Extra: Mark Teixeira Full Interview
A conversation with former Major League Baseball player and current ESPN analyst Mark Teixeira, recorded for the Freakonomics Radio series “The Hidden Side of Sports.”
Listen and subscribe to our podcast at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or elsewhere. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
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This is a Freakonomics Radio extra: our full interview with Mark Teixeira, the former baseball All-Star who’s been appearing in our “The Hidden Side of Sports” series. Teixeira retired after the 2016 season, having played 14 years in the big leagues. He hit 409 home runs, won lots of offensive and defensive awards, and helped lead the New York Yankees to a World Series title in 2009.
Stephen DUBNER: Mark, if you would just start by literally saying your name and what you do?
Mark TEIXEIRA: Mark Teixeira, currently ESPN analyst and real estate developer in Atlanta, Georgia.
DUBNER: Very good. How old are you now?
TEIXEIRA: I am 38.
DUBNER: You played for 14 seasons?
TEIXEIRA: 14 years. 15 professionally, 14 in the bigs.
DUBNER: Yeah, all right. Let’s go back. So for people who know baseball, Mark Teixeira is a big big big big name. For people who don’t know baseball — and there are people out there — we’ll expose them to you. Let’s start with you as a kid. Talk about growing up, Baltimore, I believe. Talk about growing up as a kid, your family, your dad was a Naval Academy graduate. Just describe you, your family, and especially sports.
TEIXEIRA: Yes, so I had one of those really cool childhoods where both my parents were around. I had an older sister, my dad being a Navy guy — graduated from the academy — was tough on me, but fair. He really gave me a blueprint of how to act and treating people with respect and keeping my hair short and making sure I said ‘yes sir’ and ‘yes ma’am’ and those type of things — things that he learned at the Naval Academy. I was really lucky to have a family around me that gave me every opportunity to succeed. I played every sport as a kid. We didn’t have the cell phones and all the cool technology back in the day when I grew up in Severna Park, Maryland. So, I went outside and played.
DUBNER: Was baseball your best sport from the outset?
TEIXEIRA: It always was. And I actually enjoyed playing basketball more. I played backyard football. I played soccer, tennis, but I was always good at baseball. So I knew baseball was going to be a sport for my future.
DUBNER: Can you pinpoint the moment, or day, month, year, when you said to yourself, “Oh, I’m way better than everybody else.”
TEIXEIRA: Yes. And most kids grow up being — if you’re an elite athlete you’re going to be the best kid on your team. But you never really think you’re going to make it until you get that first call or letter from a pro scout. And I was a sophomore in high school and pro scouts started showing up to my games. And that’s when I was talking to my coaches and talking to my dad and talking to some of the scouts, saying, “Wow, I could actually play professional baseball. How cool is that?”
DUBNER: Your role model as I understand, it was Don Mattingly. Yes? Was he the one?
TEIXEIRA: My favorite player. My role model was my dad. My favorite player growing up was Don Mattingly. He was a guy — I loved the way he played the game. I loved his sweet swing, so smooth at first base. And growing up in Baltimore — I loved Cal Ripken, loved Eddie Murray, but Mattingly — there was something about Donnie Baseball that just really grabbed me as a young kid.
DUBNER: He was a longtime and beloved and very, very good first baseman for the Yankees, also very good defensive first baseman. You became exactly that many years later. I’m just curious, more of a character issue: you said your dad was your role model and one can see how that worked for you. Mattingly was your favorite player. It strikes me that his character was not that different from your dad’s — keep your head down, right? I’m just curious, what if your favorite player had been Reggie Jackson? Would you have become a different kind of player and person?
TEIXEIRA: That’s a great question. I think I chose somebody like Don Mattingly because of his character. While some of these players today have lots of flash and flair — I like the grinders. I wasn’t blessed with amazing speed and just athletic ability that oozed out of my pores, but I felt like I had a gift to hit a baseball, and I grinded with everything else. Everything else in my career I had to work for.
DUBNER: When you say a gift, there’s this huge debate in everything in life. Anything that involves what we call “talent.” So it could be sports, but it could be medicine, you name it, about the difference between (a) nurture and nature and (b) talent versus work and what’s called deliberate practice, the 10,000 hour rule. Tell me where you come down on that. Obviously, you have yourself as an example, and we know that you were physically talented from an early age. But talk about what it was that got you to be a professional at the highest level.
TEIXEIRA: I think the gift is No. 1. Because without the gift, you can’t take a kid that has zero athletic ability and just happens to be a hard worker and he goes to the big leagues. At any given time there’s a thousand big leaguers out there. But there’s probably 10,000 players, whether in college or amateur baseball or low professional ranks, that are good enough to someday make it.
DUBNER: Talent wise you’re saying.
TEIXEIRA: Yes, there’s 10,000 talented players with a gift. Of those 10,000 players, which are the ones that work hard enough? Which are the ones that figure it out? Which are the ones that get it? That make the right decisions and train the right way, and eat the right way and do preparation for games. Those are the ones that make it. So the gift is first. But then you have to put the time in.
DUBNER: Can you think of a particular player or a group of players who, when you were either in high school or college, obviously we know you were very good but maybe you saw some guys who looked to be on the surface more talented than you and didn’t make it.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah. The most talented player that I ever saw as an amateur was Corey Patterson. And guys that know baseball — he was the fourth or fifth overall pick from the Chicago Cubs. My draft year. And he had a decent big league career. But talent-wise, I would kill for his talent. And he had some injuries and just couldn’t quite make it over the top, but talent-wise there were a ton of guys that I thought had more talent than me, but I thought I figured it out, at a young age.
DUBNER: What do you mean by that?
TEIXEIRA: Figured it out means — in high school, by the time I was a sophomore, and I knew I had a chance, I started preparing. So I started working out, and I actually called the Florida State baseball coach because they were the No. 1 team in the country that time, and said, “Can you please just send me your workout regimen?” I started doing the Florida State baseball workout regimen. I didn’t go to my high school homecoming for three straight years because I was playing fall baseball. I didn’t do a lot of stuff in the summertime. I played 70 games every summer. My friends are going to concerts, my friends are having a good time at the beach and all these things. And I just figured out young how to make it. And that helped me as I went along in the big leagues because you don’t have your ‘A’ stuff every day, or every year even, you gotta figure it out as you go.
