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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #60 Mark Teixeira

Despite an up-and-down end of his career, Big Tex’s pivotal role on some great teams lands him in our top 100.

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees, Game 2

Name: Mark Charles Teixeira
Position: First base
Born: April 11, 1980 (Annapolis, MD)
Yankee Years: 2009-16
Primary number: 25
Yankee statistics: 958 G, 4,098 PA, .248/.343/.479, 185 2B, 5 3B, 206 HR, 120 wRC+, 19.3 rWAR, 18.4 fWAR

Biography

To call the 2009 offseason a savvy one for the Yankees may not be the right word, but aggressive? Or successful? Absolutely. They spent over $400 million on free agents in the winter of ‘08 to ‘09, while making some impactful trades in the process. The most significant part of this spending spree, was the eight-year, $180 million dollar deal they gave to first baseman Mark Teixeira, a Gold Glover and former All-Star, who had averaged 34 homers and a 134 OPS+ in his six big league seasons to that point. His inclusion on this top 100 list makes it no secret that the decision was ultimately a success.

Early Years

The son of a Navy officer and a school teacher, Teixeira was born on April 11, 1980 in Maryland, where he grew up just half an hour outside Baltimore in Severna Park. It’s hardly a surprise that Teixeira became a baseball player, as several of his family members had close ties to the game. His father excelled in college and his uncle Pete Teixeira pitched two years in the Braves’ system. Unsurprisingly, Teixeira grew up a fierce Orioles fan, but he always carried a strong admiration for star Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly. The Orioles’ Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray might have encouraged Tex to become a switch-hitter, but it was “Donnie Baseball” who was his favorite player.

Teixeira’s prowess at the plate rather quickly gained attention at Mount Saint Joseph High School, and it attracted the particular attention of the Boston Red Sox organization. Tex had also been known as an excellent student in the classroom and in his family, while also overcoming some adversity on his successful path, including the death of a close friend, and his mother’s battle with cancer.

The Sox were preparing to offer the young switch-hitter a $1.5 million bonus right out of high school, a fair but not overwhelming figure for someone of his caliber. Boston, however, made his intent to play at Georgia Tech well known, which dropped his draft stock. The leverage play did not work, as a frustrated Tex turned down their ninth-round offer, and elected to play in college. Across three seasons with the Yellow Jackets, Teixeira raked to the tune of an OPS over 1.100 each year, hitting .400 in the final two years, and restoring his already-solid draft stock multiple times over.

Indeed, Tex accomplished so much at Tech that in 2023, he joined Jason Varitek as one of just two Yellow Jackets to earn a number retirement.

Teixeira also met his future wife during his years at Tech. He and Leigh Williams would marry in 2002, and they now have two sons and a daughter together.

Come draft time in 2001, a pair of future stars in Joe Mauer and Mark Prior were all but locked into the top couple picks, while the Rays and Phillies were dissuaded from taking Tex at third and fourth, respectively. So, with the fifth overall pick, the Texas Rangers happily selected Mark Teixeira.

Rapid Rise to the Majors

Teixeira did not play in the minors in 2001, but his 2002 campaign showed that it was far from a hinderance. He OPS’d over 1.000 once again, between stops at High-A and Double-A, showcasing that at 23 and with just one season of pro ball under his belt, he was big league ready.

Despite a logjam at the corner infield spots, keeping Big Tex down to start 2003 was no longer a reasonable option, and he made his big league debut on April 1st of that year. It took him eight days to do it, but he soon collected his first MLB hit against the Athletics, and slammed the first of many homers a day later.

It was the start to a successful rookie year, where Tex managed a 105 wRC+ across 146 games, hitting 26 homers to lead all rookies, and finishing fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. It would also be the launch of a tremendous big league career.

