BRONX, NY – Perhaps not since Reggie Jackson has any free agent ballplayer been so perfectly suited to be a Yankee than Mark Teixeira. “Born To Be A Yankee” boasted the back page of at least one New York daily after Teixeira met the media on Tuesday in his first official press conference as a Bronx Bomber, and we couldn’t agree more.
You’ve already read that Teixeira finalized his decision to sign with Steinbrenner’s Legion of Mega-Rich Ballplayers after a conversation with his wife, Leigh, in mid-December. She first would support her husband by extolling, “I just want you to be happy.” But by the Christmas rush, she admitted on one of the couple’s “date-nights,” “I want you to be a Yankee.” In truth, though, that decision was made some twenty years ago, when a young baseball fan in Maryland would attend Orioles games in Baltimore wearing a Yankees cap in honor of his favorite ballplayer, Don Mattingly.
“Sure, I love Cal (Ripken, Jr.) and Eddie (Murray),” noted Teixeira, “but there was just something about Don Mattingly. Mattingly was my guy.”
The time spent this offseason mulling offers from various teams, reportedly the Red Sox, Orioles, and Nationals, among them, was really just a matter of waiting for any kind of decent offer from New York. Teixeira intimated the Yankees were at the top of his pecking order, but he also stated he wouldn’t sign for the lowest bid either. “I wasn’t going to take half as much money to play in New York.”
His honesty and broad smiles were refreshing as he tried on his Yankee jersey for the first time, No. 25, worn last year by Jason Giambi. Teixeira wore No. 23 at his first major league stop in Texas in honor Donnie Baseball – was bumped to No. 24 in his next station, Atlanta, and upped to No. 25 last year as an Angel. He even wore No. 23 in college with Georgia Tech.
It helped that the Yankees offered another of their quite sizable contracts, an eight-year deal for $180 million, averaging some $22.5 mil per annum. His agent, Scott Boras, proudly stated, “Mark did not take his best financial offer.” Teixeira revealed the Red Sox offer was not as strong as the Yankees package, rumored to be for $170 mil.
That probably left the Nationals as the big ticket presenter. So let’s see, play for the Nationals, a perennial loser, or the Yankees, a perennial playoff contender and occasional World Series winner? Hmmm. Tough choice.
Teixeira was beaming throughout his press conference, his exuberance genuinely directed at not just winning the free agent jackpot, but at the thought of playing for his favorite team.
“This is a great day for me. This is the greatest organization in the history of sports.”
The $180 million dollar first baseman will fit like the proverbial glove in his new Yankee lineup. Some 33 years ago, Jackson arrived in New York with power and bravado; he brought his own star with him as he captivated New York like a rock star.
Teixeira has the power (he’s averaged nearly 34 home runs and 113 RBIs in his six-year career, coupled with a .290 average), and even the bravado: “We’re going to have an incredible lineup. Alex (Rodriguez) is going to get on more. I’m going to drive in runs and I’ll get on base more.”
As for the rock star, A-Rod has that one to his own (Madonna). Teixeira exudes confidence with a touch of humility. “No one’s going to expect more from me than me. I believe I have yet to tap my potential. I’m trying to get better. I haven’t accomplished anything yet. I don’t have a World Series ring on my finger. So I’m going to work hard and do whatever it takes to win.”
“Tex” has already played with several Yankees and is friends with many of them. The 6’ 3” switch-hitter, who was drafted in the first round (5th overall) in 2001 by the Texas Rangers, broke in with Rodriguez in 2003. He’s played with several of his new teammates in the first World Baseball Classic two years ago. And he even was a teammate of Xavier Nady in the Arizona Fall League. He feels the transition to his new digs will be smooth, and expects to become a voice in the clubhouse.
“I look at myself as a leader. First and foremost, I try to do the right things the right way on the field. And I think you can carry that over to the locker room and earn the respect of your teammates.”
Teixeira’s contract includes a $5 millions dollar signing bonus and a full no-trade clause.