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Lee Jenkins
November 11, 2009
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November 11, 2009

Straight-up Talent


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A MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER HEARS The Star-Spangled Banner upwards 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 during the 2008 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."

At 6' 3", 220 pounds, with a toothy smile and a face free of the slightest stubble, Teixeira looks as though he was born to grace a baseball card. He goes about even the most mundane tasks as if everyone is watching him, and finally this season, everyone was. Over the past five years Teixeira was one of the best-kept secrets in major league baseball. He was a two-time Gold Glove first baseman who hit for average, hit for power, hit to all fields, hit in the clutch and hit from both sides of the plate. But he had never won a playoff series, and he had never been the headliner on his team.

From the moment he signed with the Yankees in the off-season, the spotlight was on, and so was the pressure. A legion of great players, including Teixeira's close friend Alex Rodriguez, have needed years to acclimate to New York. Teixeira was sufficiently awed by his surroundings—"The pinstripes are bigger than baseball," he said—but his adjustment period took only one month. He batted .200 with just three homers in April, burdened by expectations and also by Rodriguez's hip injury, which deprived him of protection in the lineup. But in May he began to find his way around Yankee Stadium, and he hit .330 with 13 homers that month.

"I've been through a lot of great streaks and a lot of bad slumps," Teixeira said. "What you have to do is stay consistent. You are who you are."

But Teixeira's career has been defined more by his reliability than by streaks or slumps. Since his second year in the big leagues—the 2004 season—he has never batted below .280 and never finished with fewer than 30 home runs. This year was no exception, as he hit .292 with 39 homers, proving that he can play as well in New York as he did in Texas, Atlanta and Anaheim. He hit his first postseason home run, a walk-off in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against Minnesota, and his first World Series home run, a blast to right centerfield in Game 2 against the Phillies. Like starting pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, other members of last year's free-agent class, Teixeira signed with the Yankees in hopes of winning a World Series. They all succeeded on their first try.

TEX, AS HE IS KNOWN, FITS THE PROFILE OF THE modern Yankee—polished and savvy, mindful of his image as well as his OPS. He was switch-hitting in elementary school and was a member of the National Honor Society at Mount St. Joseph High, an all-boys Catholic school in Baltimore where the students wear ties and oxford shirts. He went to Georgia Tech, was drafted by the Rangers in the first round and became an assistant player representative to the union in only his second major league season.

When Teixeira 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 distract anyone else. He says he has a "plan for every day," which, in addition to working out, studying film, fielding ground balls and taking extra batting practice, 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."

Agent Scott Boras describes Teixeira as "the ideal client," in part because his business sense is so clearly more refined than your average ballplayer's. Teixeira turned down $1.5 million from the Red Sox out of high school and wound up signing for $9.5 million with the Rangers out of college. He turned down $144 million from Texas two years ago and wound up with $180 million from the Yankees. "He has the makeup of a CEO," Boras says. "He's not gregarious in his personality. He is not emotional in his decision making. He is very businesslike, very much about information.... When he's done playing, he could be the president of a company."

Boras is famous for the blue binders he puts together for free agents, filled with a player's statistics, comparisons to his historical peers and projections of how the player will perform over the duration of his desired contract. When Boras started putting together Teixeira's binder before last winter, the computer spit out 160 pages of glowing data. Boras edited it down to 56 pages, separated into seven sections. Among the highlights in this report: Only three first basemen in history have hit more than 30 homers and driven in more than 100 runs for five straight seasons by age 28—Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols and Teixeira.

Boras is one of the people who recommended that Teixeira reject the Red Sox out of high school and attend Georgia Tech. He even advised, half-jokingly, that Teixeira meet his wife in college. 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 during his freshman year. Today Teixeira and Leigh are married with two children, Jack Gordan, 3, and Addison Leigh, 2.

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