"Hawkins wore No. 22 with the Yankees during Spring Training, but switched to No. 21 when infielder Morgan Ensberg decided he no longer wanted to wear it. Ensberg was randomly assigned the number upon reporting to camp as a non-roster invitee and later revealed that he received numerous vulgar comments from Yankees fans during the Grapefruit League campaign.
Hawkins eagerly accepted No. 21 as a tribute to Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente but quickly learned that a pinstriped No. 21 has other meanings for Yankees fans. Unaware he was donning a number that had not been worn since O'Neill retired following the 2001 World Series, Hawkins was booed when introduced on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Fans chanted 'Paul O'Neill' during one of his appearances in the Bronx.
According to CBSSports.com, Hawkins made the decision after discussions with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and other Yankees veterans, who told Hawkins that the number is not worth the headache it's causing.
'I figure if it's important enough for Jeter and Mariano and some other veterans to ask me about it, it's not worth it to keep wearing the number,' Hawkins told the Web site."
I too was pissed when I heard he'd be wearing Paulie's number, and the fact he took it after Ensberg caught all sorts of shit during Spring Training should have given him fair warning that, despite his "honoring Roberto Clemente" reasoning, the same crap was gonna come raining down on him.
That said, I think the real blame for this fiasco falls directly on the Yankees, not Hawkins. When they saw the reaction Ensberg received they should have put the number on the shelf; unofficially retire the number until they decide when they are gonna be giving Paul O'Neill his due. He retired after 2001; he's made an Old Timers Day appearance; when the fuck are those assholes gonna give us "Paulie Day" and retire the number for real?
They gotta know--as does Jeter, Mo, and whoever else told Hawkins to switch--that we will NEVER accept anyone else wearing that number. Darth Boss George called him "the ultimate warrior." He was the heart and soul of the team in the time he wore Pinstripes once Donny Baseball was gone. Even if you waited ten more years, we'd still give anyone daring to wear "21" all the vitriol we could muster.
There are only two Yankee jerseys hanging in my closet; among the various numbered tee shirts in the house, only two numbers will ever be worn by me.
They belong to "Oh Captain My Captain" and Paul O'Neill.