A Q&A with Mark Teixeira as his excellent career comes to an end
He is not as famous as David Ortiz, not as notorious as Alex Rodriguez. Mark Teixeira, too, is retiring, but the Yankees first baseman will be remembered for his career-long excellence on the field and very little off of it.
Teixeira, 36, spent 14 years in the majors, making three All-Star teams, winning five Gold Gloves, hitting 406 home runs — the fifth-highest total ever by a switch-hitter. He finished second to Joe Mauer in the 2009 American League MVP voting. And from ‘04 to ’11, a span of eight seasons, only three players had more home runs; only one, Albert Pujols, more RBIs.
Late Saturday afternoon, after his penultimate game at Fenway Park, Teixeira sat down with FOX Sports and reflected upon his career — his time with the Rangers, Braves, Angels and Yankees, his injuries, his views on performance-enhancing drugs and the state of the game.
Q: How much have you reflected these past few weeks? What has that been like?
A: I’ve realized how hard it’s been and I can’t believe I did it for that long. This is a really hard game. I don’t want to say I took my health for granted, but I look at some of the things I’m trying to do now, trying to turn on fastballs, trying to hit home runs, trying to play every day. I can’t do it. And I took it for granted earlier in my career. So, I just appreciate what I’ve done.
When I go to different stadiums now, I think about the successes that I’ve had. I don’t remember the 0-for-4s with three strikeouts. I remember the big home runs I hit, the three home-run game here at Fenway (on May 8, 2010) or when I’m in Anaheim and I remember my time playing with the Angels and how great that was. I remember all the good times in the stadiums I’ve been in.
Q: What was it like being in a pennant race these final few weeks, one that was unexpected after the trades the Yankees made?
A: I’ve actually enjoyed it more. I’ve enjoyed it more because most of my career, whenever you’re in a race, you’re playing every single day, you’re grinding it out. Whether it’s a good day or bad day, you’ve got to put it aside and get ready for tomorrow. I probably didn’t enjoy the winning part of it as much because I was so focused on my everyday job.
Now, because I’m playing every other day, every third day, whatever it might be, I get to sit back and enjoy watching the game and being just a normal teammate rather than a guy that is kind of carrying the load and grinding it out every day.
Q: What made you decide this was it?
A: I started thinking about it in spring training. Just, “Hey, it’s an option.” But in my mind I said, “I want to keep playing.” I think that is where your mindset has to be. You have to keep grinding it out, keep working hard, the nutrition, the weightlifting, all that kind of stuff. But in the back of my mind I was saying, “It’s an option to not play.”
By the beginning of May, my body was really starting to feel off. The neck problems started getting bad. Then in June, I tore up my knee. It was one thing after another. So when I was on the DL I thought about it a lot, talked to my family about it a lot (Teixeira and his wife, Leigh, have two sons and a daughter). And I started leaning that way. Then around the All-Star break, I made the decision.
I kept it to myself. I told my family and one or two close friends. That was it. I didn’t want it leaking, didn’t want people getting wind of it.
Q: How frustrating was it the last couple of years, dealing with one thing after another?
A: Very frustrating. In my mind, I’m still the 160-games, 30-home runs, 100-RBIs guy — that’s what you always think of yourself as. That’s the kind of player I was for the first 10 years of my career. And then, with these injuries, it’s something different every year. That’s the tough part.
My mind is telling me, “I’m 160 games,” and my body is telling me, “No, you’re not.”
Q: Was there one injury that was the most difficult?
A: The wrist, 100 percent. That was a two-year injury. All of these other things were a month or two here, a month or two there. But that knocked me out for two years.
The year I did it, I only played 15 games. I tried to play through it, and I was terrible. I just couldn’t do it. After the surgery, it took me a full year to kind of get my strength and bat speed back where it needed to be. I kind of had a down year the next year.
Q: It all started with the WBC (Teixeira injured his right wrist while training with Team USA for the World Baseball Classic in March 2013 and underwent surgery that July). Looking back, any regrets about playing in it?
A: Hindsight’s 20-20. I did the very first WBC (in 2006). You look at that roster, and it’s a Hall of Fame roster. I was very honored to be on that team. This time around, I wanted to be the veteran to help out the young guys, be a little bit of a mentor. It was flipped. I went in ’05 and this one was in ’13. Joe Torre asked me. First of all, you never turn Joe Torre down. So when he asked, I said, “Absolutely.”
Q: Going forward, how much do you simply look forward to your body healing?
A: That’s a big part of why I’m retiring. It’s not fun being in pain. Just being a normal person it’s not fun being in pain, and then trying to do it as an athlete …
Everybody tells me — I saw Smoltzie (John Smoltz) earlier today. He said, “You’re going to love it. You’re going to feel better.” Everyone says that once you stop playing every day, stop swinging, throwing, lifting weights, your body slowly starts healing.
That’s why I retired now. I didn’t want to wait until I had a catastrophic neck injury that was going to affect the rest of my life. I’m looking forward to having a normal life after this.