DUBNER: So you were a phenomenally talented and bettable, let’s say, high school prospect. TEIXEIRA: Yeah, I became a really top prospect before my senior year. So, in my junior summer, before my senior year, I went to a wood bat tournament, which all the top prospects in high school baseball went to this tournament. And I was the only guy to hit a home run. So all the scouts, “Oh my goodness, look at this kid from Maryland, we’ve heard about him but he hit a home run in this tournament. And now he jumps to the top of the list of high school players.” And Scott Boras’ office called me that summer and said, “We’d love to talk to you.” Met with Scott and his group, and they were far and above anybody else in the business.
DUBNER: In terms of professionalism?
TEIXEIRA: Professionalism, their preparation, their knowledge of the market, their knowledge of amateur baseball. They gave you a really good sense of, “Okay, this is the landscape of baseball. This is what your career is going to look like. And this is how you should make decisions based on that.”
DUBNER: So you signed with Boras — we’ll jump ahead now, we’ll come back — you signed with Boras and he was your agent for many years. And he helped you sign, or helped you get, or you got with him, your ultimate deal which was in 2009 coming to the New York Yankees, correct?
DUBNER: Eight year, $180 million deal, correct?
DUBNER: All guaranteed?
TEIXEIRA: All guaranteed in baseball.
DUBNER: Now interestingly however, you split with Boras a few years into that, and I guess, on the one hand I understand why do you need an agent anymore once you’re signing what’s going to be the last deal in your career? But why did you split? And talk to me about the relationship of an athlete like you and an agent like him.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah, when I split with Boras it was more practical reasons than anything else. It wasn’t — we didn’t have a falling out. There was none of that. But I was in New York and he’s in L.A. And when you play for the New York Yankees and you’re the starting first baseman and there’s all these things that are put on your plate, you need your agent closer. No pun intended, I hired Casey Close who happens to be a New York guy. He’d worked with Derek Jeter and the Yankees for years and years, and so really understood the landscape of the Yankees, and New York, and charity, and marketing, and all these things that happened. It just made me a little bit more comfortable being with an agent — again, I didn’t really need an agent, but just someone that could help me in New York and be closer.
DUBNER: So I guess that gets to the question of what does an agent actually do for an athlete like you at that level? And also maybe help people understand the difference between — in some industries — in entertainment, a lot of entertainers have an agent and a manager and they may have 18 other advisors. When we think of an agent, we usually only hear of an agent with an athlete when they’re negotiating or signing the deal or when something goes wrong. But you’re talking about all the different elements that come with being a major league athlete. So (a) what does an agent do, or should they do? And then (b) what did you get Casey Close involved in?
TEIXEIRA: What an agent does is, he really helps support you from the time you sign your first contract, even before your first contract, and navigate you through the business waters, the professional waters, and all of the things that can happen to you until you’re a free agent. In baseball, you don’t make your living, your career, until you’re a free agent. What Scott Boras did for me — at 18 years old we started our relationship and he taught me so much about the game. Him and some of his associates — Bob Brower was my right-hand man, Mike Fiore — he has a great group of guys around him that said, “Okay, Tex you’re 18 right now. When you’re 26 or 28, you’re going to be a free agent. And these are the things that you have to accomplish in your life and your baseball career to get you to free agency.” That’s where agents in baseball provide the most value.
Once you sign your eight-year deal, you don’t really need them that much. But what Casey did for me when I hired him in 2011, I believe, was, the Yankees — there’s a lot of charity stuff that you are involved in. There’s a lot of off-the-field distractions. I started getting hurt a little bit. And you deal with second opinions, and you deal with general managers questioning, “Hey what’s going on with Tex? And does he need surgery?” That’s where an agent later in your career can really help — is helping you take some of that pressure off your shoulders when problems happen.
DUBNER: And what about business opportunities. Is that their job to help bring some to you or maybe filter out the bad from the good?
TEIXEIRA: Yeah. Marketing opportunities, yes. But, honestly, baseball players don’t have a lot of marketing opportunities, unless you’re Derek Jeter or Mike Trout. I did a handful of deals a year. So I knew I was going to do my Nike deal. I knew I was going to do my deal with Steiner Sports for my autographs. And then a handful of other print or local media type stuff, local appearances. So it wasn’t overwhelming.
DUBNER: What about non-sports related investment though? Where did those — so I know you’re involved in a number of things, some of them predate your retirement a couple years ago — Where do those typically come from? Are are they a la carte, ad hoc, or do you have a way for soliciting and sorting?
TEIXEIRA: Most agents don’t do that for you. What they will do is they will hire somebody or point you in the right direction for financial literacy and for financial help and estate planning. I’m with a group called Winpoint. Joe Geier and his group out of Baltimore — Joe went to my high school at Mount St. Joe, years before me, but had a really great relationship with a lot of ex-Orioles, and current players, and Major League Baseball, and so he’s my business manager. He’s the one that handles all of my estate planning and all of my investments. And I like keeping them separate. If you have all of your eggs in one basket as an athlete, sometimes you’ll make wrong decisions, or sometimes your decision making will get clouded. So I like having that separation of power when it comes to business deals or investment opportunities.
DUBNER: Now Scott Boras encourages people to put a lot of eggs in one basket, yes? In terms of investment and mental guidance?
TEIXEIRA: Yeah. Scott has so many things that you can take advantage of under his umbrella. And investment advice is one of them. But the mental conditioning that he has — Harvey Dorfman was his right-hand man for mental conditioning, literally wrote the book The ABC’s of Pitching, The Mental Game of Baseball. Harvey Dorfman was one of those guys that when I was young, when I was learning how to become a great major leaguer, I leaned on him immensely. And one of the great relationships of my young career was Harvey Dorfman.
DUBNER: Okay, well one more thing about agents before we move on to your playing career. There are those who argue that an inevitable conflict is — especially a very successful agent, Boras maybe being the most, you end up having a roster of a lot of players in your stable. And then you’re dealing with a market where you’re only dealing with a limited number of buyers. There are only 30 teams and for any given player there might be a very limited pool of let’s say two, three, four teams that have the money and the need and so on. So there are those who argue that if you’re with an agent — there may be an inherent conflict of interest in that they may gain leverage by dealing you low, by making a suboptimal deal.