If that wasn’t good enough, Tex really found his footing in ‘04. He improved in nearly every major category, reaching base more and striking out less, hitting for even more power with his 38 long balls, en route to his first career Silver Slugger, and some down-ballot MVP votes. The improvements kept coming in 2005, and Tex bested his standards yet again with a career-best 43 homers, a 147 wRC+, and his first career All-Star selection, an opportunity he would make the most of:

2006 was much of the same for the first basemen, as he continued to slug from both sides of the plate, and captured his second Gold Glove in as many seasons. Teixeira would further cement himself as one of the better hitters in the game during the first half of 2007, but his looming arbitration cost was convincing enough for the still-middling Rangers to send him away at that years deadline for a substantial package of prospects to the Atlanta Braves.

Over 15 years later, it’s quite evident that Atlanta surrendered quite a bit to bring Tex aboard, and the deal is now somewhat infamous. The Rangers lost Teixeira, but they added longtime shortstop Elvis Andrus, 2010 Rookie of the Year closer Neftalí Feliz, and 2012 All-Star Matt Harrison — all of whom would be key to their back-to-back pennant-winning teams in 2010 and 2011.

For his part, Tex kept on keeping on, as he still produced with the best of ‘em. He enjoyed his fourth consecutive 30-homer campaign, and nearly matched his career high with a 146 wRC+ between his time in Texas and Atlanta. 2008 was much of the same story, He played the first half with Atlanta, but was ultimately dealt from out-of-contention to the first-place Angels.

From that point on, Tex proceeded to play perhaps the best baseball of his standout career. In 54 games with the Halos, he hit 13 homers, and slashed .358/.449/.632 with an eye-popping 183 wRC+. This final half-season before hitting free agency also included an impressive audition in the Bronx, as he solidified himself as one of the prized targets on that year’s market.

In Teixeira’s first opportunity of playoff action, he hit .467, but the Angels fell in four games to the Red Sox. Better postseason memories were ahead.

Immediate Dividends

Despite staying silent throughout much of the bidding war while instead spending on starting pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees emerged as victors in the race for Teixeira. They surprised baseball by coming out of seemingly nowhere to sign him to an eight-year, $180 million deal to lock down first base for them through 2016.

With his nine-figure deal in the fold, expectations were understandably high, and if this article’s existence isn’t hint enough, he rose to the occasion. It did not appear that way from the get-go, though. His first month or so in pinstripes was not one to remember, as he hit under the Mendoza line, but come May, and Alex Rodriguez’s return to action, Big Tex turned on the jets. From then on, Teixeira slashed .304/.386/.590, and he would lead the AL in RBI at 122 and total bases with 344 while tying Tampa Bay’s Carlos Peña for the Junior Circuit home run crown at 39. He accumulated 5.2 fWAR, was chosen as an All-Star, won another Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, and finished second in MVP voting to fellow 2001 draftee Joe Mauer.

He would get the best of Mauer and the Twins later on in the season though, when they and the Yankees faced off in the ALDS. Up 1-0 in the series, the Yanks came back from a late deficit thanks to an A-Rod homer that tied things up, which set the stage for Tex in the 11th:

It was a wall-scraper if there ever was one, but it set the tone for their postseason run following an already-impressive 103-win regular season. The Bombers swept the Twins away, then took down Teixeira’s old Angels teammates in a six-game ALCS victory. Six World Series games against the Phillies later, the Yankees were World Series champions for the first time in nine years.

Teixeira wasn’t necessarily the make-or-break factor that got them over the finish line in the Fall Classic, but he went yard against Pedro Martínez in the Game 2 victory, continued to play standout defense at first, and even got to catch the final out after Robinson Canó handled Shane Victorino’s routine grounder. In year one of his new deal, Tex was a champion.

The 2010 and 2011 seasons were not quite as dominant for Teixeira, but he was still an explosive bat in the heart of the order. Across those two seasons, he maintained a 126 wRC+, and tallied his seventh and eighth consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons, which is no small feat. And on May 8, 2010, Tex hit Boston with a shower of power on a hat trick of homers:

The Yanks reached the postseason again in 2010, and Tex performed well, but it ultimately ended in disappointment thanks to a ALCS loss to the ascendant-at-last Rangers. 2011 saw another 39 homers from Teixeira, and a first-place finish for the Yanks, but another premature exit (this time in the ALDS to Detroit).

