Today, New ESPN MLB analysts David Ross and Mark Teixeira discussed the 2017 MLB season, as well as their new MLB studio analyst roles at ESPN. Both Ross and Teixeira are former World Series Champions who retired after the 2016 season. Ross was part of the history-making 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, and Teixeira won a championship with the New York Yankees. Both the Cubs and the Yankees will be in action this Sunday during ESPN’s Opening Day coverage.
The 2017 Major League Baseball regular-season begins on ESPN with seven games in two days across Sunday, April 2, and Monday, April 3. On Sunday, the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs visit their rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, at 8:30 p.m. ET, exclusively on ESPN.
The audio replay of the call is available here.
Q. Sorry to start off with a question that’s a little off the subject, but Mark, I’m very interested in kind of what you’ve been doing — I’m in Atlanta, and what you’ve been doing with the Emerald corridor, and the Proctor Creek, some of the project that you’ve been involved with there which seems to be picking up steam. I’m just curious why you decided to get involved with something like that. Also with so much kind of attention on environmental issues and in the news right now, global warming and that sort of stuff, if you hope maybe to set the lead on getting more athletes and ex-athletes involved in projects such as this?
MARK TEIXEIRA: Well, I think that’s a great question to start off with because people are always asking me what am I doing with my time now that I’m retired. I think David can probably tell you, we have tons of time that we didn’t otherwise have. But I wanted to make my time productive.
I started investing in real estate in Atlanta back in 2008 and have built a development company down there. But one of the main things that I noticed, my partners and I noticed in Atlanta was Proctor Creek runs through downtown and midtown Atlanta, and it really needed to get cleaned up. It was bad for the residents, it was bad for the Chattahoochee River and the water source for the southeast United States. We wanted to make sure that we did our part bringing in the right public and private partners together to clean up Proctor Creek and really make a difference in the environment. Because we’re also stewards of this community and of this world, and I just feel strongly about it.
Q. What about too, like you said, I think I read an article where there’s a lot of athletes and so many issues out there and very meaningful ones to get involved in. The environment hasn’t maybe been a big one that athletes become involved in. But I think I read where you said you hope that that will start to change, and you’re hoping to kind of lead the way on that?
MARK TEIXEIRA: I hope so. As athletes we have so much reach, whether it’s in kids cancer, politics, you know, environment, whatever it might be, and I think you’re now starting to see athletes branching out a little bit more, and I think it’s good for all of us to understand that we don’t live in a bubble where we just play baseball, go home and re-do it the next day. I mean, we’re real people and there are real issues out there.
So I’d love for guys to step up for whatever they feel passionate about and really try to make a difference.
Q. David, you’ve obviously had one of the more unusual last games in the history of baseball, but has life started back to normal for you or not really now that you’re on Dancing With the Stars? Is it still kind of hard to believe what’s gone on in the last six months?
DAVID ROSS: My life is as far from normal as I could ever imagine. I am in the middle of something I never thought I’d be a part of, and enjoying every minute of it. It’s just so far outside of my box that, to be in this arena and to take, one, a guy that’s a back-up catcher and not really a superstar like some in the game and to represent MLB and try to put, with no pun intended, a good foot forward, and just have some fun with this dancing thing. I signed on with ESPN and being a part of that, and still being a part of the Cubs, it’s just been a lot of fun for me.
Things that I didn’t know — kind of not knowing what was going to go on with my career and my life after baseball, I’ve just had so many great opportunities because of the platform a lot of the guys I play with have put me on. So I’m just trying to represent them very well and have fun with it.
Q. I guess, there is a new normal now, but do you think things will settle down eventually for your new post-career life?
DAVID ROSS: Yeah, I think so. We’ve got the Dancing With the Stars, that won’t last forever. That’s going to be short term. Hopefully people will keep voting and keep me on. I’ve got a book coming out, so that will be a little crazy, and some things after that. But I think the dancing thing just because of the travel and getting back in the studio with ESPN and get back to talking baseball will feel really normal to me.
