By Jason Keidel
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To those who abhor New York, Mark Teixeira is a perfect emblem of the modern Yankees. The product of a spending spree, a player groomed by another team only to be hand-delivered to Darth Vader.
Yet Teixeira is also a symbol of something else. Always ready to play, play hard, and with the old-world nobility that still appeals to the masses. And someone whom even the most ardent Yankees hater couldn’t quite get himself to hate.
Maybe Teixeira came too late to be a minted member of the Core Four, but he surely played with their collective spirit. When people parse the Yankees, and all the bad they allegedly represent, you never hear the name Teixeira as a symbol of all their sins. Simply, it’s just impossible to dislike someone who was as good, humble, and charitable as Teixeira.
In spite of all the home runs, Gold Gloves, and All-Star games, Teixeira maintained the blue-collar ethic that defines the Big Apple.
PHOTOS: Mark Teixeira, World Champion
Despite all the money and marble of Madison Avenue, the swollen billboards and media dysfunction, New York City was built by blue collar people who still lug their lunches to work, don’t mind getting dirty, and don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans.
So despite his nine-figure contract, Teixeira kept his old-school sensibilities. Some players get to Gotham, sign for biblical money, and forget who they are and what got them here.
Not Teixeira, whose handle, Tex, evokes the notion of a simple man with a simple plan. No matter the big numbers on the field and absurd numbers in his savings account, he never floated above the team, was never too big to dive for a baseball, or too important to get his pinstripes muddy.
Surely, the numbers matter. And Teixeira posted some serious stats. He nears the end of his glittering career with 404 homers, 1,281 RBI, a .361 on-base percentage, and .872 OPS. As the Yankees tweeted Friday, Teixeira is a three-time All-Star, who has five Gold Gloves, and three Silver Slugger awards.
His maiden campaign in the Big Apple in 2009 was perhaps his best, leading the AL in HRs (39), RBI (122) and total bases (344), as the Yankees went on to their eventual 27th World Series crown.
While the Yankees were spending billions on free agents who fizzled out in Gotham, who couldn’t bask in Broadway’s glow without burning in its glare, Teixeira never forgot the coda that got him here.
He was part of the Yankees’ last, epic, spending spree. In 2009, they spent nearly a half-billion bucks on high-end players, making it rain on CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Teixeira. It was a bounty that brought them their last World Series title that very season, and their only championship in this young century.
But Teixeira played so hard and so well with his classic, low-key regularity that you never would have known he could buy the private jets he traveled on, or stay in lavish hotels he slept in.
Surely his childhood had something to do with that. His father was an officer (and pilot) in the Navy, a graduate from Annapolis who raised his son with an acute sense of American history and America’s pastime. Much of that must have included baseball’s singular team. Indeed, when Teixeira decided to sign with the Yankees in 2009, it surely was about more than money.
During his first few hours in the Bronx, Teixeira boasted with preteen glee about his love for the Yankees in general, and for Don Mattingly in particular.
Perhaps the greatest Yankee never to win a World Series, Mattingly’s glove, bat, and work ethic were unsurpassed by first basemen for years, and no player represented those hardscrabble teams from the 1980s.
And thus it’s no accident that posters of Mattingly lathered Teixeira’s childhood walls, or that Tex played with Donnie Baseball’s skill, will, and pride.
Teixeira’s teams may have seen more success, but you’ll never get Teixeira to say he was better than Mattingly, or anyone. It’s not the way he played, the way he lived, or the way he won.
Teixeira was one of the rare players who came to New York needing little more than a tour of the locker room. He was never bothered by the lights, shaken by the media fishbowl, or intimidated by the fans.
Maybe he didn’t play his entire career in New York City, but it’s hard to think of anyone more physically or spiritually suited for it. And few players in history inherently understood what it took to be a New York Yankee.
Sabathia, A-Rod, and Teixeira are the last legends left from the last legendary team. So while Tex may not be the same player he was back then, he’s still the same man. So rather than notice what he means to this year’s team, perhaps we should remember what he meant to the Yankees, and what it meant to be a Yankee.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel