Mark Teahen has gone from Moneyball to mainstay to moveable part. One of the players taken in Oakland general manager Billy Beane’s famous 2002 draft, Teahen is now a part-time infielder/outfielder in Chicago after spending five seasons as an everyday player in Kansas City. Teahen, who has hit .268/.330/.416 in six big-league seasons, talked about his career path when the White Sox visited Fenway Park in early September.
David Laurila: How would you describe your career so far?
Mark Teahen: Well, in high school I wasn’t recruited at all, really. I went on one recruiting trip, signed at Saint Mary’s College, and didn’t get drafted at all. Then, when I was a junior, I got drafted in the Moneyball draft with the Oakland A’s. I was one of seven first-round picks they had that year.
I came through the minor leagues and about two and a half years later I got traded to the Royals [in 2004] in the Carlos Beltran deal. I finished that year in Triple-A with the Royals and the following year I made the Opening Day roster, so my first day in the big leagues was Opening Day ’05.
DL: Were you a Moneyball-type of player in 2002?
MT: I think I was; I walked a lot. I took my walks, and actually my college coach told me at one point that I needed to take less walks because our team needed me to be swinging the bat rather than taking walks. That was funny in the long run, because I think it helped me to get drafted high.
But I think the whole Moneyball deal was to find value in undervalued players, and I think they thought they were doing that because I was at a small college in the open hills that not a lot of teams knew about. I mean, I would have been drafted somewhere, but to take me in the first round was probably a surprise to some people. I think that in some ways they were doing something against the norm.
DL: When did you first become aware that you were part of the Moneyball draft?
MT: I actually didn’t know what Moneyball was going to become, but John Baker, who is now catching for the Marlins, and I went to a pre-draft workout at the Coliseum and Michael Lewis talked to us a little bit. He introduced himself and said he was writing a book about the Oakland A’s, and that was that, but once I played my first half of the season and got into it, I kind of realized what the book was going to be about and how much he was going to cover our draft class.
I actually just talked to [Lewis] recently and he’s planning on writing the follow-up book here pretty soon, about the path of that draft class and where our careers have gone.
DL: Has your career taken the path you expected it to?
MT: No, actually. I came up as a third baseman and played third base my first two seasons, and I had my best year that second year. Then I came back and was told that I was going to shift to the outfield. So I shifted to the outfield and since then I’ve played all over the place. I never played outfield in my life until the big leagues, and I even started one Opening Day at second base, so it’s been strange. I would never have thought that I’d be playing so many positions, but now that I’ve been doing it for three or four years it’s kind of old hat.
DL: Does it matter to you where you play?
MT: Not really. I mean at first, obviously, I didn’t want to go to the outfield after being an infielder my whole life, but at this point it’s nice that I can play everywhere. If it keeps me in the lineup or gets me more at-bats, obviously I’m cool with playing wherever. I’ve come to enjoy the outfield, too.
DL: Assuming the same offensive numbers, your value is higher as an infielder than it is as a corner outfielder. What are your thoughts on that?
MT: I don’t know. For me, I guess, you think about “Oh, I want to be playing one position every day,” because then you’re desired as a third baseman, or whatever, but being able to play a bunch of different positions, allowing the team to play more match-ups… that helps. Career-wise, I think it helps me to be able to play a few more positions because every team needs a guy that can bounce around a little bit.
DL: How did your life change when you got traded from Oakland to Kansas City?
MT: At that point, not a ton. I was in the minor leagues and the minor league season is what it is. That year was weird because it started in Midland, Texas at Double-A, and then I got to Sacramento and Triple-A, with Oakland, and then got traded.
Other than changing organizations, the lifestyle was more or less the same; it was just in Omaha rather than Sacramento. What changed is that I saw a direct path of how I was going to make the big leagues. I saw that opportunity in front of me, whereas with Oakland, Eric Chavez had just signed an extension and I was unsure when I would get that shot. It was much clearer when I would get that shot when I got traded over to the Royals.
DL: What is the lifestyle like in the minor leagues?
MT: It’s funny; it’s strange. You don’t realize how it’s not that great until you play in the big leagues. I actually just got back from a rehab stint and going back to the minors… I mean, when you get to the big leagues you definitely enjoy it because the minor league lifestyle is waking up early to catch a flight that you have to connect through two cities, or waking up and taking a five-hour bus ride, or playing in front of not too many fans in a lot of places.
You’ll find a few great cities in the minor leagues but, for the most part, you’re playing in front of nobody. There are small clubhouses and crappy fields. But it’s all worth it. It’s great too, because everyone’s at the same spot in their career and their life, and it’s a fun time, kind of an extension of college in some ways.
