In terms of current expectation and hope for the future, there might be no more depressing team in baseball right now than the New York Yankees.
They head into the second half of the season a .500 squad with a run differential of -37. The pitching depth which looked so promising in April has completely evaporated; four of their five opening-day starters are on the disabled list with major injuries, and there is a very good chance that none of them return this season. And, unlike most other mediocre teams — who can at least sell their fans on a brighter tomorrow lined with current prospects — the Yankees remain looking steadfastly toward their past. The apex of their second half could very well be Derek Jeter’s final game.
Still, there remains at least one reason to smile in the Bronx this summer, though: the comedic stylings of first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Yes, that Mark Teixeira. The player most people know as little more than yet another symbol of the Yankees’ mercenary ways might just be the most entertaining personality on the club.
On the field, the 34-year-old vet has been a pleasant surprise for a team sorely lacking in positives. Despite battling the long-term effects of wrist surgery — costing him all but 15 games of the 2013 season — Teixeira has come back strong, leading the team with 17 home runs and a 122 OPS+. It is on YouTube, however, where he is once again a rising star, having establishing himself as an underground comedy phenom with his “Foul Territory” interview series.
In the vein of comedic legends like Sacha Baron Cohen and Andy Kaufman, Teixeira has created an unforgettable character and unleashed him upon an unsuspecting public. The muse is a bumbling white-bread athlete-turned-interviewer named … Mark Teixeira:
According to The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Barbarisi, Teixeira came up with the interview series in spring training as a way of initiating Yankee free agent acquisitions like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka: “I wanted a way for the new guys to get broken in, in kind of a funny way—not necessarily hazing, because I’m hazing myself more than anything.”
Forget the modesty. From his performances, it seems like he has been painstakingly crafting the character of Mark Teixeira for over a decade, and that his entire baseball career has been a mere prelude to his foray into pseudo stand-up.
Off the field, the first thing that people seem to notice about Teixeira is his impeccable grooming. Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins pointed to it immediately in his 2008 profile as an indication that the recently-signed free agent would fit in perfectly with the Yankees:
The caricature of the New York Yankees, drawn by the legions who resent them, is that they are 25 bat-wielding CEOs, dressed in button-down shirts and pinstriped suits, carrying Blackberrys and briefcases into a clubhouse that could double as a board room. They are clean-shaven, image-conscious, supremely wealthy and not a whole lot of fun.
Mark Teixeira will fit right into the caricature. Teammates joke that they have never seen him with a five-o-clock shadow, an un-tucked shirt, a hair out of place. One general manager describes him as “corporate” and “businesslike.” Teixiera describes himself as “obsessive compulsive.” Scott Boras, his agent, says Teixeira has “the make-up of a CEO.” Some may be turned off that Teixeira does not often hang around the clubhouse after games, pounding beers and telling stories. But the Yankees, who pride themselves on their professional work environment, will not mind.
That caricature takes center stage in “Foul Territory.” Teixeira is immaculately dressed in a polo shirt — tucked in and buttoned to the top, of course — and a suit jacket. (“My mom bought it for me.”) His hair is parted so well, you can practically imagine George Steinbrenner himself giving his first baseman a nod of approval up there in Yankees Heaven — a cleaner, more professional enclave of baseball heaven, sealed off with armed guards and an electric fence.
This is where Teixeira separates himself as an emerging comic mastermind. Rank amateurs stoop to getting laughs by playing against type, but what Teixeira does instead, is turn the “Mark Teixeira” dial all the way up to an 11 — unleashing a barrage of dopey, earnest smiles and awkward non-sequiturs.
Unfortunately, that same dedication to character might ensure that Teixeira ends his career as one of the most under-appreciated players of his era.
When you review his aggregate Major League numbers, his career has been more a testament to consistency than spectacle. He hit at least 30 home runs in every season between 2004 and 2011, but led the league only once (2009). He has won five Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers, and finished as high as second in the MVP voting. He has amassed 48.8 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) per Baseball-Reference (good for 22nd among first basemen since 1900), and with a few more seasons like 2014, he might just sneak his way into the top 10, passing Todd Helton’s 61.5).
Yet, Teixeira finds himself in danger of suffering the same fate as many other notable Yankee free agents — going down in history remembered solely as a bat-for-hire. In an era where young players have signing extensions with their original teams with increasing regularity, Teixeira worked the free agency game to perfection. He played the part of the quintessential Scott Boras client — patiently playing out his first six years of team control in hopes of cashing in big. He played for three teams — Texas, Atlanta and the Angels — before signing an eight-year, $180 million contract with New York to become the next guy to fill the shoes Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, and Jason Giambi.
So, where does Teixeira rank amongst those three?
Martinez is revered for his role in the 1996-2001 dynasty years; he now has a in monument park. Giambi had the higher peak, and the charm of the traditional fun-loving jock (tempered somewhat by his admission of PED use). And then there’s Tex, just plugging along — statistically better than Martinez, sporting the World Series ring that Giambi never won.
That 2009 championship season was, by far, the highlight of Teixeira’s career — he led the league in home runs, RBI and total bases. It was also the first year of his eight-year deal, meaning there was nowhere to go but down. The 2009 team is also remembered by most Yankees fans as the last hurrah of the legendary Core Four (Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte), with the younger stars of that team (Teixeira, Robinson Cano, CC Sabathia) relegated to supporting roles.
The Bombers made the playoffs the next three seasons and twice played in the American League Championship Series. In some cities, that run would be franchise-defining; in New York, it was often viewed as disappointing.
Whatever the case may be, that era and most of the players who defined it are now gone. Not only will the Yankees lose Jeter this fall, but there are rumblings that Sabathia might never pitch again due to injury.
Still, Teixeira remains — still playing a pretty good first base, still huffing and puffing his way around the bases with all the grace of a Melissa McCarthy pratfall, still tucking in that polo shirt and buttoning that top button.
You might as well appreciate him, New York. He seems like a pretty funny guy, and there isn’t much else to smile about these days at the corner of 161st Street and River Ave.