Now that it’s almost over — now that the remainder of his baseball career has come down to a handful of at-bats — Mark Teixeira is allowing himself to step back and let the magnitude of it all wash over him.
He is allowing himself to remember the player he was when he first walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse in spring training of 2009 with a newly inked $180-million deal. And he’s allowing himself to appreciate the person he has become after fighting his way through four-plus years of frustrating and emotionally draining injuries.
“Life is not perfect,” Teixeira said recently when asked to reflect on his career. “I could sit here and cry about the four years I was injured. Or I could say I had 10 great, healthy years. I think the way that you deal with injuries and continue to go out there and do your job says a lot about who you are.”
Teixeira was on a Hall of Fame trajectory when the Yankees signed him to what was then the fourth-richest contract ever. On Sunday, as he winds up his 14th and final season, he is not a strong candidate for Cooperstown. And if that’s the case, if he ends up being a one-and-done in the Hall of Fame voting, so be it. Teixeira always has been the ultimate glass-is-half-full guy. He’s OK if some people don’t consider him a great player, because he knows he was a very good one.
“I definitely wasn’t perfect,” Teixeira said. “I’m far from perfect. But I’ve fought through a lot of things and I’m proud of the career I’ve had.”
Both the Yankees and Teixeira changed dramatically in the eight years he has been here. In an odd way, he’s almost a bridge between two eras.
Teixeira arrived in New York as part of a free-agent spending spree after the 2008 season that included CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. After reaching the postseason for 13 straight seasons, the Yankees had fallen short in 2008 and were moving into a new stadium. They needed to make a big splash.
The switch-hitting Teixeira was 28, one of the most productive hitters in baseball and a Gold Glove first baseman. The Yankees outbid the Red Sox to get him. And the immediate returns on their investment were huge.
Teixeira and Sabathia played a big role in carrying the Yankees to the World Series title in 2009. Teixeira delivered two huge hits in the postseason. In Game 2 of the ALDS, he lined a walk-off home run in the 11th inning to give the Yankees a 4-3 victory over the Twins and a 2-0 lead in the series. Then, though he hit only .136 in the World Series against the Phillies, he came up with some timely hits, including a tying solo home run in Game 2 that pushed the Yankees to a win that tied the series at 1.
“Tex came right in and was a huge part of us getting to the World Series and winning it,” said Brett Gardner, one of the few players left from the 2009 team. “It’s been awesome to play with him all these years.”
Teixeira led the American League with 39 home runs and 122 RBIs in his first year with the Yankees. He also won the first of his three Gold Gloves with the team and finished second in the balloting for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Teixeira’s health problems started in 2012 when he suffered wrist and calf injuries. Since then, he has spent time on the disabled list with wrist, knee, hamstring, calf, back and shin injuries. He averaged 157 games in his first three seasons with the Yankees but has not exceeded 123 games in his past five years with the club.
“I’ve definitely grown up,” Teixeira said when asked how his health issues impacted him. “When you are young and on top of the world and healthy, you have this very carefree attitude. As you get older and your kids get older and you get injured, you realize that life isn’t as easy as it seems. I think everyone understands that at some point in their life. The last few years have made me realize that life isn’t easy.”
Still, it was hard to let go. At the beginning of this season, Teixeira told reporters he intended to play another five seasons. By early August, reality had set in and he announced in a teary news conference that he was ready for the next chapter in his life.
The decision turned out to be cathartic: For the past two months, Teixeira said he has enjoyed living in the moment and appreciating his final days in baseball.
“I’ve enjoyed it more,” he said. “I always knew there was more to come. Now, knowing there isn’t more to come, I’m enjoying the little things.”
And the big things. In the final days of his career, Teixeira hit home runs against the Blue Jays and Red Sox. The home run against the Red Sox — a walk-off grand slam that temporarily kept the Yankees in playoff contention — could very well be the final one of his career as Sunday’s game will be his last one. If that’s the case, Teixeira is OK with that.
“I’ve had a great life in baseball,’’ he said, “and I know how fortunate I am.”
THE HAPPY TOTALS
Mark Teixeira’s career, though Thursday:
2007 Rangers, Braves
2008 Braves, Angels
409 Home runs
.269 Batting average
16.9 At-bats per home run (49th-best alltime)
5 Gold Gloves
3 Silver Sluggers