TEIXEIRA: You’re exactly right, and this is where every player needs to take control of his career. If I’m a first baseman and I want to go to a team that is also looking at another player that my agent has in his roster, there might be some horse trading there. “Okay well — take him, but then I gotta find a place for Tex,” and there’s back and forth. Ultimately the player has to take control. And I tell every young player, “Hire a great agent, but also know what he’s doing.”
TEIXEIRA: And the best agents are good at that horse trading. They’re good at getting their clients the best deal no matter what. But you have to pay attention.
DUBNER: So walk me through the deal that you signed with the Yankees, again, and that was your final deal. That was a massive free agent deal that set you and your family up for life, for generations. So that’s amazing, and congratulations because it’s a great accomplishment. Going into that, you were coming most directly from the Braves?
TEIXEIRA: Braves and Angels.
DUBNER: Braves and Angels. Right. Walk me through that deal. What were the possibilities? And then talk about the negotiation of that deal and how you made the decision to come the Yankees.
TEIXEIRA: Well, first of all, free agency is not a fun process. As a major leaguer, I’m glad I only did it once. You feel completely helpless, on one hand, because there’s 30 teams out there. But really there’s probably only five or six that are really interested and really want you. And I had a family. I had two young kids and a wife that I wanted to make sure they were happy as well. So the process for me was not a lot of fun. Ultimately, it came down to the Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals, Angels and Orioles. Those were the five teams that I had face-to-face meetings with.
I wanted to go to a place that had a chance to win every single year. And one of the things that Scott Boras always told me is, “Don’t look at the Yankees current roster, don’t look at their minor league system. This team does what it takes every year to be competitive.” And, playing in New York, putting those pinstripes on, just had too much allure, and it helped that they matched the offer of some of the other teams.
DUBNER: You come to New York. New York loves you even though you’re not a typical — New York has gotten behind a lot of guys who are a lot more aggressive than you, a lot cockier than you, and you were the nice, good, hard-working guy who also happened to be a phenomenal baseball player. Very good hitter and a great defensive first baseman. And then you get here and first season out you go and win the World Series. Talk about setting expectations. Talk about the high and then the inability to win another one after that. What that was like?
TEIXEIRA: My first year in New York in 2009 was a complete whirlwind. I’m getting lost on the way to the ballpark because the new Yankee Stadium was literally, brand new. They opened the doors three days before the season started. So, all the navigation systems — back in 2009, Waze and Google Maps weren’t around, or weren’t as good at least. So I’m getting lost getting into the ballpark in the Bronx. And then you have to worry about hitting 98 mph fastballs at night. So it was a complete whirlwind.
We win the World Series. And before I knew it spring training was around the corner. And when you get to the top of the mountain you want to stay there, the pressure’s always there. But the rosters just weren’t as good. I mean we can look at ourselves and say 2010 was the best chance we had to win again. Thought we had a pretty good team in 2010. By 2011, 2012 we just ran out of gas at the end of the season. We didn’t have the team that could make it that far.
DUBNER: How much of that is age?
TEIXEIRA: A lot of it’s age. We had a team that in 2009 were called old. At 28 years old I was one of the kids on the team. You get here and you win, but then you look at the best players, you look around that that locker room and go, “Man, we have a short window here,” and that window closed in four years. But listen, in those four years we made three A.L.C.S.’s, we won a whole lot of games, and yeah, we didn’t win another one, but not a lot of regrets there.
DUBNER: Your ultimate I guess decline as a player, it’s what happens. Players get older, they don’t keep getting better, except in rare cases like Barry Bonds. And those are usually a little bit chemically aided as it turns out. I’m curious about one thing. So you were a relatively rare power hitting switch hitter. There aren’t a whole lot of them. During your career, more and more teams started using more and more analytics. Some managers used to put a defensive shift on some players who pulled the ball a lot, but it became a lot more common. Now defenses were putting a shift on you from the left side and the right side. And your numbers were going down. Now you were also getting older and declining as a player, no offense, that’s what happens. I’m curious, in retrospect, the degree to which you think that rise in analytics and the use of the shift, and so on, was a contributing factor to your decline and how much of it was just the natural cycle of an aging baseball player.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah it’s probably 70/30, just the natural age. Without analytics I still would be retired. Analytics doesn’t make your wrist blow out. Analytics doesn’t make you tear up your knee. The things that I had to deal with. But I would say that analytics took numbers that should have been better and decreased them. I mean studies show that left handed hitters hit 20 points lower just across the board because of analytics and because of the shift.
But for me, I was lucky enough to have a really great career for the first 10 years. I had a really great 10-year run. I blew out my wrist in year 11, and it just became very tough. I felt like I was playing catch up. I had one more All-Star season that I felt really good about. But for me, it was much more the physical decline, and the analytic side of it — listen if you’re walking, if you’re hitting doubles and home runs, the shift doesn’t matter. And the one year that I did make it back to the All-Star Game, it’s because I was really locked in, physically I felt good and I was hitting doubles and a home runs again.
DUBNER: What are some ways that you benefited from analytics? Did you — I don’t know if you were a tape rat. If you watched a lot of tape. And I’m curious whether you studied pitchers and so on for their tendencies?
TEIXEIRA: I didn’t benefit at all. I was not a tape rat. I was one of those guys — because I was a switch hitter, I had too many things to think about anyway. I had two full swings. One swing is hard to keep up in Major League Baseball. I had two of them. So early on in my career I basically told myself, “I’m not adding more junk to my head and complicating things. I’m going to see the ball, and hit the ball.”
Now, did I watch tape? Absolutely. Did I have positive reinforcement? It’s called our hit tape. So you look back at when you’re good. What are the pitches you’re swinging at, where are you hitting them, where are your hands, and your feet, and your legs, and what do you look like when you’re hitting those balls? So, I used positive reinforcement. But I wasn’t the guy that went up there and said, “Okay it’s two to one. This guy has a 73 percent chance to throw a backdoor slider here, I’m going to look—” No, I never did that. And there’s a whole bunch of players that still don’t look at tape.
