BOSTON -- Twenty years ago, the Red Sox had their eyes on a switch-hitter they felt could be a rock in their lineup for many years. At that time, the Maryland product was 18 years old, but his power potential was obvious.The prospect was Mark Teixeira, and he had a
BOSTON -- Twenty years ago, the Red Sox had their eyes on a switch-hitter they felt could be a rock in their lineup for many years. At that time, the Maryland product was 18 years old, but his power potential was obvious.
The prospect was Mark Teixeira, and he had a scholarship from a college baseball hotbed (Georgia Tech) waiting for him.
The Red Sox were also willing to wait for him -- in the 1998 Draft.
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So when Teixeira was still on the board in the ninth round, Boston -- at the time led by general manager Dan Duquette -- swooped in.
"We drafted Teixeira in the ninth round, and we knew he had first-round ability," said Duquette, who is now executive vice president of baseball operations for the Orioles. "And we told him, 'Look, we know you have good ability and we like you, we'll draft you in the ninth round and we'll give you first-round money.' Will you sign?' He and his father said, 'Yes,' they would sign.
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"So we drafted him. After we drafted him, he got an agent by the name of Scott Boras and they said, 'We're not going to sign. We're going to go to Georgia Tech.' And it worked out pretty well for him."
It's just that Teixeira -- who went on to have a tremendous career for the Rangers, Braves, Angels and Yankees -- remembers the situation differently.
"It was obviously very disappointing," said Teixeira, who is now an analyst for ESPN. "They had called me the day before the Draft to take me with the 12th pick, but my agent at the time, my advisor told me that pre-Draft deals were illegal and don't agree to anything before the Draft. So I told the Red Sox that, and lo and behold, no one drafts me until the ninth round and it happened to be the Red Sox. So I think you can put two and two together."
To be clear, Teixeira is under the belief the Red Sox tried to let other teams know that Teixeira wasn't signable so they could get him in a later round.
"You know what, it was at the time very disappointing, but it made me very business-savvy from Day 1," said Teixeira. "Ultimately for my career and my life, it was a great learning experience, because it made me understand the business of baseball at a very young age."
Duquette, however, takes great exception to the notion that the Red Sox did anything wrong.
"Unsignable? That's not true," Duquette said. "We never said that. There's nothing to defend. We did what we said we were going to do. ... We said, 'We're going to draft you, and we're going to offer you first-round money.' And we did it.
"And then he said, 'No, I'm not going to take that, I'm going to go to Georgia Tech.' So whatever he says, we did what we said we were going to do. We said we were going to draft him and we were going to give him first-round money. And he said, 'If you do that, I'll sign."
"He had a change of plans, and it worked out fine for him. But let the record be clear: The Red Sox did what they said they were going to do."
Here's the obvious question: Why didn't the Red Sox just take Teixeira in the first round?
"The reason we didn't draft him higher is because we weren't convinced he was going to sign," said Duquette, who selected South Carolina shortstop Adam Everett at No. 12 overalll. "And it seems like we were right. We weren't sure he was going to sign," Duquette said. "We hedged the bet by taking him in the lower round. Now the rules have changed, you get another pick [if you don't sign your first-rounder]."
One thing that is clear all these years later is that things worked out quite well for Teixeira and the Red Sox. Teixeira went on to belt 409 homers with an .869 OPS; he made the All-Star team three times and won a World Series. The Red Sox, even without Teixeira's big bat, won three World Series titles from 2004-13, mainly because they found an even bigger left-handed bat in David Ortiz.
Does Teixeira have any regrets?
"Not at all," he said. "I had the most fun I could ever imagine at Georgia Tech and ended up getting drafted in a better spot and getting a great contract out of college. Met my wife in college, lifelong friends. … It was kind of one of those things that happened for a reason."
In what would have been a surreal twist, Teixeira nearly wound up with the Red Sox as a free agent following the 2008 season. His top two choices were the two teams from baseball's most storied rivalry.
By then, Duquette was long gone from the Red Sox and general manager Theo Epstein was trying to land the first baseman.
"It was close. There were absolutely zero hard feelings on my part. The regime that drafted me was not the regime that tried to sign me in 2008," Teixeira said. "I absolutely loved Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. I would have really enjoyed playing for the Red Sox. But in the end, the Yankees just made me a little better offer, and it was a place that I'd always wanted to play."
And unlike the 1998 situation, which still has a little ambiguity, the free-agent decision has no controversy. The Yankees offered eight years at $180 million, while the Red Sox countered with the same length of contract at $168 million.
"It was really tough, because Boston is one of the top places to play in baseball, New York is one of the top places to play in baseball. And so I basically had kind of a tiebreaker -- who steps up and gives me the best offer? And it was the Yankees," Teixeira said. "So it would have been a great landing spot in Boston or New York, but obviously I'm glad I ended up in New York and love living here now. And that World Series in '09 was pretty special, opening up the stadium with a championship."
Signing with the Yankees gave Teixeira a chance to experience the rivalry. During his time in New York, Teixeira hit just .216 against the Red Sox, but he had 27 homers and 74 RBIs in 408 at-bats.
"It was fun, and I look at the Yankees and Red Sox during my time, those eight years, and each team won one World Series and no one can complain," Teixeira said.
And what if he had signed with the Red Sox in 1998 and played his whole career with Boston?
"I probably would have hit the ball the other way a little more if I had played at Fenway, I'll tell you that much," Teixeira said. "And the interesting thing is that I'm sure from a baseball perspective, I probably would have had a very similar career in the big leagues. But from a personal perspective, going to college was the best choice for me, and that's kind of what I look back on."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.