Q. This ESPN job, how does this mesh with the role you have with the Cubs going forward? Also, how is viewing and analyzing baseball different from a studio, you think, compared to being in the ballpark?
DAVID ROSS: Well, when you’re in studio you’re really talking about the bulk of the work from all that’s going on in MLB that day. You’re analyzing the high points of the games that went on. When you’re at the ballpark you’re really just watching the two sides or maybe the team that you’re really focused on that day so it’s a lot more detail, a lot more talking, you’re able to talk more specifics, maybe in-game strategy, mindset of players. Just you get a little more detailed in the games.
When you’re in the studio, you’re kind of on the clock, and got to kind of hit a bunch of highlights for each and every team.
As far as the Cubs go, I’m really just taking a backseat role with the Cubs and trying to learn some front office stuff, just to broaden my horizons in baseball and what goes on in the front office and how they see things, how they analyze players, how they analyze the things that are going on the field and kind of grow my knowledge in that area. Because I’m very naive when it comes to how the front office works, and I really think there is so much more to learn in baseball and really to get out to the public.
So I’m hoping to learn from what I consider one of the best front offices in all of baseball in Theo and Jed, and Jason McLeod, and how these guys go about scouting players and fitting that player into their piece of the puzzle that they’re trying to build a team, and bringing that to the public.
Q. But does it in any way conflict?
DAVID ROSS: I don’t think so. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ll be — I’m a little bias toward the Cubs anyway, so if you expect me to badmouth a team that’s done so much for me and me not be a Cubs fan, you’re wrong.
I’m going to tell the truth and I’m going to be honest. A guy who makes a mistake, it’s pretty obvious. I’m going to have to make that a point in whatever I’m talking about about the Cubs on TV. But I’m going to be a Cub for life, and I’m going to support that organization as best I can because of how they treated me.
Q. Mark, have you talked about how the Yankees team changed last season after Gary’s call-up and just what your expectations are for the Yankees this season?
MARK TEIXEIRA: I think it was really exciting for a lot of people to watch. For me to have a front row seat to what Gary did, but for so long the Yankees farm system was depleted and really didn’t produce much for fans to get excited about. I think Brett Gardner was drafted in 2005 and he was the last everyday player that we drafted. And that’s a really long stretch for any team, especially a team like the Yankees that have kind of always built their powerhouses and their dynasties off of homegrown players.
So what we saw was we knew we didn’t have a team that was going to contend for a World Series. We kept fighting, and I’m really proud of the guys for fighting. But Brian Cashman, and the front office, really just made a concerted effort to say, okay, we’re going to let these kids play and see what we have, see what we have for the future.
You obviously saw what Gary Sanchez can do. You also got to see what a few other guys can do. It was a good stepping stone for this next phase of Yankee baseball. This next era of Yankee baseball. I am very optimistic about where this team is headed.
I think the only question mark would be can they develop the arms that you need to win multiple championships? David could probably tell you that when you have three aces like the Cubs did last year, it makes a lot of other little problems go away pretty quickly.
So I think the Yankees have a lot to look forward to. Gary Sanchez could be an All-Star for the next ten years. The only question is can they produce the pitching that they need to win championships.
Q. Have you worked with Greg Bird at all this off-season with any advice that you have given to him?
MARK TEIXEIRA: So Birdie and I really spent a lot of time together the last few years. I’m a big Greg Bird fan. We talked a lot when he was going through his injury last year with me and the injuries that I had the last four or five years of my career. I could obviously relate to his frustrations. But one of the things that me and Birdie always texted this off-season was trust. And we probably text every two weeks nowadays and just say, hey, keep trusting yourself, trust your talent, trust your health. You know you have the talent to do special things.