DUBNER: Talk about that for a minute. You don’t do that in part, I guess, because you don’t think it’s going to be productive. But I’m curious when you talk about sports where there’s live action, as the batter, you’re reacting to someone else throwing. As a pitcher, it’s a little bit different. You’re generating the action. As a golfer it’s different, you’re generating the action from the ball at stop. And in those cases, we know that the mind can really get in the way, right? When you’re reacting, theoretically to some benefit, because you don’t have the time to quote ‘think.’ But on the other hand, when you’re in the batter’s box and you’re dug in, and waiting for the pitcher — talk for a moment about that thought process and maybe when your mind does get in the way.
TEIXEIRA: I had two different swing thoughts that, depending on the pitcher, was my plan. Everyone says, when you go up to the plate you need to have a plan. And a guy that threw hard, say 95 and above, my plan was get the head of the bat on the ball. Put the barrel of the bat, square the ball up, wherever it goes is a positive. If a guy threw soft, a Greg Maddux-type guy, I looked for a location. I said, “Okay I’m going to look for the ball away here. I’m going to stay on it. I’m going to stay square. I’m going to hit the ball the other way.” Or, say a guy threw a lot of curveballs. Okay, I’m going to wait for a curveball. I’m just going to sit, sit, sit. So that was my plan on fast guys or guys that threw softer.
Where you get into problems was when your first swing against that guy who is fast and it was a bad swing, you go, “Oh wait a second, I’m going to change my plan here. And I think he’s going to throw me a curveball, and I’m going to sit on a curveball,” and he throws another fastball and you break your bat, because you’re late. That’s where your mind gets in the way. When you should be keeping it very simple and reacting, you complicate things and then are slow to react or late to react and then you’re done in baseball.
DUBNER: Did you see great hitters, however, who did think a lot at the plate in a way that you’re describing was not productive for you?
TEIXEIRA: Yes some guys joked, “He’s so dumb, he’s a great hitter.” See it, hit it, react. And there are a lot of great hitters that did that. Then there’s Chipper Jones, just went into the Hall of Fame yesterday. Chipper Jones knew exactly what he was going to do on every single pitch. He looked at the tape — and he was a switch hitter too, so don’t tell me how that worked — but he really looked at pitchers. He set pitchers up. He sat on pitches and it helps that he was so talented. Eye-hand contact. His coordination was just amazing. But he was one of those guys that thought through every at-bat.
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DUBNER: I’ve heard you talk in the past about spring training. So, I’d love you to describe this for people, again, who don’t know baseball but even who do: you’ve talked about every year you’d show up, and it’s relearning — both from a confidence and a physical level — relearning to swing. I find it hard to believe that, but I’d love to hear you talk about it.
TEIXEIRA: When I say that it’s true. Every year I showed up to spring training, I had to learn how to hit major-league pitching again. Because timing is so important, right? If I got into a cage today, I’d still probably look like a big leaguer. Put me on a tee or throw 60 mph softballs to me, I could probably still hit some balls and look like a big leaguer. If you put me in a 95 mph fastball situation with a guy that’s got a slider and a changeup, I would look like I never played the game, because I have no reference point. I haven’t had one in a year and a half — since I retired, almost two years now. I have no reference point to the timing of when I need to start my swing and where that ball’s going to be at the plate. That’s what I mean when I say you have to figure out, you have to re-learn how to hit major league hitting. It’s all about that timing. It’s not like riding a bike. Some guys it is, but for me it wasn’t. Every year my timing — from both sides of the plate — had to get right. And that’s one of the reasons most of the time I had a slow April.
DUBNER: And then for both sides of the plate — you’ve also referred to how your right-hand swing and your left-hand swings were really different. So I’d like you to talk about that. Also, again, for people who don’t know baseball, it’d be a little bit like watching a great basketball player with a jump shot, start to shoot left handed sometimes, when the situation called for it. It doesn’t happen in other sports.
DUBNER: In baseball it does, for a variety of reasons, and it’s an advantage obviously, but can you talk about — I would imagine that one swing is a mirror image of the other. I gather however that is not, correct?
TEIXEIRA: It’s not, because of right hand domination. So I throw right-handed. I write right-handed. I do everything right-handed. So as a right-handed hitter my top hand, my right hand, is the steering mechanism for the bat. And because of that, I was a better contact hitter right-handed, because that dominant hand, your top hand steering it, I could steer the bat where I wanted. Left-handed, that right hand, dominant hand, is the bottom hand. And that is my pull, trigger — the bat gets through the zone quick. I hit longer home runs left handed, I hit more home runs left handed. I was a much more power hitter, much more pull hitter left handed.
DUBNER: More strikeouts lefty?
TEIXEIRA: Probably, I’m sure. I’m sure I had more strikeouts lefty. I also hit the inside pitch way better left-handed. Right-handed, you could bust me in all the time. I was not a good inside hitter right-handed because I just didn’t have the bat speed right-handed. That’s why I had two different swings. It’s not by design, I picked up a bat left-handed and I just had a different swing.
DUBNER: What about dominant eye though? I always wondered about this. When I played baseball growing up I was a right-handed batter. But then when I played Wiffle ball I could hit great lefty. And I thought, why was this? Obviously it’s a different ball, everything’s different, and I was an okay switch hitter as a kid but not good enough to actually do it in games. And then I started to wonder, maybe I’m just seeing it better. Or it’s different. I’m curious about that.
TEIXEIRA: You were. You were seeing it better. I am right eye dominant.
DUBNER: How can you tell? I see you holding up your hands here.
TEIXEIRA: So you put your hands in front of you in a triangle, keep both eyes open and point to a spot, get it the microphone or something here. And then close one eye and close the other one whatever you see it with that’s your dominant eye.
DUBNER: Oh yeah.
TEIXEIRA: So I’m right-eye dominant. That being said, I could stay closed left-handed. Right-handed I had to open up my stance and actually point my face towards the pitcher more, so my right eye could see the ball better. But I’m naturally right handed I was able to always have better plate discipline, right-handed. But because I’m right-eye dominant, I was able to become a switch hitter. I’d like to see a statistic on switch hitters that are naturally right-handed that are right-eye dominant. I would probably guess most of them are right-eye dominant.
