ESPN: Paul O'Neill interested in becoming next Reds manager

NEW YORK -- Some Cincinnati Reds fans say they want the team's next skipper to be more fiery in the clubhouse. Does anyone fit that description better than Paul O'Neill?

That hypothetical question may have come a little closer to be answered Wednesday after ESPN New York reported the former Reds outfielder and major league firebrand is interested in returning to the Queen City to become the 61st manager in club history. 

"I would love to sit down and find out what their thoughts are," O'Neill told ESPN New York. "There are basically two organizations in my life, the Reds and the Yankees. Anytime you live in the city, you understand and see what happens in an organization."

O'Neill's professional connection with the Cincinnati Reds began in 1981 when the organization used a fourth-round pick to draft him out of Brookhaven High School in Columbus, Ohio. He then spent the first eight years of his big league career with the team after debuting as a 22-year-old in 1985.

Earlier Wednesday, on ESPN New York 98.7 FM, Michael Kay reported on his radio program that Reds owner Bob Castellini had reached out to O'Neill about managing the team. O'Neill told Kay he had not sat down with Castellini yet but added that he has spoken with the organization over the years "about numerous things."

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told the New York Daily News late Wednesday night through team spokesman Rob Butcher that “We have not reached out to Paul regarding our managerial vacancy.”

Thus far, only one of the candidates -- pitching coach Bryan Price -- is known to have been contacted by Jocketty about interviewing for the job.

"We are not going to rush into anything," Jocketty said on Tuesday. "We probably won't do anything until after the World Series. I'm not going to rush just to get it over with."

Return To The Almost-Hometown Team?

O'Neill, 50, has spent the past 12 years working as a game analyst for YES, the Yankees' network, but still lives with his family in Cincinnati. In addition to having roots in the city, he said during the interview Wednesday he believes the Reds are a "very good team" and he would be interested in helping them win a World Series.

If anyone would know about world championships it's O'Neill, who won five rings during his 17-year MLB career. He helped the Reds capture their most recent World Series title in 1990. It was the organization's fifth overall world championship, and first since 1976.

After being traded to the Yankees in 1993 for Roberto Kelly, he went on to help New York establish itself as a modern-day dynasty by winning four titles in a five-year span (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000).

Fire Up The [Bleep]-ing Team!

In addition to his championship pedigree, O'Neill brings with him a legendary temper that some feel the Reds lacked under the leadership of Dusty Baker, who was fired after his team lost in the Wild Card Game to the Pirates, 6-2, last week.

Baker was fired after six years in Cincinnati despite guiding the team to a 470-391 record and three playoff appearances in the last four years, the organization's best run since Sparky Anderson managed the Big Red Machine to two World Series titles in the 1970s.

But while the Reds were successful during his tenure, winning 90-plus games three times in four years, they failed to live up to the expectations many baseball prognosticators and local fans had for them. Some believe Baker's "player's coach" style had something to do with the fact the team was never able to advance past the first round of the playoffs.

When 9 On Your Side Sports Director John Popovich asked Jocketty last week if Baker had lost control of the team, Jocketty replied:

“I think that could be a possibility. I don’t know if he lost control, but I think maybe the message just wasn’t clear enough to some guys ... They weren’t performing as well as they should.”

The Reds didn't seem as inspired as they should have been, either - not like the Pirates, Rays, Indians and other teams fighting for their playoff lives. The Reds lost their final five games of the regular season and cost themselves a chance to host the Wild Card playoff elimination game.

Those other teams seemed to want to play for their manager, Popovich said, and Jocketty didn't disagree.

“I’ve seen that certainly with other clubs. I saw it here for a period of time. But I don’t think we saw it as much this year and certainly not toward the end,” Jocketty said.

He Could Hit, But Can He Coach?

While O'Neill has a reputation for throwing helmets, denting water coolers and letting umpires know what he thinks of them, it's unclear he would be able to replicate the success of in-your-face skippers like Lou Piniella and Bobby Cox.

Like former teammate and fellow rumored candidate Barry Larkin, O'Neill hasn't had any coaching experience so it's unclear how he would handle day-to-day duties of a manager.

While doing so would come with great risks, selecting either O'Neill or Larkin as the next Reds clubhouse leader would follow a recent trend of GMs hiring former players who lack managerial experience. The White Sox hired Robin Ventura as their manager before last season, and two years ago, the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny. Neither had previously managed in professional baseball.

O'Neill was plenty good as a ballplayer, finishing his career with a .288 lifetime average, five All-Star game appearances and the 1994 American League batting title. But do a sweet swing and a colorful vocabulary make for a championship-caliber manager?

Do you think Paul O'Neill would make a good manager?


Web editor Greg Noble contributed to this report.

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