A series dedicated to recalling the many players that won’t make Cooperstown but gave us, the fans hall of fame memories filled with great pleasure, happiness and enjoyment.
I will calmly wait for my induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Don't I have the numbers to be inducted?
Coming into professional baseball, all players regardless of their backgrounds, prospectus status and statistical history (both high school & collegiately) have something to demonstrate. However when drafted by the Red Sox in the 2nd round of the 2004 first year player draft, Dustin Pedroia had even more to prove. Something which would likely never change but something that would be stained against him for the entirety of his career; his physique.
Having been raised in Woodland, California a town northwest of Sacramento, Pedroia excelled on the diamond growing up; notably not striking out during the entirety of his senior season at Woodland High School. His .445 batting average and MVP recognition within his high school league meant a scholarship to Arizona State (ASU) was on the cards.
Just like so many others at ASU (Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, Andre Ethier & Ian Kinsler) Pedroia would excel offensively within the PAC-10 collegiate league turning in a freshman slash line of .347/.417/.432 with 16 extra base hits and just 19 strikeouts over 236 at-bats. With Ian Kinsler at 2B, Pedroia was forced to relocate to SS; a position he had never played before.
Pedroia would continue to dominate at the plate in both his sophomore and junior years at ASU forming a close friendship with teammate and fellow inductee of the Sun Devils Wall of Fame; Andre Ethier. Having declared for the draft in the spring of 2004 relinquishing his senior year in Tempe, Pedroia ended his collegiate career with a slash line of .299/.365/.439, 14HRs, 146 RBI and 212 runs scored.
At just 5”9 and 180lbs what Pedroia lacked in sized and physical stature, he more than accounted for with heart and passion for the sport of baseball. Having been drafted by Boston in the summer of 2004 with the 65th overall pick which carried a $575,000 slot bonus, Pedroia was assigned to the Augusta Greenjackets, the Red Sox’ A affiliate in the South Atlantic league. When reporting, Chad Epperson then the Greenjackets manager left a supposed famous voicemail to the Red Sox front office asking whether they had sent the right guy and whether Pedroia was actually the Sox’s top pick in the recent draft.
The tale’s regarding Pedroia’s size (or lack of) didn’t stop there. Kevin Millar, now one of the leading faces of MLB Network famously jested with GM Theo Epstein "you mean to tell me your scouts have the whole country, 50 states, every high school and every college in America and this is who they come back with?” having seen the recently drafted infielder take BP at Fenway Park.
But none of this mattered. Pedroia’s sheer grit and determination to squeeze every last drop of production and talent from his physical make up levelled the playing field. His heart added 6 inches to his frame.
His hot collegiate bat translated immediately to the professional game as he took to pro pitching like a duck to water hitting .400 with Augusta in LoA and .336 with Sarasota in A+ during his 2004 season. Interestingly the Red Sox chose to keep Pedroia at SS following on from his days with ASU at the same position.
Pedroia’s immediate success within against professional pitching in 2004 meant he was fast tracked to AA Portland to begin the 2004 season in the East Coast League. The Sea Dogs were arguably the most talented AA affiliate in baseball carrying names such as Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Hanley Ramirez and Brandon Moss all of which would become future MLB All-Stars. Despite having spent the last 2 seasons (1 collegiate & 1 rookie ball season) at SS, the Red Sox moved Pedroia back to his home at 2nd base; largely because they had a top 10 prospect in baseball at SS with Hanley Ramirez.
A rise in the quality of pitching and opposition from A to AA wasn’t enough to slow a red hot Pedroia as the undersized middle 2nd baseman slashed an incredible .324/.409/.508 with more extra base hits (29) than strikeouts (27) in 66 games. That was all it would take, 66 games and 256 at-bats for Dustin Pedroia to progress through AA before being promoted to AAA Pawtucket for the second half of the 2005 season.
In case you’re wondering or indeed counting; it took Pedroia just 108 games and 413 at-bats to progress from LoA Augusta to AAA Pawtucket.