Q: You were able to complete the season. You didn’t have to retire abruptly the way Alex Rodriguez did. How difficult would that have been, if the Yankees had just said, “Listen, that’s enough.”
A: It would have been tough. But I would have understood it. There were times while I was rehabbing my neck or knee where I was like, “Enough’s enough. No mas.”
It would have been very easy for the Yankees to say, “Listen, we’re going to put you on the DL. You can retire gracefully at the end of the season.” In the back of my mind, that was an option. But when I talked to Joe (Girardi) about it, he said, “Listen, you still play great defense. And you might hit us a big home run.”
Defense, you can grind it out. My strongest point has always been working around the bag. I still feel like I’m an asset to the team defensively. And every now and then, I’ll have a good offensive game that can really help the team.
Q: Let’s go back to the Texas years (2003 to ’07). What do you remember most?
A: That’s where I made it. I never knew I was going to make it. Yeah, I was a first-round pick (No. 5 overall in 2001, behind Mauer, Mark Prior, Dewon Brazelton and Gavin Floyd). But plenty of first-round picks never make it.
I grew up really fast there. I was a kid. My wife and I had a great time there. I loved living in Dallas. The only thing is, I wish we had won more. We only had one winning season. But I had some great years there, and that’s kind of where I built my career.
Q: Should those teams have won more?
A: We had great offenses, but no pitching. It’s tough if you don’t pitch. It’s really tough to win. And when I was in Texas, the A’s and Angels were two dominant teams. They were really good then. So, it was tough to get over the hump.
Q: Michael Young told me that you guys would tell (general manager) John Hart and (manager) Buck Showalter, “Get us help. Get us help.”
A: Yes, and I learned a valuable lesson — not to try and play GM. Me and Buck and John Hart all had a good relationship. But it was like, “Hey man, we lost 11-9 last night. How about trading for a pitcher?” But there were a lot of teams out there that needed pitching. And we tried.
Michael and I really wanted to win together. We still have a great relationship. It was always kind of our dream, along with Hank Blalock and some of the other guys to win a championship together. Unfortunately, we never got close.
Q: You were involved in one of the most meaningful trades in the last 20 years. (On July 31, 2007, the Rangers traded Teixeira and pitcher Ron Mahay to the Braves for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitchers Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Beau Jones). What do you remember about that whole time?
A: Funny story. We had an off-day in Cleveland. I knew the whispers. Chances are, I was going to get traded. So, David Dellucci (previously with the Rangers, then with the Indians) said, “Let’s go fishing.” I said, “Great, I’ll get my mind off stuff.”
I had my cell phone — a flip phone back in those days. I said, “Do you have a place where this won’t get wet?” He just had a small boat. He said, “Oh yeah, put it in this bag.”
So we go fishing for three or four hours. My phone gets soaking wet. It’s completely dead. I don’t hear anything for hours. I have to watch TV at Dellucci’s place. Then I hear on TV that I’m going to get traded. So I buy a phone real quick. I knew I was going to get a phone call.
(Rangers GM) Jon Daniels called me after everyone broke it — but on a new phone. It wasn’t official until the next morning.
Q: How much did you follow the other players in the deal?
A: I didn’t until they got called up. They were all in A ball. The centerpiece of that trade was Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Rangers were just through-the-roof excited about getting a switch-hitter with power as a catcher. It was like, “We’re basically getting a cheaper version of Tex who can also catch.”
He ended up being shipped off (in July 2010), and every one of the A ball guys (except Jones) became All-Stars. You’ve got to give the Rangers a lot of credit for doing their research. But let’s be honest, they also got lucky. When you make those trades for young guys, you’ve got to get lucky. Once they made the big leagues, they had a starting shortstop (Andrus), a No. 1 or 2 pitcher (Harrison) and a closer (Feliz). That’s a pretty good haul for a trade a couple of years earlier.
Q: What was it like going to the Braves, going back to Atlanta?
A: It was a dream come true from a personal standpoint. I grew up watching the Braves on TBS. I went to Georgia Tech. I went to Braves games all through college. My wife is from Georgia. Atlanta is my second home. No matter where I am in the country, Atlanta will always be my second home.
Professionally, I got to play with Chipper Jones. As a switch-hitter with power, he was the No. 1 guy in baseball. And I got to go hit behind him and protect him. I had an amazing year there — half of ’07 and half of ’08. I look back at my numbers and think, “Man, that was a good year.” I think Chipper will tell you that he was glad I hit behind him. We really worked well together.
Q: The next year at the deadline, you were traded again, to the Angels. How good was that team?
A: Maybe the best team I’ve been on. The ’09 Yankees, obviously, was a championship team. But if you played the ’09 Yankees against the ’08 Angels in a seven-game series, it’s an absolute toss-up. That team was that good.
But baseball is a weird thing. We didn’t get a big hit. We made an error. We lost in four games in Boston (in the Division Series). But that was a really good team. I enjoyed my time there. That might have been the best two-month stretch of my career, playing in Anaheim.