DUBNER: Now, considering that you figured that out, did you think about training your left eye?
TEIXEIRA: I tried. It’s one of those — when you work out and you feel sore the next day, you know that it worked. What I did in the gym, worked. I don’t know if it works, but I did eye exercises for two months, messing around with it, and I don’t know if it worked. I just I ended up letting it go. Again, I try to keep things simple. Baseball, when you break it down, is a very simple game. They throw a ball at you and you gotta hit it. And I didn’t want to complicate things. I’m not a quarterback in the N.F.L. with 15 different plays or 50 different options of that play. I’m see the ball, hit the ball.
DUBNER: Describe briefly your game day routine. Let’s say it was a home game playing for the New York Yankees. You’ve got your family living in Connecticut. Describe from morning to night what the day was like.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah, so I slept in, because your games are over at 10:30/11:00. You’re not getting home until 12:30 or 1:00. So I slept in until probably 10 or 11, every day. Just hung out at the house. Did nothing usually. Try to spend some time with my kids. When I was on the road, I’d sit in the hotel room or maybe take a little stroll and have breakfast or lunch, but I really tried to conserve as much energy as possible before the games. Leave for the ballpark around 2.
DUBNER: No golf on game days.
TEIXEIRA: No never. I would probably golf once or twice during the entire season. And I love golf, but I just didn’t have the energy to swing a golf club or be outside for four hours and then go play a game. Some guys do it. I could never do that. So, leave for about — leave at about 2. Get to the ballpark no later than 3, and then start the process. Start the process, which is you maybe grab a quick bite to eat because you have a long day ahead of you.
DUBNER: Is this the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or is that right before the game?
TEIXEIRA: So, yeah, before I became gluten free it was always peanut butter and jelly sandwich before the game.
TEIXEIRA: But usually at 3 it was a grilled chicken sandwich or something semi-healthy. But it gets you to that pregame meal. And so, I would do my stretching and get ready for my batting practice session. Take batting practice in the cage. Get loosened up in the cage, which is tee a drill. Do that tee drill for 15 or 20 minutes. Go back. Do all my interviews. Get that out of the way before batting practice. You go out to the batting practice and stretch run, throw, take your ground balls, take your round of BP.
And then it’s an hour of chill time before the game. That’s when you let everything sink in. If you do need to get treatment, on injuries whatever, you do that. If you need to get extra stretching, if you need to watch video, whatever it might be. You do that in between batting practice and the game. Then at about 6 or 6:15, I grab that peanut butter and jelly sandwich — again, before I became gluten free — and then a cup of coffee because it’s a long day and you need a little jolt before the game. And I was on the field by 6:40.
DUBNER: Did you — was there any mental concentration, meditation, prayer or anything like that?
TEIXEIRA: The routine got me locked in. I knew while I was doing my routine, the closer I got to game time — I looked at the clock. And you always knew, there was clocks all over big league clubhouses, right? No one wants to be late for for a stretch, or a meeting, or a game. So there’s clocks everywhere. And as the clock got closer to 7:05, I just slowly got locked in. I didn’t talk to a lot of people before the game. I wasn’t very chatty. I was focused, and I knew every single night that the fans of New York expected me to go out there and make my plays at first, and hopefully get a hit or drive in a run. So, I took that very seriously.
DUBNER: Were you an anthem singer or an anthem hummer?
TEIXEIRA: I prayed during the anthem. That was my time, my Christian faith is very important to me. And if not for the God-given ability that I have, I wouldn’t be playing Major League Baseball. So, always gave thanks to God during the national anthem and said some prayers for my family and friends or people that were struggling or whatever was happening. And that also helped too, because that was a minute or two where I could lock in and get burdens maybe that are on my heart or on my mind get them off my chest and then go out and play the game.
DUBNER: The anthem protests that have become a big deal in football have not hit baseball. And there might be a million different reasons why. I’m just curious your thoughts on that. You’re not only a longtime athlete, now retired athlete, sports commentator, but a bright guy who’s involved in the real world. I’m curious what you make of those protests and especially how it’s affecting professional sports and the perspective that the public has on professional athletes.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah, first of all, I definitely think that players, in leagues all over the world, should speak out, either for or against things that they feel strongly about. The problem is, the Yankees pay me to play first base. They pay me to get hits. They don’t pay me while I am on the field to be a distraction. And whether you agree or you disagree with whatever I’m standing up for, during the game, during the national anthem especially, when we’re honoring the country and we’re honoring those who have fought for our freedom, I just don’t think that’s the right platform. Now after the game, in the offseason, when you’re home or you’re in your own community, in which there’s issues going on, absolutely speak up, because athletes and celebrities have a very strong platform. But whether it’s the Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees or Golden State Warriors, we are paid to play a sport, and we’re paid to, while we’re on the field, while we’re in the uniform, to respect the rules of that league or that team. And I just don’t think that the national anthem is a time to make that stand.
DUBNER: So I hear that argument. Here’s a counter: some people would say that a pro athlete — it’s a little bit like Cinderella. When you’re in the zone, when you’re wearing the dress, before midnight, you’re a different person. Everyone’s paying attention. When you’re in uniform during a game, that’s when you have the most leverage. And then, no matter how prominent an athlete you may be if you’re doing an interview, even immediately after the game, or during the off-season with your local media or whatnot, and you say, “Hey listen, this is a big problem that I see.” It might be domestic violence, income inequality, police brutality. We know those stories get coverage. But compared to the leverage that you have during the game, it’s one one-thousandth, one ten-thous— taking the devil’s advocate position, I could see why, man, if I’m an athlete I know that the only way I have a chance to really raise hell is to do it right now. And you’re saying that’s inappropriate because you’re essentially there to do one job and—
TEIXEIRA: Well you’re also an employee. I have a really cool job at ESPN. If I took Baseball Tonight tomorrow during the trade deadline show and said, “Hey guys, just stop for five minutes, because I have something I want to talk about.” I’d probably be fired. Because I’m an employee and I have to do what I’m told when it comes to certain rules and regulations — now if the league league says, “Hey, you guys do whatever you want,” then hey, that’s great. Do whatever you want. But the N.F.L. has seen the the protests be a double-edged sword. While they’re proud of their players standing up for certain things or whatever it might be, they also have to understand that there’s a whole lot of people that don’t appreciate it and it’s probably not the best time to be taking a stand right before a game, when they know it’s going to be a distraction.