Despite initially seeing his average fall to .255 and his BABIP from .335 to .255 in the 51 games he played with Pawtucket to conclude the 2005 season, Pedroia continued grind at bats at a level way above his age and comparative experience. Amazingly his strikeout rate fell from 8.7% in AA Portland to just 7.08% with AAA Pawtucket, a real sign that Pedroia was well on his way in developing into one of the best contact hitters of his generation.
Having not spent Spring Training with the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Pedroia began his 2006 season with Pawtucket back in the International League. It was a season where Pedroia made great strides at the plate slashing .305/.384/.426 with 129 hits in just 111 games. Notably his k-rate would fall to an astounding 5.48% as he struck out just 27 times in 423 at-bats. During this quite incredible season, Pedroia doubled 30 times, triple 3 more whilst hitting 5 home-runs.
As a result of Pedroia’s 27 strikeouts, 38 extra base hits and 48 walks, he was called up to make his Red Sox debut on the road against the Los Angeles of Anaheim on 22nd August 2006. Interestingly, Pedroia would debut at shortstop, a position he would start just 6 games at in his Red Sox career; all of which came in 2006.
He would slash .191/.258/.303 with 2 HRs in the 31 games he played to finish the 2006 season, a season which saw the Red Sox miss the postseason finishing with an 86-76 record.
Coming into the 2007 season, Baseball America prospect handbook had Pedroia ranked as Boston’s 7th best prospect drawing a strong comparison with former World Series MVP- David Ekstein with the evaluation “Pedroia has some of the best hand-eye co-ordination in baseball. That allows him to make consistent contact while swinging from his heels which in turn gives him gap power”.
Despite coming into the season ranked as the organizations 7th best prospect, Pedroia would defy his prospect scouting report in 2007 as he turned in a superb season which saw him rewarded with AL Rookie of the Year accolades. In 139 games, Pedroia would slash .317/.380/.442 and .822 OPS with 8HRS and 47 walks (42 strikeouts).
However Pedroia’s season wouldn’t finish there. He and Jacoby Ellsbury would form an all-conquering 1-2 tandem for the Sox as they conquered all who stood in front of them during the 2007 postseason. Boston would sweep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim before beating Cleveland 4-3 in the American League Championship series to earn themselves their 2nd appearance in the World Series in just 4 years.
Boston would go on to sweep the Rockies in the World Series with Pedroia playing an integral part, notably becoming the second man in history to lead the off the World Series with a home run. It really was the perfect rookie season for Boston’s new second baseman.
Despite winning rookie of the year honours, Pedroia was still faulted for his lack of size. He was notably stopped before game 3 of the fall classic by a security guard who mistook the phenom for an intruder rather than a player. Instead of producing ID, Pedroia exclaimed to the man that he was the guy who
“who took Jeff Francis onto the Mass Pike in game 1. How's that?”
Having seemingly achieved everything possible during his rookie campaign, Pedroia went from strength to strength in his second year hitting .326 with 17 HRs in 158 games. Not only offensively brilliant, Pedroia flourished back at his more familiar second base committing just 6 errors, good enough to earn himself his first of four Rawlings Gold Gloves. Collectively his offensive and defensive performance combined for a fWaR of 6.5, a key stat within him winning the 2008 American League MVP.
He joined Cal Ripken Jr and Ryan Howard as the only people in baseball history to win Rookie of the year and MVP honours in the first two years of his career. Kris Bryant would become the fourth member of the club in 2016.
Boston’s new fan favourite would begin the 2009 with a 6-year contract worth $40.5m. His slash line of .296/.371/.447 was enough to earn him a back to back selection to the All-Star game. Amazingly by the end of his third full season in the Major Leagues, Pedroia had walked 177 times compared to just 146 strikeouts. He had become one his generations best contact hitters in just 3 years within the show.
2010 saw Pedroia battle the first of his many injuries which would unfortunately come to tarnish the large part of his career. Just one day removed from going 5-5 against the Rockies with 3HRs and 5RBI, Pedroia would foul a ball of his foot; a blow which would ultimately break a bone within his foot and cost him the rest of the season (barring 2 games in August).
