Where Dustin Pedroia is right now, battling chronic injuries and trying to fight his way back to baseball?
David Wright has been there.
What Dustin Pedroia is thinking right now, weighing the cost of constant rehab versus the possibility of retirement?
David Wright has been there.
What the Red Sox and Pedroia are facing right now, mapping the future for a franchise icon whose playing ability is in question, yet who is saddled with a hefty, lengthy contract?
David Wright and the Mets have been there.
When we learned this week that Pedroia, the veteran Red Sox second baseman, had suffered a significant setback with his left knee and that his chance to play baseball again appears unlikely, baseball observers were quick to bring up Wright, and not simply to show similar career numbers.
The manner in which Wright’s career ended also feels remarkably similar. After playing his entire 14-year career in New York, Wright was forced to leave the game because of chronic injuries, his back the worst among them.
Wright’s final years were swallowed by endless rehab appointments, the desire to exhaust every possible avenue to return pushing the third baseman and team captain through many, many painful days. When that proved impossible, Wright rejoined the team in the final weeks of the 2018 season so he could make one last, emotional appearance in uniform, starting a September game against the Marlins and departing after four innings to a lengthy, heartfelt standing ovation.
Might Wright see a little bit of himself in his longtime friend from Boston?
“I completely understand what he’s going through,” Wright said in a phone conversation, taking time from a schedule that still requires a daily regimen to loosen his back, but mostly involves keeping up with his two young daughters.
“I think as a competitor — and I’ve talked to Dustin about this particular subject because ultimately it’s got to be his decision — but I think everyone that’s competed, especially for us at the highest level of the game, everyone’s endgame and everyone’s goal is to go out on our own terms. We want to go out when we want to go out, and for me at least, that was the difficult part, where it was my body telling me I can’t do it anymore.
“It’s almost like when I was going through the different issues and surgeries and trying to come back, my mind was telling me, ‘You can do it, you can do it, you can do it,’ and my heart was saying, ‘You can do it, you can do it, you can do it,’ but then you’re body is telling you, ‘No you can’t, no you can’t, no you can’t.’
“It took quite some time for my body, my heart, and my mind to match up.”
Rarely is there a seamless, easy path out of professional sports, a livelihood these athletes have dreamed of since childhood, an achievement that hasn’t simply earned them riches but in so many ways has defined their existence.
Letting go is hard, and why wouldn’t it be? As the 42-year-old Tom Brady likes to remind us, he loves playing a game for a living. When injury removes choice from the equation, the path out can be even more difficult.
Yet more than just being one part cautionary tale, what’s also interesting about Wright’s situation for Red Sox fans and front office members is whether it can be one part road map too.
Wright and Pedroia are represented by the same agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, who were instrumental in making Wright’s exit from the Mets both gracious and fair. The two sides came to an unusual agreement to ease his salary burden on the team, but also allow Wright to get the money he would have forfeited had he just walked away, a deal that involved placing Wright on waivers while simultaneously hiring him as a special adviser. The specifics as they relate to luxury taxes and in-house payroll needs might differ, but the heart of the matter is the same: Find something that works for both sides.
“The Mets certainly did that, and I hope they think the same about me, what I gave the team on the field, that it’s a mutual respect,” Wright said.
Wright, 37, made 6,872 regular-season plate appearances, and Baseball Reference has his career WAR at 50.4. Pedroia, 36, has made 6,777 regular-season plate appearances, and Baseball Reference has his career WAR at 51.7.
This is not to speak for Pedroia, whose decision about retirement is entirely his own, but the similarities are striking, and perhaps ongoing, if Pedroia and the Red Sox start negotiating an exit strategy.
“For Dustin, yes, I hope that he gets to the point where if he can play again, great, but if not that he can sleep well at night that he did everything he could to come back,” Wright said.
“Looking back on his career — Rookie of the Year, MVP, World Series winner — it’s a laundry list of accolades. To me, he’s certainly one of my favorite players in the game, and I’m not just saying that as a friend, I’m saying that from competing against him — the work ethic, the drive, the way he went about his business.
“I’m rooting for him to come back, and certainly if it doesn’t happen, I’m hoping he has peace of mind.
“I can’t speak on Dustin’s behalf, but for me, what happened with the injuries allowed me to know 1,000 percent that I just physically couldn’t do it, because if I had given up earlier, if I hadn’t exhausted the possibilities and those avenues I went down, I would sit here today and say, ‘Oh man, what if.’ ”