Dustin Pedroia's long-anticipated departure from Major League Baseball became official Monday when the Boston Red Sox announced their second baseman was retiring, an end hastened by a litany of leg ailments his last five seasons.
Pedroia, 37, played just nine games from 2018-2020, sitting out all of last season with a chronic knee injury, and he won't attempt to play in 2021, the final year of an eight-year, $110 million contract.
Yet the slow goodbye can't diminish Pedroia's lightning-quick and unprecedented start to his career, nor his greater import to the Red Sox since they drafted him in the second round of the 2004 draft out of Arizona State.
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“Dustin came to represent the kind of grit, passion, and competitive drive that resonates with baseball fans everywhere and especially with Red Sox fans," owner John Henry said in a statement. "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 for what he brought to our club and to our region as an important role model showing all of us how much one can accomplish with determination and hard work.”
Standing no more than 5 feet, 9 inches, Pedroia was the jolt of energy the Red Sox needed as the core of their groundbreaking 2004 champions faded into retirement or joined other clubs.
Dustin Pedroia played 14 seasons in the majors, all with the Boston Red Sox. (Photo: Brian Fluharty, USA TODAY Sports)
Just two years into his career, Pedroia had won the 2007 American League Rookie of the Year award, the 2008 AL MVP, a Gold Glove and a World Series title, an unprecedented collection of hardware in just two seasons. The only players to accomplish that throughout their entire career were Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, and Cal Ripken Jr., along with Pete Rose, Thurman Munson, Albert Pujols, Buster Posey and Cody Bellinger.
Those players tower, at least physically, over Pedroia, whose tenacity likely extended past his body's capability.
He'd amass 1,805 hits over 14 seasons, though his masterpiece was his MVP year at age 24, when he led the AL with 118 runs, 213 hits and 54 doubles, his "laser shows," as he called them, often peppering Fenway Park's Green Monster.
Yet Pedroia will retire with 51 Wins Above Replacement in large part due to his defense – he won four Gold Gloves and also four Fielding Bible Awards for defensive excellence by Baseball Info Solutions, most ever for a second baseman.
"Games are won in baseball if you turn the double play," he once told the Boston Globe. "That extra out is the difference between winning and losing. People say it's a taxing position on the body. If you want to win, it is.
"Trust me, I could take it easy over there, turn some olé double plays, we'd lose the game and guess what, I'd play another five years. You want me to do that? No. We're here to win."
Win they did, in Pedroia's rookie season of 2007, a surprise title in 2013 and also 2018, when Pedroia was limited to three games for a team that won 119 through the World Series.
By then, his left knee was terribly compromised, first by meniscus repair after the 2016 season, then when he was spiked by Manny Machado in an April 2017 game, forcing him to miss 56 games. He had microfracture and cartilage restoration surgery after that season.
His final game came in April 2019, when he heard a pop in his knee. He'd try in vain to rehab the knee, the last attempt coming before 2020 spring training, but he did not join the team at any juncture last year.
So ends a career that exceeded almost any observer's expectations, though perhaps not his own.
"His commitment was extraordinary," retired DH David Ortiz said in a statement released by the Red Sox. "I used to watch the little guy and ask that question to myself because he was that type of guy. I really appreciate the fact that I was able to play and have a teammate like Dustin because I learned so much from him.
"The one thing I learned for sure was that this was not about size. This was about heart. He was the whole package. I’m happy, thankful, grateful and proud that I was able to have a teammate like him because he was a guy who motivated me to do well."
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