DUBNER: There’s also obviously a lot of class and ethnic, racial considerations here, and I want to ask you about that on a baseball team. There are scholars who argue that sports teams are among the best institutions — along with the military, by the way — at building what they call social trust. Meaning, you feel someone’s got your back, even if you don’t know them. And they say that sports teams in particular, and again, the military, where people from very different backgrounds come together — you emerge from that as if you’re you’ve got a lot in common. And I’d love you to talk about that for a moment, (a) if you experienced it, and (b) if you think there’s any way to port that over into the real world without making everyone join the Yankees.
TEIXEIRA: I agree completely. During my career I played with black, white, Asian, people from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, wherever it might be. And we all got along. I mean 99.9 percent of athlete teammates get along. Now they don’t have to be best friends, but get along on the field, why? Because there’s a common goal. In the military, why do people in the military get along? Because there’s a common goal.
And where we can use that in society is: let’s not always harp on our differences. Me and you could spend an hour talking about what we disagree on. That would not be a productive hour, time together. We would rather talk about interesting things in economics, and sports, and life, and things that we we enjoy about life. Happy things in life. Things that are positive. If we continue to harp on negative things in society or the mainstream media, you’re going to have these issues.
But sports and the military, as you said, were always focused on how do we win this game? How do we become a closer team, to win this game for our fans, and for our front office, and our ownership, or whatever it might be? Because let’s not talk about — I’m sure we have differences. I’m sure we don’t agree on every single thing. That’s human nature. But what we can agree on is working hard together and showing up on time and being accountable to each other and working towards that common goal.
DUBNER: Let me ask you this about something you just mentioned about how we focus on the negative. It does seem to be a human trait. It does, however, also seem to be magnified by the current — meaning contemporary landscape — meaning communication media and so on. There are people who will do a comparison. If you look at a European King, in the 17th century, versus the middle billion of the world right now — the life of the middle billion today is better than the king on every ground, except housing, because palaces and castles are hard to beat. But in terms of just about everything else, life has gotten so much better. And yet we don’t talk about that too much and acknowledge it. We do tend to focus on these differences often. And I’m curious: look, you’re you’re an athlete, you’re not a philosopher, a psychologist or whatever. But I’m curious to know if you have a perspective on that.
TEIXEIRA: Yes. It’s a great perspective. One of the things I do when I pray is I thank God for being born the United States. I won the lottery just by being born in the United States. The freedoms that we have, the opportunities that we have. There’s no guarantee. Obviously there’s a lot of pain, and suffering, and poverty, that we’re all trying to to help and fix. But you have the opportunity because of the freedoms that we have in our country. We can sit here and focus on all the negative things in our country, and there’s plenty of them. We could fill a hundred of these podcasts with all the negative things that are happening in our country.
DUBNER: Well we do that most weeks. Just so you know.
TEIXEIRA: But let’s wake up a little bit and be thankful for what we have. Because there’s a lot of places in this world that, if I was born into, I would not be even close to the person I am today or even have close to the opportunity, because you start life with two strikes against you in third-world countries or countries where you have no freedom. I’m lucky to be born here and to live here.
DUBNER: Scholars say another way in which athletes and sports teams produce a social cohesion is that conflict resolution is handled really differently on sports teams. They say that outside of sports and the military, there’s a lot of passive-aggressive. So in an office world, you might send someone an e-mail with some snarky wording as opposed to going up and saying, “Hey listen, you did this, I did that, blah blah blah.” Tell me about a case, or maybe a general scenario, maybe it’s a teammate, maybe it was something — Jeter was famous for being a good captain on a number of dimensions. Talk about a way that you saw a problem get resolved on a team that you think is very different from the real world.
TEIXEIRA: That’s a great point, because I love it when guys bark at each other, real loud for 20 seconds, and it’s over. Because that is way more effective at conflict resolution than a guy for three weeks, or the whole season, being passive-aggressive and then creating this really weird situation around both these players. And then it permeates to the rest of the team. Then you start having cliques. I would much rather — and I’ve done it, with coaches, with players — where we’ve had it out, almost fist fight, and then 20 minutes later you’re fine.
DUBNER: Give me a for instance. What’s the scenario, what do you say?
TEIXEIRA: In 2015, my third base coach Joe Espada, who I love, told me to hold up at third base because I was going to score easily. I ended up getting thrown out. And he just missed — just totally, just botched the situation. And he knew he botched it. And I almost got hurt. I had to half slide, and it looked terrible, and we needed the run and all these things. I went into the dugout and I just started throwing stuff. I just went nuts. I had this rage.
DUBNER: That doesn’t sound very Tex to me.
TEIXEIRA: No, I had this rage inside of me, because I was so mad at the situation. The situation lasted 15 minutes. I told Joe after the game, “We’re all good. Hey, I know you’re trying your best.” And it was done. It was over with. And those type of situations — Tom Brady, one of the best of all time, barking at his coaches, barking at his offensive lineman, barking at his receivers. But guess what, people take less, to go play for the Patriots. Coaches take demotions to stay with the Patriots because they want to be a part of the Bill Belichick, Tom Brady atmosphere that they create there.
DUBNER: My Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt did some research, and he found that pitchers essentially throw too many fastballs. Okay? So part of this is may be mistaken belief, and part of it is that many people are not good at randomizing, which is a useful trick when you’re trying to in any game theory thing. So let me just read you a tiny bit of this. I’m really curious to know what you have to say. When there are two strikes is when the scenario really happens. When there are two strikes, fastballs generate an OPS, that’s on-base plus slugging percentage, that is more than 100 points higher than non fastballs. The authors calculate that if a team’s pitchers reduce their share of fastballs by 10 percentage points, they would allow roughly 15 fewer runs in a season. About 2 percent of their total runs. Make sense?
