A Major League baseball player hears The Star-Spangled Banner upward of 190 times every year, and even the most patriotic among them will, at some point, be caught blowing a bubble or spitting a sunflower seed. Mark Teixeira was with the Los Angeles Angels for 60 renditions last season, and teammate Torii Hunter observed him closely, wondering when Teixeira might finally glance at the out-of-town scoreboard or gesture to an opposing player or at least scratch an itch. "He never does," Hunter says. "He stands perfectly straight, head down, shirt tucked in—every single time. He doesn't say a word. He doesn't even have a hair out of place."
This is an article from the Dec. 8, 2008 issue
Teixeira goes about the most mundane tasks as though everyone is watching him, and now everyone is. Over the past five years Teixeira has been the best largely unknown player in baseball. He is a 28-year-old Gold Glove first baseman who hits for average, for power, to all fields, in the clutch, and from both sides of the plate. "The only thing he doesn't do," Angels general manager Tony Reagins says, "is steal a lot of bases." At 6'3", 220 pounds, with a toothy smile and a face free of stubble, Teixeira looks as though he was born to grace a baseball card.
Eight years ago agent Scott Boras negotiated for Alex Rodriguez what was then the richest free-agent contract in baseball history, a 10-year deal with the Texas Rangers worth $252 million. Now that Boras represents Teixeira, the slugger could become the second-most expensive free agent in baseball history. "In A-Rod's case, at this point, we had whittled it down to five teams," Boras says. "With Teixeira, I have done my best to give everyone a scope of the years involved and the economic requirements, and I still have 10 teams that fit the criteria. Because the economics of the game are better now, there is actually more demand."
The economics of baseball may indeed be better than they were in 2000, but the sport is not immune to America's financial crisis. One major league executive, who requested anonymity, believes the climate will prevent Teixeira from landing the 10-year, $200 million deal he seeks. "The slowness of the free-agent market is totally due to the economy," the executive says. "We can't be sure what our revenue will be this year. You're always going to have the big-market teams that will sign guys for tremendous amounts of money. But teams right below them are being a lot more cautious this winter."
Tex, as he is known, fits the profile of the modern superstar—polished and savvy, mindful of his image as well as his OPS. He was switch-hitting in elementary school, was a member of the National Honor Society at Mount St. Joseph High in Baltimore, went to Georgia Tech and became an assistant player representative in only his second major league season. When he walks into the clubhouse, dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt, the first thing he does is turn off his cellphone so he is not distracted and does not bother anyone else. He says he has a "plan for every day," which requires that he eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before each game and scarf down a Power Bar in the middle innings. "Some people would call me obsessive compulsive," Teixeira says, "but I take my job very seriously and my preparation very seriously. I am not the kind of guy who goes out at night and parties."
Boras calls Teixeira "the ideal client," in part because his business sense is so clearly more refined than the average ballplayer's. Teixeira turned down a $1.5 million signing bonus from the Red Sox out of high school and instead enrolled at Georgia Tech; three years later he signed for $9.5 million with the Rangers. He turned down an eight-year, $144 million offer from the Rangers in 2007 and should exceed $150 million this winter. "He has the makeup of a CEO," Boras says. "He's not gregarious or emotional in his decision making. He is very businesslike, very much about information."
Teixeira will undoubtedly appeal to owners and executives who see in him a little of themselves. The only question is whether they see too much of themselves. "Teixeira seems like a very corporate kind of guy, and if a team is going to give him that much money, they will probably want him to be a leader in the clubhouse and a face of the franchise," says one general manager, who requested anonymity. "You don't know yet if he's going to be willing or able to do that."
When the Angels acquired Teixeira from Atlanta on July 29, they were 11 1/2 games up in the American League West, and some players worried that a new addition would upset clubhouse chemistry. To the contrary, Teixeira led the Angels in every major offensive category after the trade—and they set a franchise record for wins (100), with Teixeira showing a free-swinging team how to work deep into counts. When he came to the plate, Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher made sure to sit next to young players like Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick in the dugout. "I'd tell them, 'Look what Tex is doing up there,'" Hatcher says. "'You see that pitch he just took? You see that pitch he just fought off?'" At the All-Star break, the Angels ranked 29th in walks. In the second half they ranked 21st. "He was the perfect guy for their lineup," says Mariners pitcher Jarrod Washburn. The Angels lost to the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs, but not because of Teixeira. He batted .467 with a .550 on-base percentage in his first postseason series.
One afternoon in late November, Boras rose from a conference table at his headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif., and said to a visitor, "If you have a moment, I'll show you my pride and joy." He walked down a flight of stairs to a room that looks more like a shed. It is 12 feet wide and 32 feet long, cooled to 47°, with exposed wires running along the ceiling. The room is jammed with computers that crunch statistics from every major league game ever played. "There are more than a billion megabytes of storage here," Boras says. "If I want to know any stat since 1871—[such as] how a player today compares to Ty Cobb in any category—I can have it in minutes."
