Jan
23

Boring is beautiful: the $180 million everyman

By

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to attend a benefit dinner at Yankee Stadium for an organization dedicated to assisting urban youth, called Street2Street. The special guest was none other than Mark Teixeira. I was not only able to meet Mark, but I also sat at his table during the dinner and got to ask him a fair amount of questions. Everything that I heard about Mark is true: he’s exceedingly polite, professional and business-like. His parents did a good job training him to look someone in the eye when they’re speaking to him. He has very good posture and he said nothing controversial, except when he told me that he thought Joba belonged in the bullpen. Afterwards I told my dad that I can see why writers describe him as bland or robotic, although I found nothing wrong with it. In a lot of ways he was surprisingly normal and calm. He talked about his life in Connecticut, his workout schedule, and his youngest son teething. He asked people at the table questions about their lives. He was like a dinner guest trying to be polite. So why did it strike me as so abnormal?

The reason is because I expect sports superstars to be abnormal. Everything about their lives is different, starting with the way they’re brought up. Look at LeBron James. How young was he when people started treating him differently, deferring to him, trying to please him or curry favor? How young was he when he first realized that people were trying to befriend him to get something from him, rather than because they liked his personality? What was it like for him, or any other sports superstar, to have teachers, friends, coaches and peers cater to him? Before LeBron James turned eighteen years old he was accustomed to being treated like a god, and then the money started rolling in and the real privileges of being truly elite at something started manifesting themselves. How can you expect someone like LeBron to be self-aware and to have empathy for others when he’s been taught to be single-mindedly self-centered his entire life? In retrospect, The Decision seems perfectly consummate with what we’d expect from someone with his background. The fake Twitter account LeBron James’ Ego is popular because it reminds us of what we think is the real LeBron James.

Compared to some other recent star missteps, LeBron’s Decision looks tame. Brett Favre refuses to stay out of the news, whether it’s because of a text messaging scandal with a masseuse or sideline princess or because it’s time for him to retire and unretire again. Alex Rodriguez got caught taking home a stripper in Toronto despite a wife and children at home in New York. Both Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger were accused of rape. Michael Jordan had an alleged gambling problem. Tiger Woods and his mistresses dominated the front pages of New York newspapers for literally weeks on end. These are people who have reached the upper eschelon of the sports world, and their lives are frequently marked by chaos and pain. This isn’t about criticism or passing judgment, and hopefully the comments don’t turn into a flame war about who did what or why so-and-so’s alleged offenses weren’t as bad as people think. The point is not to point a finger at professional athletes; the point is to try to understand why they do the things they do. When you compare your personal formative years with Tiger Woods, when you compare your checking account with Kobe Bryant, and when you think about the insane world of opportunity these guys have in front of them on a daily basis, it’s not that hard to figure out.

This is why I expected a fundamental difference of orientation to arise with Mark at dinner. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he affected a strong storytelling persona, or an arrogant diffidence. It was surprising then to see Mark answering questions like he’s just as nervous as the people around the table and asking questions because he doesn’t want there to be awkward silence.  It was surprising to hear Mark ask a tablemate about a planned vacation. I was expecting outsized, overgrown and larger than life. Physically he’s larger than life – he’s built like a brick house and ate his entree in what seemed like four bites – but he seemed most comfortable when he was talking about his son teething.

Tex is frequently described as bland. Maybe it’s simply that he was fortunate enough to go through life without getting stunted and still has his head on straight. He is who he is, he’s not a caricature, a goon or someone playing a part.  Maybe that’s boring, and maybe that doesn’t translate into good copy or a witty back page headline. But when you consider the alternatives, maybe being abundantly normal is just flat refreshing.

Categories : Players
  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    Great post!

    • http://twitter.com/#!/AngeloInNY Angelo

      Couldn’t agree more.

      • Darl

        It’s refreshing to see a positive story like this about a players character

    • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

      Thank you, to you and everyone else. Glad you all enjoyed the piece!

