fb-pixel Skip to main content
Chad Finn

To appreciate Dustin Pedroia and what he gave to the Red Sox, let’s go back to the beginning

Dustin Pedroia (right), after hitting a home run in his first at-bat of a September 2013 game against the Orioles, gets teased by David Ross.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The official ending came Monday. Unofficially, it ended long before that.

Dustin Pedroia retired from the Red Sox Monday at 37 years old. The record shows his final major league game was a 5-3 loss to the Yankees on April 17, 2019. He flied out to right field in the top of the second inning off J.A .Happ, then departed before the bottom half with “left knee soreness.”

The knee, ravaged by a dirty slide by the Orioles’ Manny Machado in April 2017, wasn’t right. It never would be again.

Pedroia’s goodbye came 657 days after that final appearance, further confirmation of just how agonizing it must have been to stop fighting the internal rage against reality. The knee was shot, never to cooperate again. There was no miracle to be mustered.

Advertisement



“You’ve got to understand, they’re the best fans ever,” he said during a Zoom call Monday, during which he revealed he’d undergone a partial knee replacement. “On a Tuesday night, there’s 37,000 people there, and they’re going crazy.

“And I got a chance to do it as long as I did. To do it one more time, yeah, of course, I’d do anything to have that opportunity. But I can’t. I can’t run. That part will always hurt me.

“I wish I had one more time, but I don’t regret anything. It is what it is. I’m OK. I just have to take everything I’ve learned and built up and all the energy I have, I have to give it to other people now. That’s how I can help. But I’m OK.”

Pedroia leaves the game, reluctantly, as a .299 career hitter with an .805 OPS.Jim Davis

In his 14-season career, Pedroia played the way you knew you would if only you had the gifts — all-out all the time, with passion for the game as the fuel. It was said he played with a chip on his shoulder, but it’s more precise to say the chip played with a Pedroia.

Advertisement



He was Tanner Boyle with elite hand-eye coordination, a supreme defender at second base and a line-drive machine as a hitter — oh yes, he will have a very real Hall of Fame case in five years — who just happened to look like the short, follicle-challenged guy in front of you in the Dunkin’ line every morning.

It’s a bummer it ended this way, with a scar on his knee and a much smaller one on his image, the result of a misguided comment during a brushback battle with Machado’s Orioles during that fateful 2017 series. Pedroia has been a fading shadow for two seasons, someone discussed in regard to the spot he held on the 40-man roster and his salary’s effect on the payroll rather than as one of the great players in Red Sox history.

Perhaps now that his career is formally in the past tense, the achievements — 2007 American League Rookie of the Year, 2008 AL Most Valuable Player, four Gold Gloves, four All-Star appearances, three World Series titles (though he played just three games for those 2018 champs) — will be appreciated in full, and the conclusion that he is one of the greatest players in franchise history will be agreed upon without much debate.

A career .299 hitter with an .805 OPS, he provided the Red Sox with 51.6 wins above replacement (according to Baseball-Reference), putting him right on the Hall of Fame fringe. I’ll vote for the first time right around the time he becomes eligible, and I can assure you he has one vote waiting.

Advertisement



At the very least, he is one of the finest, most determined, and easily appreciated players in Red Sox history, and his No. 15 should someday have a place on the right-field facade.

But in this moment of finality, as we tug on threads of context in the attempt to provide perspective, it’s not so much the end I’m thinking about as the beginning. I’ll admit it if you will: I wasn’t sold on him in the beginning, and don’t try to tell me I was alone.

He never rated higher than 77th (Baseball America, 2006) in the annual top 100 prospects ratings. He struggled mightily in his first big-league trial, hitting .137 with a .450 OPS through his first 19 games in September 2006. He finished that season at .191 with a .561 OPS in 98 plate appearances, and wasn’t much better to start 2007, hitting .180 through May 2.

There’s probably evidence out there somewhere of me referring to him around this time as a cockier Jeff Frye.

Then, it clicked. Over the next four games, he went 9 for 14, raising his average to .267. For the next decade and then some, even through the injuries, he never really stopped hitting. The laser show was spectacular, wasn’t it?

While Pedroia’s 2008 MVP season was his individual crowning achievement, that ’07 breakthrough was special, his bat and his mouth cracking equally loud. My long-held contention is that the ’07 Red Sox roster — with the Manny Ramirez/David Ortiz/Jason Varitek core from the world-changers in ’04 bolstered by Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, and the first gleaming products of Theo Epstein’s player development machine — was the most complete in franchise history.

Advertisement



The World Series win in 2007 — a 4-0 sweep of the Rockies — was almost an afterthought, with some of the specifics having faded from mind over the years as Boston sports teams overflowed the mental scrapbooks with so many championship memories.

But there’s one thing we all remember, right? Pedroia’s tone-setting leadoff home run in Game 1 against Rockies lefty Jeff Francis, then his totally in-character declaration the next day when a Coors Field security guard questioned whether he was really a player.

“Ask Jeff Francis who I am,” said Pedroia, and I don’t include the expletive he deployed there because this is a family publication and I’m not certain whether he utilized it as a verb, noun, or adjective.

Dustin Pedroia talked a good game. He played a better one, until his body would not cooperate any longer. His goodbye came Monday, nearly two years after his last appearance in an MLB game, and 15 years after his first.

We wish it could have lasted longer. But were we ever lucky to have all of that time to enjoy who he was.

Advertisement



More coverage


Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.