That’s what he’s doing. He’s going out there and playing the game. He’s not a guy that’s going to get caught up in New York. A lot of guys kind of make it in New York and then they stop working or they decide they’re going to be a Page 6 superstar rather than a Yankee Stadium superstar. That’s not going to be Greg Bird. So I feel really good about his future.
Q. David, going back to 2015 against the Mets, I mean, can you talk about the challenge of going against that staff when it was at its peak there?
DAVID ROSS: Yeah, I mean, that’s one, if not the best, it’s one of the best staffs in baseball when all those guys are healthy and on top of their game. I think those guy, you know, you’ve got Noah who stayed healthy, but if Harvey and deGrom, and you know all those guys can stay healthy, it’s just you don’t get a break.
Like Mark was touching on earlier, when you have that consistent pitching, you have that consistency of I’ve got a guy that’s going to keep it under three runs. Even on a bad day they’re going to give up three. Offense can really focus on manufacturing runs and getting runs early and giving it to that bullpen and a guy like Familia who can shut it down at the end.
Yeah, it’s a really tough obstacle to overcome when you’re facing that kind of guy over and over again. And he had good defense with that, which they had and played against us, and it was defeating, because you just feel like you’re never — the confidence of a hitter, you’re never getting over that hump of, man, I just need one to fall, we need to get something going, because you have that strong pitching and defense. Because three runs feels like you’re down ten.
Q. 2017 is the season that “Sports Illustrated” famously predicted a couple years ago that the Astros were going to be World Series champions or at least be in the World Series. They have a core of young players that have been developing for a few years, but now they’ve added some veterans which is McCann, and Beltran and Reddick, I think it’s a stretch to predict they might be in the World Series. But I’m curious, both gentlemen, what you see are the Astros prospects for this year, and how important the veteran acquisitions that they made during the off-season will be for their younger players?
MARK TEIXEIRA: First of all, the Astros made some really smart decisions picking up guys like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann because these are pro’s pros. Played with both of them last year. I’ve known them both for the majority of their careers. When you have young players, young, great talent like the Astros have, you need a couple savvy vets that have been through it to kind of bring them along. You look at what those guys have done in their careers, and they’re going to be able to share a lot with the Astros young players.
So I thought those were two great moves. The question about the Astros is the health of their starting pitching. When Keuchel’s healthy, when McCullers is healthy, that’s a really good one too. Keuchel had a little bit of a down year, McCullers had some arm issues last year. But if those two guys are healthy, and if you have a guy like Charlie Morton maybe step up, I heard he’s been looking really good in Spring Training, they have a chance. You can put that starting staff healthy against some of the other ones.
The Cubs are going to be tough to beat in a World Series. But in the American League, I have no issues saying that the Astros are one of the teams to beat in the American League.
DAVID ROSS: I would reiterate that same statement. I think that the leadership qualities of the group they brought in, the veteran, is not only going to help in the clubhouse, but a guy like Brian McCann who is a close friend, who kind of showed me the way of how to be a great teammate and a lot of the things I still use in working with the staff, I think he’s going to take a staff that maybe not as great in stuff, but he’s going to compete and get the most out of those guys, which we all know they have a great offense.
I think they’ve got a really strong chance to go really deep in the playoffs if what we see happening with the leadership goes along with the talent that they have. Because I think the talent on the field speaks for itself as some of the best in baseball.
Q. David, I’m curious your thoughts on just the fact that you are trying to compete against dancers in an athletic event?
DAVID ROSS: Yeah, right? I feel completely uncoordinated for the first time in my life. I think Lindsay, she’s a little ball of muscle spinning around all over the place, even when she’s practicing in the studio. So she’s a super nice young woman, and it’s been great getting to know her. But she is impressive in every aspect of her life. I mean, her personality, obviously, her skills, how humble she is, and then on the dance floor, I mean, she can do whatever they ask her to do which is completely the opposite. If my coach asked me to do anything, it takes me 45 minutes to get two steps down.