  • http://twitter.com/TylerWilkinson T-Dubs

    Suuuuper jealous.

  • Xstar7

    This was a nice post. Mark Teixeira seems like a good guy but first impressions aren’t always true. Just Saying.

    • SteveD

      Agreed about the first impression thing. But he has been around a while and with several teams. I have never heard anything negative about him. Always good stuff. I have to think it is genuine.

  • pete

    I really like this article

  • I Voted 4 Kodos

    Every now and then, it’s nice to read an article about an athlete who seems to be an actual person and not a caricature. Tex quickly made himself one of my favorite Yankees because of how he handles himself, and I’m glad to hear that it’s not just an act.

  • Lincoln

    When I was a child, my folks took me to a Yankees game in Cleveland. We got a chance to stand near the gate, where the players got off the bus and walked into the stadium. Someone pushed my mother from behind and she fell into Bernie Williams. Bernie politely stopped her from falling, took a moment to ask if she was alright, gave the person who pushed her a dirty look, then proceeded to get my mother and I an autographed baseball. It was awesome! Seems like a Yankee thing to be polite…

    • Poopy Pants

      To be honest, from what I’ve heard it’s not ‘a Yankee thing to be polite’. Every person is different.

  • dalelama

    Personally I wouldn’t mind more controversy if it meant some more post season production. Say what you want about Tiger, Big Ben, Jordan, and Kobe they don’t disappear on the big stage. Tex , on the other hand, turns his bat into sawdust when the light shines the brightest.

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_mandaura Steve H

      You’ve jumped the shark.

      • dalelama

        Maybe sharky so far true, ditto Swisher.

        • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

          At the dinner someone asked Tex what his favorite home run was and he said it was, easily and without doubt, the walkoff against Mijares in the 2009 ALDS. So it’s funny you’d say that.

          And by funny I mean insane.

          • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

            For a guy who hasn’t hit that well in the postseason as a Yankee (keeping in mind he hit like .400 in the 2008 ALDS as an Angel because, yay small sample sizes), he actually does have several big hits. Just sayin’.

            Also I see dalelama’s changed his irrational dislike from A-Rod to Tex, I suppose. He’ll always have Posada.

            • I Voted 4 Kodos

              .308/.357/.615 against the Twins this year.

              Yes, it’s a small sample. Just like every other post season series we’re examining.

              I had some level of hope that the “Player x can’t hit in the postseason” narrative would die after A-Rod’s 2009 postseason showed that even the poster boy for perceived postseason futility was capable of matching his regular season numbers as the sample size grew larger. I guess the pull is just too strong.

            • dalelama

              Overall Tex, Swish, and Arod under perform in the post season versus the regular season. If that excites you guys fine personally I expect more considering the huge bucks they bring in. As far as Posada is concerned overall considering his bat and his position he was a very good player. It still doesn’t change the fact that his baseball IQ, fundamentals, and judgment detract from his overall contribution and in my opinion disqualify him, in my personal opinion, from the Hall of Fame as things stand now.

              • http://twitter.com/steveh_mandaura Steve H

                Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

              • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

                You act like A-Rod is hitting, oh, .233/.321/.351 or .245/.278/.418 in the postseason. He is not.

                (Anyone see what I did there? Anyone?)

                • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

                  Heck, he’s even hitting better, by 75 OPS points, than .309/.377/.472.

                  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

                    Also of note, A-Rod’s postseason numbers are better, in every single slash category, than .283/.388/.520.

                    (The other three I mentioned were Yankees. This guy isn’t. Any guesses?)

                    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

                      I’m at a loss at who the first two are.

                      Last two:

                      Jeter
                      Ortiz

                    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

                      In order, it’s Tino, Scotty Bro, Jeets, and Ortiz.

                • dalelama

                  No what I actually said is his post season production is lower than his regular season production.

                  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

                    And my point is that a lot of guys do that, Tino certainly did, who cares

        • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

          This…it doesn’t make sense. Nor does the overall point you’re trying to make. So yeah, keep digging.

