Teixeira’s battered body told him it was time

Upon reflection of when his playing days were nearing an end, Yankees manager Joe Girardi recalled praying that it would be revealed to him when to retire. Then he hurt his back. The daily struggle to stay healthy was all he needed to know that the time to walk away had come.

It is never easy for a gifted athlete who has known success at a high level. Many of them need to have the uniform torn off them before they can admit it is over. Mark Teixeira was not like that. He was more like Girardi.

“My body can’t do it anymore,” Teixeira said before Friday night’s game at Yankee Stadium. “It has been a struggle to stay on the field the last three or four years.”

That is why Teixeira called a late-afternoon press conference where he announced that he will retire at the end of this season. With the Yankees in a period of transition, he did not want to be a distraction. Tex has dealt with neck and knee issues all year. In recent seasons, he has seen more of the trainer’s room that he would like.

I remember Don Mattingly telling me years ago when back issues pushed him towards retirement that it took so much more energy and work to get into the shape needed for the 162-game grind of the Major League Baseball schedule that he knew it was time to walk away, as difficult as that was to do.

“Every kid playing whiffle ball in the backyard or playing Little League, you dream of being a major league baseball player,” Teixeira said. “After 14 years it’s time for me to do something else and after this season I’m going to retire and do something else. I got to live out my dream and had more success than I could ever imagined, but it felt like it was the right time to step away from the game. I want to finish this season on a high note.”

Teixeira, who had a big game Wednesday night only to be on the sidelines again Thursday night because of a sore knee, talked it over with Girardi and told him how he was leaning.

“Are you sure,” Girardi said to Teixeira. “At this point in a season, players are banged up and think along those lines.”

Teixeira assured Girardi he was certain about his decision and then added, “I’ll do whatever you need me to do. What would that be?”

Girardi answered, “Play first base.”

So Teixeira was back in the lineup Friday night. He intends to play out the season as much as his aching knee and neck allow. Tex has been playing with a cartilage tear in his right knee since early June. His neck sprain is a chronic condition.

It was just a year ago that a trimmed-down Teixeira belted 31 home runs and was in the discussion for American League Most Valuable Player consideration entering August, but a foul ball off his knee caused more damage that originally thought that ended his season prematurely.

He has struggled offensively much of this season and entered play Friday night batting .198 with 10 home runs and 27 RBI. Tex has picked it up lately. He has reached safely in six consecutive plate appearances and eight of his past nine. He was on base in nine of 13 plate appearances in his three Subway Series games against the Mets. Over his past eight games, Teixeira has had a slash line of .333/.484/.542 with five runs, two doubles, one home run and four RBI in 24 at-bats.

His 400th career double Tuesday night at Citi Field made him the first switch-hitter in major league history with 400 career doubles and 400 career home runs. His 404 homers rank fifth on the switch hitter list behind Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504), Chipper Jones (468) and former Yankees teammate Carlos Beltran (415).

Teixeira grew up a Murray fan in Annapolis, Md., and was encouraged to switch-hit by his father, whom he thanked in a tearful address. “I need to let you know,” he said. “The Teixeira’s are cryers.”

He thanked the Rangers, who drafted him in the first round and signed him in 2001, and Buck Showalter, his manager in Texas who showed patience after Teixeira started his career with 15 hitless at-bats but finished the season with 26 home runs. He called second stop Atlanta his second home since he attended Georgia Tech and married a Georgia girl. He thanked the Angels for “two fabulous months” in 2008 and giving him his first taste of postseason play.

But it was his time with the Yankees that he loved most. Signing an eight-year contract prior to the 2009 season, he finished second in the MVP race that year with a 39-homer, 122-RBI output for the most recent Yankees team to win the World Series.

“2009 was a whirlwind, winning the World Series in the first year of the new Stadium,” Teixeira said. “I probably didn’t appreciate it as much at the time because you think you’ll win three or four more.”

The only personal achievement Teixeira mentioned was the pride he had in having eight seasons of more than 30 homers and 100 RBI.

Yet all that seemed so far away as the injuries piled up. And with free agency lurking after season’s end, Teixeira decided this was the moment to call it a career once the schedule is finished.

“Being a free agent at season’s end, and being 36, retirement is always in the back of your mind,” he said. “If I have to grind through the season not being healthy, I’d rather be somewhere else. I did not want to be a distraction. I would miss my kids way too much to be in some training room in Detroit not knowing if I can play while they’re in Little League or a play or something.”

With the Yankees in this period of transition, there is always the possibility a contending team might be interested in a player who won five Gold Glove and three Silver Slugger Awards and was a three-time All-Star.

“There has been no conversation about a trade, but I want to retire as a Yankee,” Teixeira said. “There is something about the Yankees. When you play against them you want to beat them or play well at Yankee Stadium. It was an unbelievable blessing to get to wear the pinstripes every day.”

Tex also had a message to Yankees fans: “They are the greatest fans in the world. I was far from perfect, but I appreciated your support. I gave you everything I had. It wasn’t always enough, but I tried very hard and am proud to have such fans rooting for the Yankees.”

And soon he will be among them.

“I’ll be watching,” Teixeira said. “I’ll be a Yankees fan forever.”

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