Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Every once in a while it’s good for we sports fans to stop and count our blessings.
I’m sure most Patriots fans don’t need to be reminded how fortunate we are to have had Tom Brady in our midst all these years. The same should probably go for anyone who loves hockey. Patrice Bergeron is pretty darn good. And in his two-plus years as a Celtic, Isaiah Thomas has done some things we’ve never seen before, with the expectation that there are plenty more exciting nights to come.
This being the height of baseball season, I deem it appropriate to salute a player who ranks among the best we’ve ever known around here — and we’ve known plenty of great ones around these here parts.
So just in case you need a reminder, I am asking you to never, ever, ever take Dustin Pedroia for granted.
For decades it was a given that one position on the Red Sox All-Time Team on which there could be no argument was second base. There resides a Hall of Famer, Bobby Doerr. But I don’t think it’s heretical to suggest that we may have to take a second look. Dustin Pedroia might be worthy of being that second baseman.
There will be no need to denigrate Doerr, who in case you didn’t know is the oldest living Hall of Famer at 99. He was a wonderful player, and he didn’t get a chance to fill out his résumé the way it should have been because he was forced into retirement at age 33 by a recurrent back problem, one I’m guessing modern medical science might have remedied.
Doerr’s career ran from 1937 through 1951. He was a run producer who drove in 100-plus runs six times, peaking with 120 in his penultimate season. He had 223 homers, 381 doubles, and double figures in triples four times. He had a career OPS of .823, and an impressive walk-strikeout comparison of 809-608.
I’m going to rely on anecdotal evidence to discuss his fielding. The people I knew who saw him play said he was a terrific fielder. My great friend Jack Craig frequently rhapsodized about how easy Doerr made things look in the field. The man could play baseball; there is no doubt.
Dustin Pedroia can play this game, too. He is not the RBI man Doerr was. But he’s already got more career doubles and he will wind up scoring more runs. What should be very interesting and telling to you analytics folk out there is that as of this past Friday each man had the same career OPS+ of 115. I do find that fascinating.
I know it sounds lamely clicheish, but the argument for Pedroia centers on the fact that he cannot possibly be defined by his numbers, but by his impact. And it is difficult for me to believe that any Red Sox second baseman has ever been more impactful on a day-in, day-out basis than Dustin Pedroia, and, yes, that includes the great Bobby Doerr.
Doerr was, by all accounts, gentlemanly and efficient. Such sparks as would fly in the Red Sox dugout and clubhouse in Doerr’s day would emanate from one Theodore Samuel Williams, thank you very much. Doerr came in, did his job, and departed — quietly.
That is not the case with Dustin Pedroia. If he’s around, you know he’s around. It’s not that he’s loud and boisterous. No, he’s just fidgety. He is a classic bundle of energy. And that energy is directed in one pursuit. Dustin Pedroia arrives at the ballpark every day with one and only one goal — to win that day’s ballgame. And everyone knows it.
He has hit just about everywhere in the lineup. He started out at the bottom of the order. In the months of April and May of 2007 he batted 37 times in the ninth spot and once in the eighth. Then came that fateful at-bat in Texas.
The turning point in Dustin Pedroia’s career came on Sunday, May 27, 2007. He was in there against the fearsome Eric Gagne. Gagne tried everything he could think of in terms of repertoire and location to get rid of this little pest. Eight pitches . . . nine pitches . . . 10 pitches . . . 11 pitches . . . foul, foul, foul, foul. Finally, Dustin Pedroia teed off on pitch No. 12, sending it deep into the left-field stands for what proved to be the winning run. That was the actual beginning of his campaign for Rookie of the Year, and the actual beginning of his brilliant Red Sox career.
By June, manager Terry Francona had placed in him in the two-hole. It wouldn’t be that long before he would be asked to bat cleanup, and he even took to that. The fact is you can hit him anywhere you like and expect a professional at-bat. No matter where you put him, you can reasonably expect him to put the ball in play because Pedroia is one of the hardest men in baseball to strike out. As of Friday, he had 634 career strikeouts and 611 walks. This year he had racked up more walks (39) than K’s (31).
What can we say about his fielding, except that nothing he does can surprise us? He ranges to his right. He ranges to his left. He goes back. He comes in. He is a superb double play man with a great arm. He’s got four Gold Gloves for his mantle, and he probably deserved two or three more.
The Red Sox always felt they had something special. He was a star in both high school (with zero K’s while hitting .445 as a senior) and at Arizona State (where he was a teammate of Ian Kinsler and Andre Ethier). His size — OK, I’ve been burying the lead — did not faze them. When he hit .191 in a 31-game trial back in 2006 and got off to a very rocky start in ’07, the brass watched him work and thought it was just a matter of time.
Said Theo Epstein at the time, “Our expectations were that his gifts — hand-eye coordination, plate discipline, hands, instincts, confidence, work ethic, guts — would far outweigh his physical limitations — size, speed — as they did in college and every level of minor league ball. I think it’s safe to say those expectations have been met.”
He’s not big and he plays hard and it stands to reason he’s going to get hurt. In fact, any down period he’s ever had can always be attributable to injury. But they don’t come any tougher. We know about his documented injuries. We’ll never know about the others, and we know there have been plenty.
What we do know is that the Red Sox are not the same team without him, and that when he is as hot as he’s been since the All-Star break he is an utter joy to watch. Because, there, ladies and gentlemen, is a pure, honest-to-God ballplayer, and we are very lucky to have him.
Ted loved and respected Bobby Doerr. I think he would have filed the adoption papers for Dustin Pedroia.
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