    • Mike HC

      I don’t think more controversy means more post season production though. Those two things are most probably unrelated. Lack of controversy has not held Jeter back. And ARod was controversy king during the time he couldn’t get a clutch, or postseason hit to save his life.

      • dalelama

        I agree totally. I was just saying I could tolerate the controversy if the post season production was commensurate with the pay.

        • mike hc

          Agreed. As long as you produce I don’t care how much steroids you inject into your body, how many strippers you’re with or how much of a tabloid sensation you are.

    • MikeD

      Small sample sizes are perfect for small brains.

  • http://jukeofurl.wordpress.com Juke Early

    Part of the problem with anybody high profile is that they are rarely allowed to have a human moment. That adds to stress in a big way – always needing to be on guard. Mark Teixeira would likely be this way, famous or not.

    But if somebody sticks a camera in the face of Hollywood actor’s child, while they are going through an airport or at the supermarket, and the actor politely asks the guy to stop & the guy snaps away? the actor or athlete is considered ungrateful if he protects his kid. Or wife. Not allowed? he’s a jerk? Celebrity is a slippery slope, but they have the rights as we do.

    Teixeira is obviously possessed of social skills. Something that comes natural to a decent person, who observes the world around him or her. Regardless of one’s origins, it does become a choice to act well mannered, even if one is fortunate enough to be plucked from lower end of the food chain. There are more Mark Teixeiras than Milton Bradleys among players. The latter type just makes more noise. And not the good kind.

    • http://historyandfutility.wordpress.com The Oberamtmann

      Actually that’s the problem – they don’t have the same rights we do. The concept that public figures (supposed to meant politicians) are freer game for satire, invasive journalism, etc. has been applied to celebrities. If a paparazzi came to YOUR house, filmed you through your windows, shoved a camera in your face, and complained to the cops when you punched him in the face would be the one in trouble. Not so with these guys. Tabloids etc. piss me off because of that – especially because it seems their families don’t get the freedom either. And if you don’t play their game, they don’t only make you look bad, they seek you out, because it’s more play for them if you get pissed off and react.

  • Ed G

    Once upon a time the Yanks had a quiet first baseman who showed up, played magnificently every single day and went home. His gigantic teammate drank and whored and blotted out the sun with his exploits and demeanor. Had not Gehrig died so early and tragically he probably would be a a pale footnote to the Ruthian Era, although his numbers would have been that much more tremendous. I’ll take bland, thank you.

    • steve (different one)

      Once upon a time the Yanks had a quiet first baseman who showed up, played magnificently every single day and went home. His gigantic teammate drank and whored and blotted out the sun with his exploits and demeanor.

      My first thought: Who knew Dave Winfield was such a party animal??

    • CS Yankee

      Well said.

      I pay to see players like Jeter, Bernie & Teix…not to see the Sheff’s & Manny’s.

      The only time I rooted for Sheff’ was when we were trailing in the game and needed some production.

      Those players are on every team, but if the time comes that we have just those “Lebron” guys playing, I’ll spend my energy & resources at the beach.

      • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

        “The only time I rooted for Sheff’ was when we were trailing in the game and needed some production.”

        I’m sorry, but

        whaaaa?

  • Alex

    Although my memory of him in his heyday is a bit subjective, much of the professionalism, down-to-earth attitude you convey is a bit reminiscent of Ken Griffey, Jr. I still vividly remember reading a Sports Illustrated article detailing how Griffey, Sr. told his son never to excessively react after hitting a home run. In fact, it is even similar to much of Jeter’s persona. All three were raised incredibly well and resisted much of the temptation and “bad” ways that many other stars face.

    • CS Yankee

      The only knock I heard on Junior was when he was in Seattle and didn’t want to play against their AAA team to help attendance out on his off-day.

      Loved his game, had one of the sweetest swings for a fan to watch, and was perhaps the best natural talent since Mays to enter the game (think he hit the majors at 18/19…no farm time).