He would return to his 2008 dominance in 2011 as he posted a fWaR of 7.6 in a season which saw him hit .307/.387/.474 with 21HRs and a 25 game hit streak (the longest for a Red Sox 2B). Amazingly his quite incredible season was enough to register any 1st place votes within AL MVP voting as he finished 9th behind Justin Verlander, Michael Young, Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and teammate’s Jacoby Ellsbury & Adrian Gonzalez.
A culmination of a stellar 2012 and an ever changing roster which saw the salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford. Josh Beckett (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Kevin Youkilis (Chicago White Sox) traded away. The financial flexibility gained as a consequence of breaking up the payroll meant an extension was on the cards for Pedroia.
On 23rd July 2013, Pedroia and the Red Sox agreed to an 8-year extension worth $110m. He would reward the front office's faith in him with his 3rd Rawlings Gold Glove and slash line of .301/.372/.415 with 9HRs and 84 RBI.
2013 would get even sweeter for Pedroia as the Red Sox would win both the American League pennant and World Series, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals over 6 games in the Fall Classic. It was a fitting end to an emotional year for Boston as just months earlier, the city had fallen victim to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. What followed was a seemingly written in the stars season bearing the tag #BostonStrong.
Pedroia was collectively joined throughout the 2013 season by the likes of David Ortiz, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Mike Napoli, John Lackey, Brandon Workman and Clay Bucholz as a group infamous for growing excessive facial hair.. The act became a season defining symbol with the players often seen pulling and tugging on one another’s beard following a HR or important RBI.
The accolades didn’t stop coming for the Red Sox second baseman. 2014 saw him record his 100th career HR, a further appearance at the All-Star game and his fourth Gold Glove making him the first Red Sox infielder ever to win 4 of them. Despite the defensive hardware, Pedroia seemingly regressed at the plate in 2014 as his average fell below his career (.299) to just .278 as he struck out 75 times the second highest of his career in just 135 games.
Having slumped within the grand scheme of his career in 2014 & 2015, Pedroia bounced back to his very best in 2016 hitting .318 with 201 hits, 36 doubles, 15 HRs and 74RBI helping the Red Sox on their way to winning the AL East pennant. Despite a 93 win season, the Red Sox would be swept by Cleveland in the 2016 ALDS. That off-season, Pedroia would be rewarded with the best defensive accolade of his career; Wilson Defensive player of the Year for 2B.
Despite his toughness and ability to continually play one of the sports more physically demanding positions, Pedroia’s body was slowly beginning to fail. November 2013 saw him undergo thumb surgery to repair a torn UCL, a nagging hamstring injury would curtail his 2015 season and his 2016 season would finish with left knee surgery, a partial medial meniscectomy and chondroplasty.
However the worst of them all came in 2017 when then Orioles 3B, Manny Machado slid into the infielders knee. Having already previously undergone surgery to repair a torn meniscus in October 2016, Pedroia was already compromised in his left knee.
His 2017 season was condensed to just 105 games thanks to knee inflammation which required further surgery in October. Things got eventually worse as surgical reconstruction meant Pedroia was limited to just 9 games over the 2018 and 2019 seasons leaving him on the side-lines for Boston’s 3rd Championship during his tenure with the club.
Having earmarked the 2020 season for a potential return to the diamond, the veteran unfortunately broke down with a “serious setback” in January 2020 as he prepared for the Red Sox Spring Training.
With multiple failed rehab assignments with AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket it’s beginning to seem that Pedroia’s return to the Major Leagues is looking gradually less likely.
It remains to be seen whether Pedroia will ever professionally grace the turf of Fenway Park or any other diamond for that matter ever again. However if that is it, Dustin Pedroia will go down as one of the greatest ever Red Sox. A player who played for the name on the front rather than the number on the back. A player who truly personified Boston as both a city and a culture. Gritty, tough, hardworking and honest. There was never going to be a what if left inside Pedroia at the end of his career. Not an ounce of unused talent, not an un perspired bead of sweat and not a glimmer of effort left in his heart.
Whether he makes Cooperstown is a question I don’t have the answer too and an answer I suspect won't be a popular one in Massachusetts. However I am sure there are many in Cooperstown who would without question trade their bronzed plaque for Dustin's 2 World Series, an MVP trophy and the admiration from a city famous for being baseball’s mecca.