NEW YORK — The top compliment you can give Mark Teixeira is that his name belongs. When you think of the elite first basemen in New York Yankees history, Teixeira is worthy of inclusion in that group.
The Yankees’ tradition at the position dates to Lou Gehrig and has been nearly as much of a staple in the Bronx as the team’s pinstripes. The recent vintage has included Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi and now Teixeira.
Next up is a 23-year-old, sweet-swinging lefty. The injured Greg Bird is likely to take over the coveted spot as the Yankees’ youth movement continues in earnest in 2017.
Like many before him, Teixeira will announce his retirement before he had planned. As recently as this spring, he had talked about playing five more seasons. Last year at this time, he was in the discussion for the American League MVP. That feels like a long time ago.
In 77 games this season, Teixeira is hitting .198 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs. His OPS is .627, nearly 250 points worse than his career mark. It was time for him to move on. With injuries the most common theme of his final years in the league, he walked away before anyone told him to go.
Teixeira, 36, loves living in Connecticut. He has done fine work with Harlem RBI, which supports ways for inner-city kids to play, learn and grow. Perhaps broadcasting could be in Teixeira’s future — he has regularly appeared in humorous internet videos for the YES Network and even co-hosted Mike Mike in 2014.
As a ballplayer, Teixeira had a rare trait. In baseball, it is hard to make your teammates better, but Teixeira did that, saving his infielders countless throwing errors. He won five Gold Gloves, which is nice, but to truly appreciate his defense you had to watch him every day, scooping balls and stretching far for outs. Teixeira is one of the best-fielding first basemen of all time.
At the plate, the excessive shift just crushed Teixeira’s average. He arrived with the Yankees after hitting .308 in 2008. His first year as a Yankee he batted .292, but from then on he lived in the .250s or worse. He would not or could not adjust, saying he was paid to hit home runs and so he had to try to pull the ball or he wouldn’t be effective.
Teixeira didn’t have many signature moments at the plate. He hit the winning homer in Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS but batted just .222 with a .659 OPS in 40 postseason games with the Yankees. His failures were often overlooked, as Alex Rodriguez was always the far bigger target.
Teixeira’s retirement is another reminder — as if the Yankees needed one — that the glory days are behind this current group. Rodriguez is still around for the time being, but in clubhouse presence only. CC Sabathia will ride out his contract through next year, and then he, too, will likely be an ex-Yankee.
Teixeira arrived with an eight-year, $180 million deal after spurning the Boston Red Sox. It put him right in the middle of the rivalry from the first pitch. His tours around the AL East were not filled with love; he is still booed in Baltimore because he never signed with the Orioles even though he grew up in Maryland.
All in all, Teixeira’s signing will go down as not a perfect one, but pretty good when you consider the 2009 championship.
Teixeira, one of the best power-hitting switch-hitters in history with 404 homers, has had an excellent overall career. Before the Yankees, he played mostly for the Texas Rangers, with brief stops in Atlanta and Anaheim. His career should fall short of ending up in Cooperstown.
Bird will be given the opportunity to win the first-base job, but he will not be on scholarship. While Bird has missed the entire season, Tyler Austin, 24-year-old right-handed hitter, has become a prospect again, producing a 1.055 OPS in 52 games. Austin will likely receive a major league call-up this year to apply for the job.
Whoever ends up next at first will have expectations to meet — the likes of Gehrig, Mattingly, Tino and now Teixeira. The last one may be even more appreciated now that he is leaving.