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As a bullied youngster, I have massive amounts of appreciation for vertically challenged athletes. Muggsy Bogues, the 5’3″ point guard of Bill Murray’s Tune Squad; Imagine him and Isaiah making up a backcourt? The two of them attacking the ball on a double team would be like watching a March of the Penguins behind the scenes exclusive. Jose Altuve, another prime example: I’d bet my paycheck (currently unemployed) that he had coaches, teammates, friends and family doubt his abilities to thrive as a professional major leaguer, given his stature. Maurice Jones-Drew – another cross reference sport example – was an incredibly productive Pro Bowl running back that stood at 66 inches on a good day.
But in our neck of the woods, it’s Dustin Pedroia who is most notarized for succeeding in the face of height disparity.
Before The Laser Show nicknamed himself The Laser Show, Dustin batted .191 through 31 games in a short stint with the Sox in 2006. His rookie season, ’07, started out even more meagerly with a .182 average and a Cesar Crespo-esque two doubles through April and early May. Now, imagine if Terry Francona wasn’t managing the Boston Red Sox in 2007; there were 29 other managers in baseball, and we can’t assume with any certainty that any number of them would have let Pedey grind out his at bats, in search of the swing that had progressed him through the Sox minor league system. Some managers may have folded, settled into the “this kid just doesn’t have it” camp, benched him, demoted him, and the second baseman could have followed in the career footsteps of Wilton Veras, Donnie Sadler, or former number 1 Sox prospect, the late Andy Marte. But, Boston was blessed with Tito at the helm, and in just two full seasons as a Red Sox, Pedroia compiled a resume that most players couldn’t put together over 15 seasons: a Gold Glove trophy, Silver Slugger hardware, Rookie of the Year status, American League MVP, and World Series Champion.
In comparison, the Red Sox once had some guy named Bobby Doerr patrolling the second base bag, back in the World War II era. Doerr is one of baseball’s more accomplished offensive middle infielders of multiple generations, earning nine all stars and a Hall of Fame enshrinement, courtesy of six seasons (forgoing a full season at the prime age of 27 for military obligations) with at least 102 runs driven in, and retiring with a career OPS exceeding .820. But even he didn’t earn a Rookie of the Year honors, an MVP award, or a World Series ring. In fact, the argument could be made that when Pedroia decides to hang up his cleats, he may be a superior players than Doerr, as Pedey already has a higher career WAR, more stolen bases, more doubles, and will surpass Bobby in hits and runs if he can maintain some semblance of health over 2018 & 2019.
For years, the Red Sox searched for a double play partner to go alongside our invaluable second baseman. Hard to believe that despite all their years of combined servitude for Boston, Nomar and Pedroia never even took the field together. Furthermore, Garciaparra was traded just five weeks after the Sox selected Dustin in the amateur draft. To consider them teammates is barely a blip on the roster radar. The carousel of shortstops to play oppo the second base bag include Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, Marco Scutaro, future manager Alex Cora, Alex Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie, Mike Aviles, whoever the hell Nick Green is, and the youthful incumbent, Xander Bogaerts. Not quite Cleveland Browns quarterback status, but still, that’s a lot of double play partners to learn to play with. And yet, the Woodland, CA native remains rocksteady, compiling eight seasons out of a possible ten in which he surpassed 580 plate appearances. This is probably an opportune moment to note the statistical roundedness of Pedroia: he has exactly 6,000 at bats, and sits at a career batting average of precisely .300.
Of course, unless your name is Tom Brady, you’re not a perfect player or person. Dustin Pedroia has faced his share of criticism and backlash, whether it be referring to his hometown as a dump in an interview earlier in his career, or the “it wasn’t me” Machado drama this past April. In fact, 2017 wasn’t a banner year for Pedey by any sense of the definition; he only appeared in 105 games, and his slash line of .293/.369/.392 was well beneath his career average. Any inclinations that we had to possibly consider him to be a leader were expediently extinguished as the ball club clearly lacked the presence of a monarch all season long. This, made even more ominous by the unpleasant observation that David Price had unfortunately taken on the role of unofficial captaincy in the clubhouse.
But, there are three reasons as to why the leadership argument should be dropped regarding the future Red Sox hall of famer:
- It’s just not his cup of tea. The absence of Big Papi doesn’t automatically pass the torch of leadership onto Pedroia, whether he’s the elder statesman or not. Just because a team doesn’t have what we want as fans, doesn’t mean we can label a player what we want them to be, and then get upset when our expectations aren’t met. Maybe if John Farrell was the leadership type, which you’d expect out of a manager, he’d still be here.
- Pedroia does lead. He leads by example, as evident by his non stop hustle and tenacity, when either working the count against an oppositional ace, or sprawling out for a shallow pop up in the 8th inning of a blowout loss.
- Dombrowski has an entire offseason to find a chieftain somewhere else, and get him in a Sox uniform.
The measuring stick for Pedroia is simple: if there were nine of him taking the field over the course of 162, would that be a successful lineup? Outside of Betts, he’s the only Boston player I can say with 100% certainty, that the answer is yes. Both catchers are limited, we have no first baseman, our DH is a constant enigma, Xander is flawed in many areas, Bradley can’t produce outside of the 9 hole, the sample size on Rafy is still small, and Beni remains unpolished as a base runner, defender, and a bat vs LHP.
Yes, the Arizona State alum is on the back nine of his career. His knees have the flexibility of a crowbar, and rumors are abound that he could miss significant time in 2018 to repair them. His contract has gone from team friendly to player friendly, and within a day of the Astros series coming to an end, there were already calls being fielded on WEEI demanding to move him, and his $56M owed salary to anyone willing to take him.
How easily it’s forgotten, that this Red Sox homegrown talent has been a top 10 MVP vote getter three times, has led the league in fielding three times, scored 233 runs over 2008-2009, and is 12th among all active positional players in Wins Above Replacement, outdoing the likes of Evan Longoria, David Wright, Buster Posey and Matt Holliday. So even if the best is behind us, Dustin Pedroia has been a force for the better part of 12 years, and that’s not to be taken for granted.