  • jayd808

    Ever heard of paragraphs?

  • Tommy

    How did you get to sit at dinner with Tex? I’m extremely jealous. Great post by the way.

  • S

    If an athlete is considered “boring”, 99 times out of 100 he is a normal individual. “Boring” is how someones life should be considered because that means that it familiar to some degree, something that you can relate to. Media/attention whores and those everyone consider “exciting in there personal lives” are usually nothing more than spoiled children.

  • Mike HC

    I think the experience you had is more common than the opposite. People build up what they think of these athletes in their head, and when they are normal people like everyone else, they are surprised. Especially at an event where the player is basically paid to show up (not literally paid, but it is an obligation for the most part). Either way, good to know Tex is not a complete narcissistic asshole.

  • Rob

    How appropriate that this follows a post on Jeter’s insane house.

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

    Beat writers are, at least to me, the worst possible source of judgment in terms of an athlete’s personality. Guys like Teixeira presumably drive the people that cover the team crazy because they stick to the script and talk in cliches. So he gets the bland/boring label, and gets sniped at by writers when he says things like “I’ll come around”, “Just one of those games”, etc, because that’s not what they are looking for. They want players to fit into their ideals for sources, i.e. entertaining, controversial, colorful.

    Yet to me, Teixeira doesn’t seem like a bland, emotionless player at all. He is frequently fired up on the field, be it on defense or after a big hit by himself or a teammate. He also stands up for his teammates a lot better than most in terms of beanball antics, and other bizarre acts by opposing players (my favorite was when he wanted to beat up Carlos Gomez for running out of the baseline to 1B). It’s honestly fine that the press wants to present him one way, but I don’t see him that way at all.

    • Rob

      Very good point. I’ve read some stories where beat writers for the Jets are saying its the most fun they’ve had in their career, exactly because they are being “entertaining, controversial, colorful.”

      • Mike HC

        To be fair, as a Jets fan, it is also one of the most fun years I have a had. I loved the two years before that too with Favre and Rex’s first year.

        Tex does personally strike me as a bit robotic on the field. I don’t read any beat writers though, only here, so I get that impression from his game. I always laugh when Tex runs the bases, he has this exaggerated, controlled breathing thing going on. I’m sure it is effective, but just funnily robotic too.

      • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

        They have more material then they know what to do with from the Jets, makes their job easy. Compare that to coving a Belichick press conference and trying to create storylines for a week inbetween games.

  • Leonardo

    Thanks for this post. I read this site every single day, and have never commented on anything previously (that I can remember, and I only say that because the nights after Yankee playoff exits have been long, and hazy). Anyway, this was great. It echoed what I’ve always thought of guys like Tex, Jeter, and Mo. The most “boring” ones, are the in the end, the ones that we can relate to a bit more; at least when it comes to the fundamental aspects of “self.” Even then, it’s only an infinitesimal amount of overlap in the pie charts of their lives, and ours.

  • philip

    unreadable without some line brakes. Would have been interesting as well.

    Please fix.

    • steve (different one)

      “breaks”

      Just saying…

  • Monteroisdinero

    My son and I met Mark at a restaurant in Tampa last spring training. It was a rainy day and practice ended early. We happened to be driving near the stadium when we recognized Mark and a friend in his Mercedes (Texas plates). We followed him to a restaurant where he was headed for lunch. We didn’t sit at his table but he was very gracious and down to earth talking to my son about what position he plays etc. My intuition was/is that Tex is a great guy who grew up in a great family and represents the good in pro sports. Now if he could just hit in April.

    • steve (different one)

      Now if he could just hit in April.

      Not trying to pick on you, b/c I get your point, but don’t you think it’s funny that this is the exact opposite of everything we’ve been conditioned to believe is the pinnacle of being a great NY player? We had “Mr. May”, “May-Rod”, etc.

      Yankees are mocked for hitting early in the season and not later. Teixeira hits later in the season but not early.

      In other words, we are saying as Yankee fans: always hit, always.