Now in his age-32 season, 2012 was the first year Teixeira appeared to be slowing down. He played in less than 130 games for the first time in his career due to various injuries, but it was far from a disaster as he won his third Gold Glove while recording 24 homers, a 116 wRC+, and 2.7 fWAR. Tex hit .353 in the five-game ALDS triumph over Baltimore before joining the rest of his teammates in going quiet as the Tigers swept them away in the ALCS.

The following year, however, could reasonably be described as a disaster.

A freak injury in batting practice for the 2013 World Baseball Classic led to a torn tendon sheath in Teixeira’s wrist that dramatically affected his swing and made it very painful for him. Although he tried to rehab it and appeared in 15 games for the Yankees that year, it was clear that he was not the same. Eventually, he underwent wrist surgery, wrecking his 2013 campaign. In 2014, Teixeira returned but battled a litany of injuries throughout the season as he missed about 40 games and saw his offense drop. (His bizarrely amusing YouTube series “Foul Territory” was the lone highlight.)

With hope rather dwindled, Big Tex headed into the 2015 season at 35 years old, without much to lose. He turned back the clock for his best season in years, topping 30 homers with his best campaign on a rate basis since his first in New York, with a 143 wRC+ to make the All-Star team. There was some switch-hit history for Tex, too; on July 31st, he set the MLB record for most games homering from both sides of the plate with 14.

After a couple seasons away from playoff ball, the Yankees were in position to take back the AL East, and they led the division in mid-August. Fate cruelly intervened on August 17th, when Tex fouled a ball off his leg and had to leave the game against Minnesota. Suddenly, his season was over after 111 games, as the bone bruise turned out to be a broken leg. Young Greg Bird did yeoman’s work filling in for him, but the Yankees lost their AL East lead and fell in the Wild Card Game to Houston.

The next year would signal the end of the road for the big first baseman, as Teixeira experienced his first really rough season in the majors. There were unlucky injuries this time, as Tex was primarily just dogged by age, wear, and tear en route to 116 games with a .204/.292/.362 triple slash and a 76 wRC+ when he was on the field.

In August, Teixeira announced his intent to retire at the end of the season. As difficult as it may have been, his season was not devoid of memorable moments. He notched his 400th career homer, something only five switch-hitters in baseball history have done:

And in late September, in the last few games of what was a really fantastic career, Tex got his final moment in pinstripes. Down by two runs with two outs in the ninth against the Red Sox with the bases juiced, Tex was due up. He was not the Teixeira of old, but he turned around a 99-mph heater from Boston’s Joe Kelly and deposited it in the Yankee bullpen for a walk-off grand slam.

It was as good a send-off as any, as Mark Teixeira completed his eight-year run with the Yankees, as well as his playing career as a whole, and headed for the baseball sunset. In retirement, he’s spent time with ESPN but has mostly focused his attention on other projects away from the MLB spotlight while raising three children with his wife, Leigh.

Though the ending was up-and-down and often injury-riddled, it turned out to be an excellent run for Tex in the Bronx. Although no eight year contracts are all pretty, four 30-homer seasons, a trio of Gold Gloves, and a World Series ring is a pretty damn good one.

Staff rank: 59
Community rank: 70
Stats rank: 68
2013 rank: 78

References

The Baseball Cube

Baseball Reference

BR Bullpen

FanGraphs

Feinsand, Mark and Bryan Hoch. Mission 27: A New Boss, A New Ballpark, and One Last Ring for the Yankees’ Core Four. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2019.

Futterman, Matthew. “The Economics of Mark Teixeira,” Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2009 (link)

Pinstripe Alley

Yaniv, Oren. “New Yankee Mark Teixeira called a gentleman, great player who will fit in,” New York Daily News, 27 Dec. 2008 (link)

Previously on the Top 100

61. Red Rolfe
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