TEIXEIRA: Yep. And I agree 100 percent. The issue is you have to take the pitcher’s skill and ability to perform that skill with two strikes. So, the pitchers that can throw curveballs, and change ups, and sliders with two strikes, do it. The guys that maybe bounce that pitch or hang that pitch, are going to throw fastballs. They’re going to get hit. So, the best pitchers in baseball, they throw more sliders and curveballs and change ups with two strikes because they can control it better.
And the last thing you want to do is get a guy down 0-2, throw three straight sliders in the dirt because you can’t control that pitch, and then have to come back with a 3-2 fastball, because the hitter knows that you can’t throw a slider for a strike. You don’t have any confidence. Your catcher doesn’t have any confidence, in you throwing an off speed pitch for a strike. And the hitter’s geared up for a fastball and that’s why those numbers get up there.
DUBNER: So what we need to ask Levitt — and I’m sure this is in the paper, and I don’t have it off the top my head — is whether they controlled for the efficacy of the pitcher.
DUBNER: Because you’re saying the good pitchers won’t do it.
TEIXEIRA: I agree. That’s the issue. The best pitchers can execute those pitches. I feasted — my entire career was based on a guy. Not getting me to chase the curveballs and the sliders in the dirt, and having to come with a fastball over the middle of the plate. That was the style of hitter that I was.
DUBNER: So, did you in your mind know, whoever’s on the mound, that they’re the kind a pitcher who doesn’t have the ability to throw the cutting? The off—
TEIXEIRA: Yes. So that was the preparation that I had.
TEIXEIRA: So I would ask the pitching coach, if I didn’t know this guy. Now, once I was in the big leagues for four or five years, I started knowing the players, and then I would only ask the hitting coach, “Hey this guy’s a rookie, what’s his percentage of off-speed strikes?”
TEIXEIRA: And if his percentage of off-speed strikes was really low, I’m just sitting dead red fastball. Why would I take into account a slider or a change up or split finger fastball that he doesn’t throw for strikes? I’m going to bet that the numbers hold up. He’s not going to throw a strike with that off-speed pitch, and he’s going to have to throw me a fastball that I can then hammer.
DUBNER: Who were the pitchers that just plagued you during your career?
DUBNER: Well, join the crowd.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah, and then and then you have weird guys like Aaron Sele, who didn’t throw more — by the time I faced him, didn’t throw more than 86 mph. I just could not hit him. Some really good pitchers had my number. But there are also some guys that weren’t All-Stars every season that had my number as well.
DUBNER: And does it become self-enforcing after a while? A pitcher like Sele, you think, “Man I can’t hit the guy.” And then—
TEIXEIRA: Sometimes it does. Yeah, confidence is huge in baseball. That’s why baseball teams and baseball players are so streaky. You have these guys that hit seven homers in a month and then don’t hit one for six weeks. Or a pitcher that wins 14 straight games and then the last month of the season can’t get out of the third inning, because the confidence to to swing at good pitches, to to get good results, it builds on itself. And you’ve heard, hitting is contagious. Well it’s not physically contagious. But mentally, when I see the three guys in front of me, just got hits, I go up there going, “Hey, this guy can be hit today. He might be an All-Star but this guy is going to get hit because those three guys in front of me just got just got base hits and now I’m next.”
DUBNER: Were you ever totally lost at the plate?
TEIXEIRA: Absolutely. I had stretches, whether it was a week or even a month, where I said, “This might be my last week in baseball. I am so bad right now. There is no way I’m getting another hit in Major League Baseball. I look awful. I feel awful. I can’t get a hit.” But then something just snaps.
And it’s just like in golf when you can’t make a short putt. You go an entire round or maybe an entire week, or you play three rounds, and you don’t make anything within four feet. You just can’t make that putt. Or your driver, you’re snap-hooking everything. And no matter what you do, no matter what you try, you just can’t hit that driver straight.
Happens in baseball all the time because it’s a very hard skill. Hitting a baseball is still the hardest thing to do in sports. And you have guys on the mound that are trying to get you out, and if you’re off a little bit mechanically, mentally, confidence-wise, and he’s on, you can have some bad nights.
DUBNER: So, how do you get back to success? Because I’m sure you’re trying to adjust — you are trying to adjust mechanically, psychically, and so on. What actually works?
TEIXEIRA: Shock the system. So, we talked about tricking the system, shocking the system. So, it’s either taking more batting practice or taking no batting practice. It’s changing your bat. It’s changing the way you stand just a little bit. Altering your stance just a little bit. Maybe just get a hard workout in. Maybe I’m a little too jumpy. I got a little bit too much energy — let me get a hard workout in before the game. I’m going to be a little slower, a little bit tired during this game. Or the opposite. I’m exhausted so I’m going to sleep all day. I’m not going to take batting practice. I’m going to get a massage. And really try to be fresh. It’s just completely changing up your system.
DUBNER: Would you ever change the P.B.J.?
TEIXEIRA: Yeah. I would go honey sometimes. Peanut butter and honey that was m —
DUBNER: Is that your slump food or—
TEIXEIRA: That was the slump breaker.
DUBNER: Yeah, that’s radical.
TEIXEIRA: I’m crazy.
DUBNER: Yeah, you are. For people again who don’t play baseball or know baseball, I’d like you to just describe a scenario — so, you’re a very, very, very good defensive first baseman, which is valuable but not necessarily so appreciated by the casual fan. There’s one aspect to playing in the field that people would love to hear about, which is, what you’re doing in your mind before every pitch.
So I’d love you to describe — pick a scenario. If it’s a real one, all the better. And maybe it’s a tight game. And maybe there’s a runner on first and maybe second. And maybe you’re holding the runner, depending. And then you’re thinking, “Here’s my pitcher. There is the batter. What pitch is going to be thrown. And what do I do if it’s hit to third, to short, to second, to me, on the ground, in the air, and so on.” Just talk about that moment.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah so, when I was at first base, I would actually play the entire scenario in my head. So I would say 2-and-1, one out. Ball hit to me, to my left I’m going to second. Ball hit in front of me, I’m just getting the out — whatever it might be. So I would play the entire scenario ahead of time, and I would actually position myself and then look to my right and left and maybe sometimes even behind me and say, “Okay, well if the ball’s hit this way I’m going to do that, if the ball’s hit like this I’m going to do that.” So I got bored during games, and so I started doing this probably five or six years into my career, where I would actually play the game in my head in between pitches. And it kept me from getting bored, but it also had a really nice result that I actually was prepared for when those different balls were hit to me and it actually worked out.