Q. How are you approaching your new role as an analyst? And did you get any advice on any other players who turned analyst on how they handled the transition?
MARK TEIXEIRA: Yeah, I think David touched on it. You try to be as objective as you can be, at the same time, we’re human. We’re going to have personal experiences with players or teams or managers or coaches or whoever it might be that I actually think the fans want to hear. I’ve talked to a lot of people at ESPN and I have a lot of friends that have done some analyst work, and they all say the same thing. ESPN hired you because they want you to be Mark Teixeira. They don’t want you to be a robot that says that’s a fastball away, that’s a curveball, look at that home run. Anybody can do that.
I’m trying to be myself. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of a GM, manager or a player, whatever the situation might be. I got my first taste of it last night, and really enjoyed being able to speak freely. Because during the season, when you’re a player, you really can’t speak freely on what you think about the game or what you think should happen. Say a player gets sent down on your team that you don’t agree with that move, you can’t go tell the New York media, “I don’t know why Cashman sent this guy down. That’s a stupid move.” But on ESPN I can say that.
You know, that’s something that people want me to say. They want to hear that from me, and I think that makes it a lot more fun to be able to talk about the game now that you don’t have one hand tied behind your back, and that’s the way that I’m looking at it.
Q. Is it going to be weird for you commenting on the Yankees on the year?
MARK TEIXEIRA: We talked about the Yankees a lot last night. I’m going to be honest. I’m going to put myself in the shoes whether it’s Joe Girardi or Brian Cashman or somebody else on the field, and think if I was in that type situation, how would I act? I understand why they’re doing this or why they’re making that move. But at the same time, I think I would lose credibility if I either pumped up the Yankees too much or didn’t say anything at all.
You know, if someone asks me, like last night they asked me who should be in right field, Aaron Judge or Aaron Hicks and I said, easy, Aaron Judge, and I gave the reasons why. If I said I don’t want to comment on that, I think I’d be pulled aside after the segment and they’d say, hey, Mark, that’s why you’re here, we want you to comment on that, and we want you to take a stand. And when I took those stands and they were definitive last night, I think everyone appreciated my point of view. Whether they agreed with it or not, that’s irrelevant, but they appreciated it.
Q. Mark, when you look at the Yankees, I know you were talking about the bright future they have, how quickly do you think they can get there? And what I mean by that is to compete for a championship? Is that something that’s two years away in your mind now that you look at them? Maybe a little different than when you were in that clubhouse? Is it a year away? How do you assess their timeline here to get back to where you guys were when you were on that team in ’09?
MARK TEIXEIRA: Realistically, I think this year is a year figuring out what you have. So you really want to know who the young pitchers on the staff or in the bullpen are guys. That’s kind of a baseball term. A guy is somebody that you can count on that’s going to be in your lineup, in your rotation for the next three to five years and be a solid to all-star type player.
This year they really need to figure out who those guys are. They’ll probably start out the season with some of the veterans taking at-bats, but as the season goes on, if they falter, and I think they’re going to win a lot of games this year. I think the Yankees will be in the race into September because they still have enough talent, they have a very good back-end of the bullpen, they have the talent to be there in the race. But if they start falling out, you’re going to see Clint Frazier get called up. You’re going to see Gleyber Torres get called up.
This year is that learning period. This year, if those guys make strides in 2017, you might look at 2018 as, okay, I might go out and be a little bit more aggressive in the trade market or free agent market. I think 2018 and 2019 would probably be the year. Everyone talks about, Harper and Machado are free agents after 18. So probably not this year, but in 2018 and 2019 the Yankees could be serious contenders.
Q. Good morning. Congratulations on making the transformation to our side of the microphone. This first question is for both of you? How hard is the adjustment from being a player to being a spectator on opening day?