DL: A player once told me that when guys in the minors say it’s all about “team,” they’re full of crap because everyone is playing for themselves and trying to get to the big leagues. Is that accurate?
MT: Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. I mean, especially with the first group you get drafted with, it’s easy to pull for the guys around you—you all want to be on the same path to the big leagues. You’re trying to win games in the minor leagues, but everyone is trying to get to the next level and get to the big leagues. As much as you pull for the guys around you, because your success is tied to theirs, everybody is trying to get to that next level and ultimately you have to be a little selfish in the minors.
DL: Is there much jealousy in the minor leagues?
MT: Yeah, I mean everybody—no matter where you are—always wants to be at the next level, so there is a lot of that. And obviously the guys that get drafted higher get a little better push or more opportunity, but it’s the nature of the beast. You always want to be moving up, no matter what profession you’re in. If somebody’s getting a better shot than you are, you’re always a little jealous and want to be the guy getting the shot.
DL: Once you’re in the big leagues, does the same thing exist with playing time, including guys wishing they were elsewhere so they could get more playing time?
MT: Yeah, it’s always a thin line. You don’t want to assume the grass is greener on the other side, but certain guys do want to get traded because they’re not getting their shot at a certain place, or whatever. It’s been nice being with the White Sox in a pennant chase. There are still guys that want to be playing more than they are; I mean, I’m in that position right now where I’d like to be playing more than I am, but at the end of the day, if we have a shot at the playoffs and I can help in some way, that’s what I want to be doing.
With the Royals, with it being a young team, there was more of that. Not that it overtook the clubhouse, but there was some of that where it was like, you know, everybody wanting their shot. Not wishing somebody else ill will, but everyone really wanting their shot.
DL: With the Royals, was there a feeling of, “We’re getting better” or was it more a feeling of “This team is stuck in neutral forever?”
MT: My first couple of years there—my first three years—it was kind of stuck in neutral, I thought. Since Dayton Moore has been there, it’s easy to see the organization as a whole getting better. The minor league system was shot when I got over there, and the big league team wasn’t very good. It had a long way to go, but now they’re throwing a lot of money into the draft and a lot of money into their scouting and development, and they seem to have a lot of prospects. The big league team still hasn’t turned the corner, but they’re going to turn the corner, just like the Twins, when they develop their own talent. It looks like the Royals are getting closer to that now.
DL: How did your life change when you came to Chicago?
MT: That was a much bigger change, I’d say, because I’d been in the big leagues in Kansas City; I had been established there. All of my charity stuff and a lot of friends are in Kansas City, and I had a place in Kansas City. It was a big change, but it was a change for the good, for my career. It gives me a shot to be in a pennant chase in a great city, Chicago, and a shot to play on the big stage. It changed a lot and has been a big year.
DL: What is it like playing for Ozzie Guillen?
MT: It’s fun. He keeps it light in the clubhouse. I mean, he’ll say some things to the media… it’s kind of funny. He talks a lot in the media, or on TV, and not that he tones it down in the clubhouse, but I think that his time to shine is during that interview process. He’s not nearly as loud and talkative as you might think, in the clubhouse. He just kind of gets the work done and keeps it light if he thinks we need to lighten up a little bit.
DL: Are you the same guy now that you were when you broke into pro ball, or has your personality evolved?
MT: I think I have definitely evolved. When I came up I kept my mouth shut and didn’t say anything. I’ve always been sarcastic and whatever, but I think the more comfortable you get somewhere, the more you kind of let yourself out. I feel like that’s where I’m at. I feel comfortable with what I’ve done here and know that I can be myself and won’t rub anybody the wrong way too much. I was voted shyest in my high school class and now I’m doing television or radio interviews, or whatever else, speaking in front of big groups of people. I guess you have to come out of your shell to play pro baseball.
I think I’m somebody who just tries to do the right thing more often than not and I think that I appreciate where I’m at and try to use that as a tool to help other people out. I feel like I keep good perspective on what I’m fortunate to be able to do right now.
DL: From what you’ve seen, do some players lack that perspective?
MT: Yeah, I think it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to see this guy buying this Louis Vuitton thing so I’ve got to get one of those, or they just bought this huge house, so I’ve got to do that. You kind of forget the basics of it, that if anything, you should take the opportunity to have this huge platform to help people out that don’t get that opportunity. That said, I think there are a lot of good things going on with guys around baseball. There are a lot of guys doing the right thing.