Boras famously puts together binders for all of his free-agent clients, filled with a player's statistics, comparisons with his historical peers and projections of how the player will perform over the duration of his desired contract. Teixeira's binder is 56 pages of glowing data, separated into seven sections, with headers such as Leadership and Durability. One particularly impressive stat: Only three first basemen in history have hit more than 30 homers and driven in more than 100 runs for five consecutive seasons by age 28—Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols and Teixeira.
Boras and Teixeira first met when Teixeira was a senior at Mount St. Joseph, an all-boys Catholic school where the students wear Oxford shirts and ties. Teixeira's high school coach, Dave Norton, wanted him to sign with Ron Shapiro, a Baltimore-based agent who had represented Orioles legends Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson and Eddie Murray. But Shapiro showed up late to his first meeting with Teixeira, and as Norton says, "that did not sit real well with Mark."
Teixeira instead signed with Boras and was projected as a first-round pick in the 1998 draft. But when the Red Sox asked him beforehand if he would accept a $1.5 million signing bonus, Teixeira thought he could do better. He tumbled all the way to the ninth round, where Boston finally grabbed him. "The Red Sox told everybody that I wouldn't sign, and when it got to a late enough round they said, 'Let's take a flier on him,'" Teixeira told Baseball America in 2006. "So they spoiled me for everyone else." Dan Duquette, then the Red Sox general manager, says it was common knowledge that Teixeira would be difficult to sign. "That's why he went in the ninth round," Duquette says.
The Red Sox still offered Teixeira $1.5 million, but Boras advised his client to go to college instead, take some time to mature, get an education, maybe even meet the girl of his dreams. Ever the ideal client, Teixeira turned down the money—"It was the most I had ever heard of a high school player turning down," says Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall—and he met an industrial-design major named Leigh Williams at a party his freshman year. Today Teixeira and Leigh are married with two children, Jack Gordan, who is 2, and Addison Leigh, 1.
Teixeira does not like to revisit what went wrong with the Red Sox, lest he alienate a potential suitor. But the experience clearly bound him to Boras and made him somewhat jaded about the business of baseball. He turned down a contract extension from the Braves last spring even though he had gone to college in Atlanta, his wife grew up there and part of him wanted to spend the rest of his career in the city. Teixeira was so popular there that two Auburn students, Tyler Crawford and Andrew Hall, recorded a song in his honor. One verse goes: A side effect is mild hysteria/The medical reason is Mark Teixeira.
It became a YouTube favorite, and Crawford and Hall even got to perform it last summer at Turner Field. Asked how they felt when Teixeira was traded, Hall says, "We know how it goes. The game is a business."
The Orioles and the Nationals are holding out hope that sentiment figures somewhere in Teixeira's current negotiations. He has repeatedly told Boras that he wants to play for a winner and neither the Orioles (with 11 straight losing seasons) nor the Nationals (with 102 losses this year) fit that description. But both teams are expected to bid on Teixeira, right along with the Angels and the Red Sox, and for once, the Orioles and the Nationals might have an advantage over their deep-pocketed rivals. Teixeira grew up in Severna Park, Md., cheering for Ripken and playing on the same fields that Babe Ruth did. He describes himself as an "East Coast person." One Orioles fan has started an online petition—bringmarkhome.withthispetition.com—to urge the team to sign Teixeira. "Ripken was from Maryland too," Norton says. "If Mark came back here, the reaction would be very similar."
Two of the most formative events of Teixeira's life occurred in Baltimore. When he was a freshman in high school, on the way home from soccer practice one day, his father told him that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. And when he was a junior, preparing to play an American Legion baseball game, one of Mark's best friends was killed in a car accident. Nick Liberatore was sitting in the backseat of a car parked on the side of Interstate 95 when a trucker fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into him. Every Wednesday night for the next year Teixeira and his friends went to the Liberatores' house for dinner. After Teixeira signed his first professional contract, with the Rangers in 2001, he asked Mount St. Joseph principal Barry Fitzpatrick how much it would cost to endow a scholarship in Liberatore's name. Fitzpatrick told him he would have to start with $75,000. "Mark took out his checkbook and wrote the check right there," Fitzpatrick says.
Teixeira still funds the Nick Liberatore scholarship program at Mount St. Joseph. His mother, Margy, is now cancer free. His father, John, a former Navy pilot who played high school baseball with Bucky Dent, is healthy too, after he was discovered to have a brain tumor six years ago. Even though the tumor was benign, he lost hearing in his left ear. Boras and Fitzpatrick, two of Teixeira's closest confidantes, believe those brushes with death helped shape Mark's personality. He had to be the one standing perfectly upright while friends and family were being laid low around him.
Boras has warned Teixeira that his career will change drastically the moment he signs his next contract, no matter what team he signs with. He will be scrutinized as never before. Boras likes to say that Teixeira has been hidden, but once a player makes nearly $200 million, it is impossible to hide any longer. Some players need help preparing for their close-up, airbrushing their image for public consumption. But Teixeira requires no such handling. He has kept his back straight and shirt tucked for this very moment.