DUBNER: Now, doesn’t everybody do that? I mean I remember learning that in Little League. I mean that’s—
TEIXEIRA: Well everyone’s supposed to do that but a lot of guys don’t.
TEIXEIRA: A lot of guys completely space out. I mean, listen, when no one’s on it’s pretty easy. But when there’s guys on base, it kills me to see fielders going to the wrong base, not being prepared for different situations, outfielders not hitting the cutoff man. These are little things in baseball that I learned when I was young that I don’t think get taught anymore. You have a lot more players that are worried about analytics and don’t spend the time on the nuances of baseball, and the skills, and the subtleties that make you a great player.
DUBNER: We recently interviewed Lance Armstrong on the show and he argued that he and his team started taking E.P.O. because everybody else was doing it. And that if they didn’t they were, they were goners. That there was just no way to compete. You played in an era that was the end of the big steroid era, in which some of the best home run hitters in history were turned out to have all — many of them, doping. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds. And then a few of your very prominent teammates, great baseball players, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera also were found to be doping. I’d love to talk — I’d love to hear about — first of all let’s start with this. Did you ever use performance enhancing drugs?
TEIXEIRA: No. Never. And I told myself — I got offered my rookie year. And I told my—
DUBNER: What did you get offered?
TEIXEIRA: I don’t even know what it was — I mean I don’t know what the name — some pill. I don’t know. I’m not sure what it was. And—
DUBNER: Who offered?
TEIXEIRA: A teammate — I’m not going to say who offered—
DUBNER: But I mean was a teammate?
TEIXEIRA: A teammate. Yeah. And he said, he said, “Tex you can’t play this game on milk and cookies.” And I just told him, flippant self at 22 years old. I said, “Well I am going to try.” And I told myself right then and there, if I have to take drugs, illegal steroids, to play this game I’ll retire. It’s — it’s not something—
TEIXEIRA: That’s the way I was I was brought up. It’s wrong. I can’t stand people that make excuses for breaking the rules. Our union has made rules and agreed to rules because it’s for the betterment of our entire union and for the betterment of the game of baseball. We agree to these rules. If you knowingly break those rules you should be punished to the utmost degree. And I don’t think our punishments are hard enough. We should have much stricter enforcement of the rules and much stricter punishments.
One of the the highlights of my career is I can look at kids — I speak to kids all the time. I speak to kids in Harlem and the Bronx and at home in Baltimore or wherever it might be. And one of the things I’m proudest to say to them is, “Yeah, I had a nice career, but I didn’t have to take steroids to make it. And you don’t have to cut corners.”
Because what kind of message am I telling kids or telling my own children. I have a 12-, 10- and 7-year-old. What kind of message am I telling them, “Hey kids it’s okay to break the rules. It’s okay to cheat. It’s okay to lie. It’s okay to steal.” These are just terrible things that we’re teaching our children. That you can go do these things in professional sports and get away with it. And really just get a slap on the wrist.
DUBNER: As I said, you had a very, very good career. Way better than solid. Some people say about different players, career was solid — it was a long and very good career. There was a World Series, there were a lot of individual honors, you hit very, very well. You fielded great. The Hall of Fame — it’s a funny thing — election these days is contentious in part because the baseball writers, who elect the Hall of Fame candidates, they’ve decided they don’t want steroid players in the Hall. Which is controversial. So there are a lot of guys who are not going in. I’m curious to know your feelings about it. Obviously you want to get in. I’m curious to know whether you feel you deserve it. I know you’re a humble guy and you’re probably not going to say yes, but I’d love to know what that thought process is like as you’re in this period right now between the end of your career and when you’re eligible.
TEIXEIRA: Yeah, I think about it. Definitely. But I don’t think I’ll get in. I think that I had a great career under different metrics. I do believe that some of the steroid guys are already in, and there are some guys that have taken P.E.D.’s that are in the Hall of Fame. Everyone knows that. But you’re going to start seeing some of those players get in. And I just think that under those metrics—
DUBNER: And that’ll keep you out, you’re saying.
TEIXEIRA: I’m not a Hall of Famer, yeah. 400 home runs, when guys were hitting 50 a year, my 30 a year didn’t look so good.
DUBNER: Don’t you think they might redo the metrics and a little bit and give extra points for playing clean?
TEIXEIRA: I hope so. If that’s the case I have a much better chance. But it’s not something I think about more than a few times a year, when we have these type of conversation. But it’s not something that I think about all the time.
DUBNER: Did you lead the league in P.B.J.’s or were a lot of guys doing that?
TEIXEIRA: I’m sure I did. And I also — one of the cool stats that I do own is most hit-by-pitch, in my career, by a switch hitter.
DUBNER: Oh nice, yeah.
TEIXEIRA: So I got that. I got that hanging, and one of the things I’m most proud of is hitting 30 homers and driving in a hundred runs for eight straight years. Because the first time I did it, I had to pinch myself. I was a second year player, playing for the Rangers, and I said, “Oh my goodness, I just hit 30 homers and drove in a hundred R.B.I.’s,” and being able to do that eight straight years is the thing I’m most proud of.
DUBNER: Yeah. It was a great career. As a New Yorker, I enjoyed watching you with the Yankees and I especially enjoyed getting to talk to you today. So thank you so much.
TEIXEIRA: Thank you.
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Freakonomics Radio is produced by Stitcher and Dubner Productions. Our “Hidden Side of Sports” series was produced by Anders Kelto and Derek John, with help from Alvin Melathe, Matt Stroup, and Harry Huggins. Our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, and Zack Lapinski. The music you hear throughout our episodes was composed by Luis Guerra. Our show can also be heard on NPR stations across the country — check your local station for the schedule — as well as on SiriusXM, Spotify, and even your better airlines! Thanks for listening.