DAVID ROSS: I tell you what, for me, things have been super busy and Spring Training has gone by pretty fast. But I just got down to Cubs camp yesterday, and I went and watched a game. It was such a great atmosphere here, and I was itching to be down on the field and being part of the guys in the dugout. I missed that a lot. I missed the camaraderie with the guys on the field. So I think there’s going to be a big pull for me.
I just love being part of the atmosphere and the group as a whole and competing as a team. But there will definitely be that pull. But I tell you one thing, my life has a lot less stress in it right now because I don’t have to worry about trying toll hit off some of the best pitchers in baseball with my swing. So I’m right in the middle. I’m missing some parts, but I’m also loving retirement.
MARK TEIXEIRA: Little bit different for me. I kind of made a point not to go down to Spring Training. I told the Yankees please don’t ask me to come because I’ll feel bad saying no. I kind of wanted to stay away from the game and catch up on things that I haven’t been able to do the last 15 years.
For me, ESPN was kind of a half step. I live here in Connecticut, so I’m an hour and 15 minutes away from Bristol. I can still be part of the game. I can be close enough to the game and not lose touch, but still not be in that daily grind where you’re in it every single day. That’s kind of why I retired. But I will miss opening day. I’ll miss the opening-day jitters. I’ll miss, when I see the Yankees or one of my other former teams having a celebration after a walk-off hit, I’ll miss that type of stuff.
But like David said, I’m not going to miss the on 0 for 4s with three strikeouts. I’m not going to miss cross-country flights at 4 a.m. I’m not going to miss everything in my body hurting when I wake up in the morning. Those are things my stress level went from a 10 to a 1 pretty dramatically and pretty quickly after I retired. So that’s been really nice. And I won’t miss that part of it.
Q. David, do you feel the same thing in terms of your stress level?
DAVID ROSS: Yeah, no doubt. No doubt. I had some teammates too, some guys just out of baseball, they said you don’t realize how much stress you put on yourself on the daily grind of trying to perform at the highest level and the expectations you put on yourself.
So I can walk in the doors like I did yesterday and people are like, man, you look so happy. I was like, well, I don’t have to grind. I’m not in the middle of the grind. This is one of the longest Spring Trainings there is with the WBC, and these guys are ready to get out of here, talking to them, and ready to get the competition started.
I’m so glad I don’t have to be in the middle of that and worried about am I as prepared as I need to be to start a season and be accountable to my teammates and be ready for the road ahead. It’s a long, hard grind, especially when you’re trying to win championships.
Q. I’m just wondering what you both think of the elimination of the four-pitch intentional walk this year?
MARK TEIXEIRA: I don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s kind of dead time. It doesn’t happen that much. It’s going to be one of those things that by May no one’s going to say anything about it. It’s no biggy for me.
DAVID ROSS: Yeah, for me, for me, it’s not really a big deal. I just wish all the minor rule changes there just seems to be something new every year. That’s the thing that’s bothering me. We’ve got a great game. I wish they wouldn’t come in and try to nickel and dime a minute here, and a minute there and just come in and make some substantial changes that would help fix our game in the way that they want to fix.
Because I love the game of baseball, and I don’t mind a minor change like that. But I just feel like it’s just kind of their way of saying we did something to help speed up the game. When for me, it’s really not got a whole lot of substance to it.
Q. Opening day coming up, and it is actually going to be the 10th anniversary of the Mark Mallory opening day pitch in Cincinnati, the possibly worst pitch ever. I was wondering if you had any memories of that pitch? I know you’re getting ready to go out with Harang for the real opening first pitch?
DAVID ROSS: I remember seeing the highlights after, and my biggest memory was Eric Davis’s face when he threw it back, and he looked back at him and was like, what was that? What just happened? I can’t believe they’re going to celebrate that, that cracks me up.
It definitely was all over the news, and I think it’s still one of the worst first pitches ever in the history of Major League Baseball. But I’ll never forget Davis’s face looking back like what was that?
Q. You’ve had to catch some ceremonial first pitches before, is that usually a challenge? Is it different? And did you ever have anything close to one that bad?