Q: Free agency. What do you remember?
A: I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I could play baseball anywhere. No matter where I played baseball, it was still the same game between the lines. But I was more concerned about my family. I had two young kids at the time. My wife had already moved (twice in the past 18 months). Wherever I landed, I wanted it to be a place where she was going to be very comfortable.
New York, being the great city it is, she always loved visiting there. My sister at that time lived in New Jersey, in Hoboken, with her husband. My parents were in Maryland. I loved Anaheim and would have really enjoyed staying there. But going to the west coast and being away from my family would have been tough.
I didn’t like the process at all. But it all worked out in the end. It was a great contract with the Yankees (eight years, $180 million). I knew they were close to getting over the hump.
Q: How close were you to signing with the Red Sox?
A: Very close. They came to Dallas. My agent (at the time, Scott Boras) and I met with their brass at the airport hotel. I thought we were there to finish the contract. It was an interesting conversation. My agent had to say, “Listen, guys, I thought you were going to beat everyone else. But you’re offering the same contract as everyone else. We’re not going to make a decision right now.”
They were unhappy with that. I was at the meeting, but I was not involved with the negotiation at all. I sat there and listened. But I loved Tito (Terry Francona). I love Theo Epstein. I think Theo Epstein is a genius — look at what he’s doing with the Cubs. I thought it was going to be like hey, let’s shake hands and hug it out at the end.
At the time, I had three or four offers on the table that were almost exactly the same. (Boras) said, “Guys, we’re not going to sign this right now.” So, we just kept negotiating with the other teams. And New York ended up on top.
Q: The ’09 Yankees. What do you remember about that team?
A: High expectations (the Yankees had also signed A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia that winter). I remember everyone saying, “This is an old team. They had better win now. There is not a lot in the minor leagues.” And that ended up being true. That team hung on for a few years, won a couple of playoff series. But I really felt like we were very close to winning a championship. We just had to play our game. That’s what ended up happening.
Q: You’ve played through an era of performance-enhancing drugs. How tempted were you to use them?
A: I was never tempted. It’s cheating. It’s wrong. My parents raised me the right way. They had zero tolerance for drugs when I was a kid.
When I started playing professional baseball, I told myself, “If I have to take drugs to play this game, I’ll quit.” It’s not worth it. I stuck to that. And I’m proud of sticking with it.
Q: The game is cleaner now, but some players think it can be cleaner still. What do you think the penalties should be?
A: It’s tough for me to accept that guys are trying to cheat and are still allowed to play the game. If you’re on Wall Street and you get charged with insider trading and you’re convicted, you don’t trade anymore. If you’re at Harvard and you start cheating on tests, you’re getting kicked out.
We’ve done a better job. But guys that are trying to cheat, it’s very tough for me to accept that they’re allowed to stay in the game.
Q: The game itself. Do you think overall it is in a good place?
A: I think it’s in a good place, but there are tweaks that need to be made. The games are way too long. I think we have to make the game more fun for young kids. But (commissioner) Rob Manfred understands that kids need to get more involved in watching the game and playing the game.
I don’t have the answers. I just know that when I was a kid I watched baseball religiously. My kids these days have way too many options. There is a league for every sport. There are after-school activities, everything from Lego building to arts and crafts to music. You get on Apple TV and you can watch whatever you want, at any time of the day. They don’t sit in front of the TV and watch a three-hour baseball game.
I think that is going to start catching up to baseball. I have faith in the sanctity of the sport — we won’t change it too much. But we’ll still make it better for kids.
Q: Last two questions. Your biggest personal achievement — what are your most proud of personally?
A: Besides the ’09 championship as a team, I’d say the eight straight years of 30 (homers) and 100 (RBIs). The first year I did it, my second year in the game in 2004, I sat back and I was like, “Oh my goodness. I just hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs in the big leagues.” I couldn’t believe I had done it. It was like, “I’ve made it now.” To be able to do that eight years in a row, it’s not easy, just to be healthy for eight years in a row.
I talk about taking it for granted. My rookie year, I hit 26 and had (84) RBIs. I got close, and then I did it for eight straight years. I was like, “Oh, this is easy, it’s just what you do.” But looking back, oh my goodness, I would kill for a 30-100 year now. It’s not that easy.
Q: Biggest personal regret? One thing you wish you had done better?
A: I try not to have regrets. I try to think of just the good things. I don’t know. Maybe I should have had surgery right away on my wrist? I think I would have lost only one year instead of two. That set me back, those two years of being off. That didn’t help these last few years of my career.
But that’s hindsight. I don’t have any regrets because I really enjoyed playing the game. I took my job very seriously. I can look back and say, I worked out as much as I could, I did all the preparation, I uncovered every stone physically, from chiropractors to acupuncture. My nutrition is very good. I did everything I could. My body just said, “Enough.”
Fourteen years of grinding it out and playing every day, that’s enough. Now it’s time to go and hang out with my kids a little more.