      Again, I know you were just making a throwaway comment, and of course his early season slumps are frustrating, just thought it was funny. We have impossible standards.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        Ha, this is what I always think.

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

          to be fair, if he hit like .245 instead of like in the 100s, I think it’d be a lot more acceptable to a lot of people.

      • http://twitter.com/firstheart42 Hannah Ehrlich

        All I want is for all the players on my team to hit .400 from April to November. I think that’s reasonable.

        • Accent Shallow

          The 1930 NL hit .303

      • Jimmy

        That though is baseball. Remember Bernie Williams, he would be above average/mediocre for a couple months and then just go on an inhuman tear for 4-5 weeks hitting like .450. How cool was that? He would go through those periods where he just got on base almost at will. It would have been boring for him to hit the same average all year because you knew when he got hot it was white hot.

      • dalelama

        Tex doesn’t hit really late in the season either.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Stephen very nice article on Mark T. Its so refreshing to read about pro athletes who are regular guys.

    I have been a Yankee fan for over 50 years. In my younger days I met professional athletes. They were bigger and stronger than real life but just like my uncles, nice guys. The present high profile athlete lives in a much different world than those of yesterday. Its Mark’s upbringing, his wife and children which keep him focused. There maybe just a little bit more to his grounding. He could be showing his appreciation to a Higher Power for all he has in his life. How many guys get to play firstbase for the NY Yankees. Lou Gehrig,Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, Moose Skowron and Marvelous Marv Thronberry for the older guys. I’d say, Mark has himself in a nice place.

    • http://historyandfutility.wordpress.com The Oberamtmann

      I bet they’d all be a lot more normal if we didn’t smother them. I know I’d freak out after, like, a week of it. And I like attention.

    • wow

      To your point, check out this link where Tex is interviewed about his faith. Helps explain why he is the way he is.

      http://www.sharingthevictory.c.....89FA8CE71A

  • Daniel

    great article

  • Joey P

    This article is extremely well-written. Congrats on the new position, you are doing an excellent job so far.

  • derek

    they’re just people..

    its when you put them up on a pedestal that we think they act differently..

    regular people, cheat, rape, bang strippers..

    if anything this goes to show that these supreme athletes are just as normal as we are

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      I’d like to think that rape isn’t really a part of what “regular people” do, thanks.

      • Accent Shallow

        I’m choosing to read that as “non-celebrities commit rape as well” rather than “Well, I’ve had a tough day at the mill, time to go home and relax with a beer and some rape”.

      • derek

        trust me, you dont have to worry

  • Erica

    This was a WONDERFUL piece of writing. Thank you for this!

  • Poopy Pants

    He was polite at a dinner? Ted Bundy was polite, too. It doesn’t mean shit.

    • steve (different one)

      never, ever change.

  • NJYankeeFan

    He may be a great guy and he’ll always have value because of his defense but let’s hope 2010 was a fluke and not the start of a trend because 3.5 WAR isn’t gonna cut it for $22.5 million for another 6 years. Plus, fair or unfair, the pressure on him is going to get turned up a notch if he’s struggling and A-Gon is raking in Boston.

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    Pics or it didn’t happen, Roads.

  • YankFanDave

    Great post. I appreciate what Tex brings to the game off the field and in the clubhouse, that’s undervalued. I’m surprised the questioning of what The brings on the field; even in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world please remember he was 2nd in the MVP voting year before last. I’ve read no less than four articles about Tex’s downturn to come or even stating he was aging fast. Thanks for giving him the credit he deserves.

  • http://twitter.com/AnthonyMartins Anthony

    Great Post. Your One of the best new writers added here from what I’ve read so far.

  • SodaPopinski

    cool story!

  • Jonathan

    I’ve met Tex as well. I couldn’t describe him better. It was his first game back in KC after his youngest son was born. Kerry Wood was the same way. It was a pleasure to meet them.

  • mike

    awesome post

  • Brock Cohen

    Man, this is an awesome story. Thanks for sharing, Stephen.