All eyes are on Mark Teixeira, a switch-hitting, slick-fielding image-savvy superstar who -- with an assist from uberagent Scott Boras -- has definitely arrived
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."
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.