Dustin Pedroia Calls It a Day

With his eyeblack, dirty uniform, lip-curling grin, and yes, short stature, Dustin Pedroia looked like a kid having the time of his life in the major leagues, and he played like someone would take it all away if he ever let up. In that time, he ran out every tapper to short and chased after every lost cause grounder up the middle. He lived and breathed the game, and if a little thing like a broken foot conspired to keep him out of the lineup, then he’d field grounders on his knees, dammit.

That chapter of his life is now over, as Pedroia announced his retirement on Monday, ending an illustrious career after 14 seasons with the Red Sox. His remote press conference made for an impersonal sunset, though I suppose there’s no more appropriate transition into full-time dad-life than awkwardly pausing mid-presentation while middle-aged adults fiddle with the audio settings on their laptops.

While Pedroia officially hung up his cleats yesterday, an early retirement was inevitable from the time he underwent knee replacement surgery last December, and really ever since Manny Machado’s spikes stripped the cartilage off of his femur back in 2017. At the time, we didn’t know how devastating that slide would prove. He only missed three games at first, and his numbers were mostly good over the rest of the season.

But the damage to his knee caused extraordinary pain all year long and required multiple trips to the Injured List. Pedroia was no stranger to battling through injuries — he played the entire 2013 season with a torn UCL in his thumb and many other maladies before and after. This was different though. The damaged knee noticeably limited his mobility and sapped his power. He said that playing through the thumb injury was “like a massage” by comparison, and he never recovered from exerting so much pressure on his knee that year. Extensive rehab got him on the field for bits and pieces of the 2018 and ’19 seasons, but only as a shell of himself. This winter’s knee replacement has allowed Pedroia to walk without pain again, but at a heavy cost: Just 37 years old, he’ll never be able to run again.

Yesterday’s announcement marks end of a remarkable career that nobody saw coming, aside perhaps from Pedroia himself. In high school, teams mostly wrote him off, and even during his Arizona State days, few clubs projected him as more than a good utility player. His size played an outsized role in that, and you can understand why scouting directors were leery of over-investing in the 5-foot-8 guy whose unlikely power could be reasonably credited to aluminum bats.

Still, there were hints all along that Pedroia had star potential. As an amateur, he walked right into Arizona State’s lineup as a freshman and started every game for the next three seasons. After a decorated college career that included a fifth-place finish in the Golden Spikes balloting, the Red Sox drafted him in the second round of the 2004 draft and gave him a $550,000 bonus to sign. Barely two years later, he’d rocketed through Boston’s system and into the big leagues.

Major league arms ate his lunch at first. Pedroia hit .190 with no pop in 31 games in 2006 and then started with a frosty .182/.308/236 slash line the following April. His glove and infectious energy helped him stick around though, and in early May his bat found life: A hit and a walk against Seattle, two more hits the next day in Minnesota, seven in the three games after that, including a dinger. Footing found, Pedroia went on to win the Rookie of the Year in 2007, and help lead the Red Sox to their second championship in four years.

Playing with the zeal of a Little Leaguer in one of baseball’s biggest markets, Pedroia’s star quickly took off. He became famous for the measured but furious sprints around each base, the singles he hustled into doubles, the zip on each of his throws, the extension he got on his dives, and of course the swing. The swing. Each cut looked like a determined effort to prove that his bat wasn’t too big for him. He put every ounce into his swings, dipping his back knee nearly into the dirt as his left foot lunged forward and a little toward third base, and then, with the energy and desperation of someone who recalled all the times his skill had been in doubt, he snapped his hips into action and swung with all his might. You wouldn’t teach it that way, but with incredibly strong wrists and 80-grade hand-eye coordination, he made it an iconic swing.

It’s hard to overstate how good he was at getting the bat on the ball. Over his first eight seasons, he walked more than he struck out, and he finished his career with a 9.7% strikeout rate. It’s a different game now than when Pedroia came up, but for sake of comparison, Tommy La Stella was the only player in the league last year to post a lower whiff rate than Pedroia’s career figure. Pedroia’s contact skills are all the more impressive given the swing: With a couple of moving parts, an unconventional stride, and an all-effort hack, his ability to be short to the ball may have been his best attribute.

If he hadn’t done so already, Pedroia secured his place in Red Sox lore in 2008. He played excellent defense at the keystone, batted .326/.376/.493 (127 wRC+) and finished with 6.4 WAR. In perhaps the most muddled MVP field in recent memory, Pedroia’s campaign was good enough to finish atop the pile, making him the first Red Sock to win it since Mo Vaughn in 1995.

Pedroia was so consistently good for so long that it’s somewhat tricky to define his prime. His best seasons were probably 2008 and 2011, but from his rookie campaign through 2016, Pedroia posted a wRC+ between 117 and 133 in every year but one, and only an injury in 2015 kept him from racking up more than 3 WAR each time.

