Molly O'Neill chews her ballpark hot dog quietly, judiciously and abstemiously. "Have you seen my Paulie Pie?" asks The New York Times food writer, swiping mustard from her chin. Paulie Pie is no backwater confection: It's what Molly calls her brother, New York Yankee outfielder Paul O'Neill.
Not since Nelson and David Rockefeller controlled politics and money in the 1960s have two siblings had more clout in the Big Apple. In his first year in pinstripes, Paul has emerged as the town's most powerful lefthanded hitter. At week's end he had 12 homers, 44 RBIs and a .329 average, third in the American League. As an occasional restaurant critic for the Times, Molly is one of New York's most powerful power lunchers. Just as schoolboys tack Paul's picture to their bedroom walls, restaurateurs paste up Molly's in their kitchens.
Molly, who's 40, is a hardy realist, a sensible, humorous woman who knows what's what. Paul, 30, is shy and contemplative, but bats and helmets fly when he fails to meet his own exacting standards. "Paul thinks his hits are never hard enough," says Molly. "Even if he throws a strike to the plate from the rightfield fence, he'll say it was a millimeter off target."
Before Paul was born, Chick O'Neill had promised Molly that the sixth O'Neill child would be a girl. "Then again," Molly says, "Dad had assured me that my other four brothers would be sisters too." She ironed all her old baby clothes and set up a crib in her room. "When word came that the baby was a boy, I went hysterical," she recalls. Eventually reason won out. He may be a boy, Molly allowed, but he's my girl.
She swaddled her Paulie Pie in pinafores, bonnets and satin booties. For years. These indignities ended only when Chick, eyeing Paul in a frilly pink smock, muttered, "Molly, you're gonna turn that kid into a darned...unhappy person." Molly relented, and Paul look to wearing baseball togs and got drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1981. While he worked his way through the Reds' chain, Molly, on writing jobs in Boston and New York, ate her way up the food chain. The Times signed her in 1989. A year later Paul played for the World Series winners. But when he slipped from 28 homers and 91 RBIs in '91 to 14 and 66 last year, Cincy dealt him to New York. "The rap on Paul was he couldn't hit lefties," says Molly, who herself was once sued for allegedly misidentifying a sausage in a cassoulet.
A fiercely private person, Paul has little use for reporters. "When we go out with other players," Molly says, "he tells me to say I'm a writer, not a reporter." The best time to approach him, reports Molly, is "early in the day, before his defenses are up." And how does she know her brother so well? "That's easy," she says. "I potty-trained him."