As touching and pleasant as the ceremony and cheers were Sunday, there is a good chance that the true Mark Teixeira Appreciation Day will not take place until sometime next year. It will be when a hard smash gets by the first baseman or when the Yankees could use his clutch home run swing or his savvy voice in the clubhouse.
The real tribute to Teixeira, who said farewell as a player Sunday, is that the Yankees and their fans will miss him when he’s gone. As good as his potential replacements appear to be, Teixeira is the type of guy whose absence might loom larger than his presence.
Joe Girardi, his final manager, grew emotional as he instinctively spoke of Teixeira’s career in the past tense right after the 5-2 loss to the Orioles at Yankee Stadium. “He was not just a guy who drove in runs, who hit home runs. He ran the bases correctly, he played great defense. He knew how to play the game,” Girardi said, his voice cracking. “That will be missed.”
Buck Showalter, Teixeira’s first manager with the Rangers in 2003, watched the pregame ceremony from the Orioles’ dugout and applauded heartily. He said, “When you don’t have him, you remember how much you could count on him. He always impacted a game. If he wasn’t doing it with the bat, he was doing it with the glove.”
Teixeira never will be considered a Yankees icon. The franchise has so many of those, it is impossible to crack that lineup. His eight years with the Yankees, many of them injury-plagued, were not filled with gold-engraved moments. But they were jam-packed with solid little things, starting with having made the huge, challenging transition to New York.
In 2009, his first season here, he led the American League in RBIs, tied for the lead in home runs, finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting and made the putout at first base to clinch the World Series. Pretty darned good.
In retrospect, we likely all will gain additional respect for the outstanding career in which he had 1,862 hits in 1,862 games. He was among only five switch hitters to collect 400 or more home runs, joining Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran. Teixeira is one of only two infielders to have five Gold Gloves and 400 homers, Mike Schmidt being the other.
All of those statistics flashed on the big screen Sunday before Teixeira, his wife, Leigh, and their children, Jack, Addy and Will, took the field to a very nice reception from people who may or may not realize how much the first baseman will be missed. He provided his own final highlight video during the game, making stellar stops on two hot shots — plays that most first basemen don’t make.
No sport handles goodbyes as well as baseball does. Valedictories were all over the map Sunday: Vin Scully, David Ortiz (regular season), Ryan Howard, Dick Enberg. Teixeira’s was more heartfelt than heart-wrenching. Smiles and hugs, not tears.
But it sure was poignant, if not downright symbolic, to see Teixeira replaced in the top of the seventh by Tyler Austin, a prospective successor. “I can’t even tell you what I said. I was caught up in the whole thing,” Austin said, mindful that Teixeira is the type of guy you want to have around.
Of Austin and other promising rookies, Teixeira said, “These guys are me, 15 years ago, trying to make their way in the game.” Yes, he would like to be an instructor eventually (but not a manager or coach). He also would like to try being on TV, pursuing business and philanthropic endeavors and helping out at Georgia Tech, his alma mater. First, he wants to spend a lot of time with the kids, who were really nervous on the field but were happily tossing and chasing a cap in the corridor outside the Yankees’ clubhouse later.
The family still will live in the New York area, the retiree said. He will bring the children to Yankee Stadium. “Hopefully, if they honor the 2009 World Series sometime soon, I’ll be back with my old teammates,” he said. “I’ll always be a Yankee.”
Someday, the Yankees are going to wish he were still on the roster.