Dustin Pedroia made a career out of the impossible, defying doubters who said he was too small to be anything more than a good college player by being named American League Rookie of the Year in 2007, then Most Valuable Player a year after that.
The second baseman became one of the elite players in Red Sox history, helping lead them to two World Series championships while stacking up Gold Gloves and All-Star Game appearances.
But what Pedroia couldn’t do, ultimately, was defeat the toll all that took on his body.
After more than three years of trying to come back from debilitating pain in his left knee, the 37-year-old Pedroia walked away from baseball while he could still walk and announced his retirement Monday.
“Every day I woke up looking to find a way to help our team win a baseball game,” Pedroia said. “I got to do it in front of the best fans in the best city.”
The Red Sox remain responsible for the $12 million remaining on Pedroia’s contract, and its $13.3 million average annual value against their luxury-tax payroll. He is now off the 40-man roster.
Both sides can move on after three-plus years of false starts and what ultimately proved to be false hope.
“Dustin came to represent the kind of grit, passion, and competitive drive that resonates with baseball fans everywhere and especially with Red Sox fans,” said Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe. “He played the game he loves in service to our club, its principles and in pursuit of championships. Most of all we are forever grateful to him.”
Pedroia played only nine games from 2018-19, and none in 2020 because of his knee. He leaves the game a .299 career hitter with 140 home runs, 725 RBIs, 138 stolen bases, and an .805 OPS.
Pedroia is one of only 10 players in history with a Rookie of the Year, MVP, Gold Glove, and World Series title on his résumé, and the only player to accomplish all that in his first two full seasons.
“He was the ultimate team player,” said Terry Francona, Pedroia’s first manager with the Sox. “He always seemed to save his very best plays for the most important time of the game. He seemed to will himself at times to lead us to victory.”
Pedroia’s four Gold Gloves are the most for a Red Sox infielder, and he joins Carl Yastrzemski and Mookie Betts as the only players with at least 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases for the Sox.
Despite a big, power-hungry swing, he walked nearly as many times (624) as he struck out (654).
Only 10 players have appeared in more games for the Sox, and only seven have more hits. Pedroia’s 51 career postseason starts are tied for fifth all-time among major league second basemen.
Until Pedroia made his debut in 2006 after starring at Arizona State, Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr was unquestionably the best second baseman in Red Sox history. Now it’s up for discussion.
Doerr, who also came to the Red Sox from the West Coast, retired at age 33 after the 1951 season because of a back injury. For Pedroia, it was his knee.
Pedroia was initially injured in 2016, but played though it and had surgery following the season. Only 17 games into the 2017 season, Baltimore’s Manny Machado slid aggressively into Pedroia’s left leg trying to break up a double play and caused further damage.
The Sox saw it as a dirty play.
“I’m not upset about anything anymore,” said Pedroia. “That play could have happened in my rookie year. When you play second base and you play second like me, you hang on to the last possible second to get the ball.
“If there’s a slim chance at a double play, there’s one guy on planet Earth who can turn it and you’re talking to him. It happened.”
Pedroia finished out the season and hit .293, but five more surgeries followed, along with countless hours of rehabilitation and several rounds of minor league assignments to gauge whether he could play. All proved fruitless.
After giving up on a comeback attempt and returning home to Arizona, Pedroia had what was termed a “preservation procedure” on Aug. 6, 2019, and acknowledged three weeks later that his career could be over.
That changed a few months later, Pedroia telling the Red Sox he hoped to play again after restarting workouts. But on Monday, he described waking up one day in January 2020 again in pain, with his knee swollen.
“I went and saw the doctors,” he said. “It looked like an explosion went off in there. I was told I needed to get a partial knee replacement.”
Because of the pandemic, the surgery was postponed until December. Pedroia endured months of searing pain while he waited. He described not being able to climb the stairs in his home and needing to ice his knee if he stood for more than an hour.
“I wasn’t in a good place,” he said. “I grinded every day just to be able to play with my kids and just live a normal life. My knee was bad.”
The knee replacement has since given Pedroia a better quality of life. He’s walking without pain and able to coach his three sons.
It also forced him to finally acknowledge that his career was done.
“My children and my wife have been through a lot,” Pedroia said. “They’ve seen me through six surgeries. I was having a tough time.
“I think they were happy they get their dad to be home all the time. They need me.”
The Red Sox have left open the idea of giving Pedroia a title in the organization. For now, he will enjoy family life.
“I definitely want to be involved,” Pedroia said. “I don’t know what capacity yet. When all my boys are out of the house, that’s when things will change.”
Beyond his statistics and the championships, Pedroia was known for his all-out style. At 5 feet 9 inches, he played fearlessly, refusing to back down to any situation or opponent.
“I got to the point where I worried so much about him, the way he hustled, the way he played hard, his discipline,” former teammate David Ortiz said.
Pedroia was often cautioned by teammates or coaches to back off and save his body. He wouldn’t listen.
“I don’t have any regrets of anything,” he said. “I never took one play off, from Little League on.”
That swagger, while played for comic effect at times, was true to his personality.
“I know Pedey and how he is,” said Sox manager Alex Cora, Pedroia’s teammate from 2005–09. “But I had a front-row seat to see the Laser Show and it was amazing.”
There were occasional darker moments. Pedroia clashed with manager Bobby Valentine during the tumultuous 2012 season, and disagreed with manager John Farrell in ’17 over the clumsy way the pitching staff tried to retaliate against Machado following the takeout slide. But those were outliers.
“Best teammate, person, competitor and friend I ever had the privilege to see and play with,” former Sox lefthander Jon Lester said.
When asked what he wanted Sox fans to remember about his career, Pedroia had an answer ready.
“He did everything he could for his team. That’s it. That’s what I care about,” he said. “I hope I did that.”
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