-law may not be the first to pull such a switch. Rafael Cruz, a former minor league baseball player in the Rangers’ system, named his son after New York Yankee Paul O’Neill. Rafael had been a fan of O’Neill for several years when his son was born. Two nights before the delivery, O’Neill homered to lead the Yankees past the Rangers into the American League Championship Series. When Rafael left the hospital with his son, the birth certificate carried the name “Oneil Cruz.”

Sleeping with a baseball glove in his crib, the younger Cruz would go on to become a Major League infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His rookie card appears in the 2022 Topps set. There is more than one variation of the photo available, with one picturing him sitting on a bucket considered particularly difficult to find. It’s not the most flattering image, as the 6’7″ shortstop looks like he has run out of time to find a restroom. Having set the current record for hardest hit baseball, this card (and his name) are likely to remain memorable.

“Paulie” Gets Pinstripes

Oneil’s namesake appears in the 1993 Finest set as a member of the New York Yankees. Given the set’s focus on star players, his selection was somewhat perplexing at the time. The stats on the back of the card show a player with 96 career homeruns and a .258 batting average across the previous 8 seasons. His 1991 season looked fantastic (5.3 WAR, 28 HR) but he otherwise did not put up numbers consistent with All-Star caliber play. He even pitched two innings for the Reds in 1987 (13.50 ERA).

The Yankees had seen improvement from developing prospect Roberto Kelly, who appears as Bobby Kelly in the 1993 set. At age 27 the Yankees thought Kelly was topping out in terms of whatever he would do in baseball. They traded him to the Cincinatti Reds in exchange for the older (29) arm and slightly lower batting average of O’Neill. Somehow it worked. O’Neill would become part of four World Series championships over his 9 seasons in New York and hit over .300 for the remainder of his career.

1993 Finest Refractor

Apparently, this is the card collectors hold onto when they want to own just one card from the ’93 Refractor set. Earlier this year I walked around the Chantilly card show searching for new additions. Asking each table about the availability of any refractors, I found one vendor who said he had a Paul O’Neill card at another location. Another said he did not have any refractors for sale, but mentioned the O’Neill card as the sole example in his personal collection. A conversation at a show in Richmond, VA revealed no refractors on hand, but a helpful seller said he knew a guy who could connect me with a Paul O’Neill card.

By the time I canvassed dealer tables across Virginia I had already acquired this card for the in-progress set. He’s certainly a popular player but not so much that the card is unaffordable or difficult to find. My records show it to be the 13th most often seen card in the 199-strong checklist.