Mark Teixeira was ready to join the Red Sox, seemingly Boston’s inevitable response to a busy 2008-09 offseason during which the rival Yankees committed more than $243 million to top free agents CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.
Teixeira and Boston seemed to be a perfect marriage, a decade after the Sox drafted the switch-hitting prep first baseman in the ninth round of the MLB Draft (though he chose to attend Georgia Tech and was drafted in the first round by the Rangers three years later). After a productive 2008 season split with the Braves and Angels, Teixeira was ready to spend the rest of his career aiming at Fenway Park’s fabled Green Monster.
Then … it didn’t happen. Talks fell flat between Teixeira and the Red Sox, prompting principal owner John Henry to announce that Boston was no longer in the sweepstakes. Unbeknownst to most, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had been privately touting Teixeira as his team’s “missing link,” pushing managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to splurge on one more big contract.
The Angels and Nationals were still hovering in the mix on the afternoon of Dec. 23, when agent Scott Boras approached the Yankees with a proposal -- eight years at $180 million, a full no-trade clause, no opt-out. After weeks of hearing "no" from ownership, Cashman finally got his "yes," and Teixeira was fitted for pinstripes.
“I just knew that if I didn’t go to the Yankees, I’d always wonder, ‘What if?’” Teixeira said in 2018. “When you go to the best team, the most storied franchise, there’s never going to be any regrets. No offense to the other 29 teams in baseball, but no one says, ‘Man, I can’t believe I never played for the Rays.’”
Never mind that the Yankees already had a first baseman, having traded for Nick Swisher a few months prior. Cashman told Steinbrenner that he would address that, promising to move Xavier Nady’s $6.5 million contract and shift Swisher to right field. Nady sustained a season-ending injury to his right elbow in April, creating an opportunity for Swisher to become a fan favorite.
Teixeira, too, endeared himself to the Bronx crowds. Slotted into the No. 3 spot by manager Joe Girardi, Teixeira’s powerful swing from both sides of the plate offered balance to a stacked lineup, and his Gold Glove-caliber defense provided a noticeable upgrade over what had been provided by predecessor Jason Giambi.
“It felt like home,” Teixeira said. “When I was in Atlanta and L.A., I didn’t know if I was going to be there forever, so I just kind of felt like I was passing through. You sign an eight-year contract, you’re in. Knowing I was going to spend the next eight years at this beautiful new stadium was a great feeling.”
After a slow start in April (Teixeira injured his left wrist during the second game of the regular season at Baltimore’s Camden Yards), Teixeira joined the fun in May, enjoying his most productive month of the regular season by batting .330 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs.
From May 8 -- when Alex Rodríguez returned to the lineup -- through the end of the season, Teixeira batted .310 with 34 homers and 107 RBIs in 131 games, helping the Yankees go 88-43 over that span. His 43 doubles were the most by a Yanks first baseman since Don Mattingly had 53 in 1986.
“Would I have liked to get off to a better start? Yeah,” Teixeira said. “But then you hit 13 home runs in May and I’m in the best month of my career. Then it’s like, ‘All right, all good.’ The fact that we got off to a bad start as a team was more worrisome for me. I knew I was going to be fine.”
Voted as the AL’s starting first baseman for the All-Star Game, Teixeira completed the regular season with a .292/.383/.565 slash line, belting 39 home runs to join Babe Ruth (1920) as the second player ever to lead or tie for the American League in homers during his first season as a Yankee.
He paced the American League with 122 RBIs, 31 go-ahead RBIs and 344 total bases. Twenty-four of Teixeira’s homers that year came in home games, leading the Majors.
Having played in only four postseason games before arriving in New York, Teixeira made a near-immediate impact as the Yankees pursued their 27th World Series championship. Facing the Twins’ Jose Mijares, Teixeira launched a game-winning home run in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series -- the first walk-off homer of his career, his only such blast until his 409th and final shot in 2016, a grand slam off Joe Kelly of the Red Sox.
"I still get chills. It doesn’t get old,” Teixeira said of the ALDS walk-off. “I was really booking it because I thought it was going to be a double. If you look at the first pitch, I was trying to go deep there -- I think I missed the first pitch by like three feet. And so I had to kind of calm myself down, like, ‘Yeah, you’re trying to hit the ball hard, you’re trying to get the ball up in the air and do damage here, but still make sure you look at the ball.’”
Brought to New York as the finishing touch on what was expected to be a championship team, it was a fitting conclusion to see Teixeira on the receiving end of the final out of the ’09 World Series, gloving a toss from Robinson Canó that retired the Phillies’ Shane Victorino to seal Game 6.
Teixeira shoved the baseball into the back pocket of his uniform pants and safe-guarded it through the on-field celebration, then made sure it was handed to Steinbrenner, who celebrated that night alongside employees and family members in the swanky Legends Club lounge behind home plate.
“I could have retired that day and been happy,” Teixeira said. “You work your entire life and have dreams of dog-piling for a World Series. You talk about it with your teammates every single year, what it would be like to win that last game and be world champions. Looking back, it’s the coolest thing I did in baseball.”