Pedroia’s uncompromising style of play inevitably took a toll on his body. He cracked a hamate bone in 2007, and broke his foot in 2010. The latter injury put him on the shelf twice before he bowed to reality and had a screw surgically implanted into his foot. In the following few years, it was his fingers that bore the front of his hardscrabble play: the aforementioned torn UCL was preceded by a right thumb sprain, a torn ligament in his right pinkie, and a broken ring finger on his left hand. He also missed time with a hamstring strain, an abductor strain, a wrist sprain, and of course all of those knee problems these last few years. Somehow he played through most of those, even the broken foot for a brief stretch. Perhaps most impressively of all, the broken ring finger couldn’t keep him out of Bobby Valentine’s final two lineups in that dreadfully embarrassing 2012 season. While he missed plenty of time throughout his career, he also earned a reputation as a player who would grind through the wear and tear.

Nobody wired like that is destined to age gracefully into their 40s. While it’s thus a sad ending to an illustrious career, it’s the illustrious part that we should focus on today. In 14 seasons, Pedroia won three titles, an MVP, and Rookie of the Year. He earned a Silver Slugger and four Gold Gloves, made four All-Star teams, and probably should’ve graced three or four more. He accrued 46 WAR, all of it packed in the years from 2007 to 2017. He’ll have a fun Hall of Fame case five years from now — his peak was just about as good as Craig Biggio’s and Roberto Alomar’s — and we can only hope that the last nine games of his career, a stretch that saw his career batting average drop agonizingly from .300 to .299, won’t be the straw that costs him enshrinement.

To remember Pedroia for his Hall of Fame credentials, or even his biggest moments, is to miss what made him special though. He’ll be famous for homering in his first World Series at-bat, belting the dinger that got the 2007 club into the Fall Classic in the first place, saving Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter, and his contributions to two title winners, among other achievements. But for all of his considerable accolades and postseason heroics, Pedroia always seemed to shine brightest in the day-to-day moments that make a season, when he could raise the stakes of a foggy Tuesday night all by himself.

It was that passion that endeared him to the Red Sox and their fans. Many of his former teammates paid tribute to his competitiveness as they reacted to the announcement in a manner that, even by the standards of a typical retirement, was notably warm and appreciative. David Ortiz said Pedroia was the kind of player he’d buy a ticket to watch play, adding “I’m happy, thankful, grateful and proud that I was able to have a teammate like him.”

What will the ultimate competitor do with himself now? For the first time in his memory, Pedroia has no baseball game to prepare for, no muscles or bones to mend so that he can get back on the field. For such a passionate player, he’s planning for a very laid-back retirement of staying at home and coaching his kids.

We can only wish him well. Retirement is hard on most professional athletes, all the more so for ones cut down prematurely by injury. And if his retirement press conference is any indication, it will take more than knee surgery to extinguish the competitive fire that defined his career. Throughout the call, he referred back with pride to the exhausting rehab work he endured to play these past two years, even invoking the doubters as all the great ones seem to do:

“I played nine games when 90 percent of the doctors said there’s zero chance you could play,” Pedroia said. “I’m proud of that.”





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hombremomento
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hombremomento

Pedroia’s peak was exceptional; high batting average with homeruns and steals and some of- if not THE- best cornerstone defense in the league? Man, that little dude could ball. Sucks Manny Machado is the way Manny Machado is, with a few extra good seasons Pedroia could’ve solidified himself as a HOF 2B to voters.

Sonny L
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Member
Sonny L

It’s truly rotten that Manny Machado’s name appears in any recounting of Pedroia’s career. A lousy slide, one I imagine Machado feels terrible about, but it took away a great player’s twilight seasons.

bosoxforlife
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Member
bosoxforlife

I, as much a fan of Pedroia as any man living or dead, cannot forgive Machado. It is impossible for me to forget that soon after intentionally spiking Pedroia, Machado pulled another completely bush-league stunt when he attempted to either spike or trip Jesus Aquilar while running to 1st base. Machado is a scum bag.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Fangraphs has discussed the slide, and there were slow replays available. It is clear, to any reasonable and intelligent human being, that the slide on Pedroia, at least, was very unlikely to be malicious.

https://blogs.fangraphs.com/pedroias-possible-premature-parting/

bosoxforlife
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Member
bosoxforlife

Sorry, but the Aquilar incident convicts Machado.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

No, it vindicates him because it gives a baseline as to what Machado does when he’s sliding maliciously.

But then, I only said “reasonable and intelligent human beings”.

bglick4
Member
bglick4

I don’t know. I look over that slide. It was aggressive, but I don’t think it was dirty. Pedroia was forced into a bad position by the throw and Machado caught him bad. It was an unlucky sequence – a result of two players playing hard. This isn’t an Utley Tejeda situation.

Kervin
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Member
Kervin

I sort of agree with this. I’ve always considered the slide more negligent than intentionally harmful. I think Machado has a way of playing the game where he is either a little more physical than other players, or sometimes let’s his frustrations get the best of him. Like a guy being a little too generous with the elbows in pickup basketball game. That’s how I view some of the other instances at least (2018 playoffs with Aguilar and Pearce who were both good friends of his, 2014 Donaldson dust-up/bat throwing).

I don’t think he was trying to put Pedroia on the IL, and if he hadn’t cleated him I’m not sure Dustin’s knees would have held up all that much better… but also you can’t just be sliding your cleats into someone’s knee even by accident.

LHPSU
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LHPSU

Except the cleats never hit the knee. They hit Pedroia’s calf.

hombremomento
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hombremomento

Didn’t the spike directly tear his tendon from the bone?

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Because the calf is connected to the knee?