DAVID ROSS: I’ve never had one close to that bad. But you’re definitely on your toes. You never know what you’re going to get. You don’t know the ego of the person out there throwing it. If they’re out there to have fun and just lob it in or if they’re going to show how hard they can throw it or if they can even get it to you.
So you’ve got to be on your toes for those first pitches. So they’re out there, and everybody’s celebrating them and they’re announcing them, and there’s one little moment on a mound in Major League in front of all those people. So you want to make sure that you try to help them out. We used to boo guys in Atlanta when they’d come back and let the ball get by them, the first pitch to the rookie. So you have to make sure you keep it in front of you and make the pitcher look good.
Q. You didn’t boo Eric, did you?
DAVID ROSS: No (laughing). No, there’s no chance. You could have dove for that ball, and you couldn’t get that thing. It almost went in the dugout.
Q.The last few years the Cubs have started the season with veterans catches to go with the veteran staff. This year they’re transitioning to a catcher, Willson Contreras who is very gifted but also young and relatively new to the position. Looking back on your own career, how difficult is that transition for both the catcher and the pitchers? Do you think it will take some time to get on the same page?
MARK TEIXEIRA: You know, Willson, I think, is going to have a pretty much seamless transition. The great thing I had coming up when I was with the Dodgers, I had a veteran staff like Hideo Nomo, Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort. I had a ton of guys with experience. I think that’s what Willson’s coming into here. You’ve got guys with six rings between Jon Lester and John Lackey, and now Jake Arrieta with two no-hitters and now a ring, and a guy that almost won the Cy Young in Kyle Hendricks, you have a veteran staff on the mound that can help lead, help teach, and help keep his emotions in check.
Because I think the game calling will be, you know, the most difficult part because you just need experience. You need experience when a guy beats you in a certain situation. Maybe he was looking for a certain pitch or you just kind of stayed with the scouting report and didn’t read the swing.
So I think those are going to be the biggest challenges for Willson, but I don’t see it being a problem with the experience of the staff. There is so much experience there in both leagues. I think he’s going to learn a lot this year. There will be some challenges here and there, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything for an extended period of time.
Q. I wanted to ask you, you’re kind of following in the footsteps of some iconic catchers who became baseball analysts, Joe Garagiola, Tim McCarver, and sort of the legendary Bob Uecker. I was wondering, have you thought about or would you just go into creating your own personality? Or is that going to take time? You’ll be covering the games, talking about the games and see what develops from there?
DAVID ROSS: Yeah, I feel like I have a unique perspective because there are not a whole lot of catching analysts in the media and on TV. I think it’s a different point of view that I’m able to give. I know pitching and catching very well. Not so much the fielding side, but I think that I’m going to have a unique point of view.
I’m just going to try to be myself when it comes to personality. If I start trying to be somebody else or create something that’s unnatural, then I’m going to be awkward and not have fun. I’m going to be myself and kind of lay it out there and be open and honest. I’m kind of open and honest, what you see, what you get kind of guy, so I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully people are attracted to that and enjoy listening to me.
Q. There is a rumor that catchers are smarter than other players because so many of them become managers. Is that true?
DAVID ROSS: I promise you that I’m not smarter than the guy on the other line here on this phone call. I mean, his vocabulary already impresses me. I just try to be me. I’m a back-up catcher. I wasn’t a superstar. I wasn’t some big-time player that put up great numbers.
I have a unique perspective because of the many roles I’ve played and being around some great champions and having two rings in two big markets. So I do know about winning and what that looks like, and I know losing because I know what that looks like too. So I just want to give my perspective on things and hopefully people enjoy that.
Media contacts: Ben Cafardo at 860-766-3496 or [email protected]. On Twitter: @Ben_ESPN;
Michael Skarka at 860-766-1342 or [email protected]. On Twitter: @Michael_ESPN.