By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
At the end, with any player in any sport, there really are two questions worth asking above all others. The first: did he give you everything he had? The second: would you want him on your team?
In the case of Dustin Pedroia, the answer to both was the same.
We can debate the rest, of course, and in that way, Pedroia is no different than anyone else. He is, after all, human. His Red Sox career was filled with highs and lows, from Terry Francona to Bobby Valentine, from the championships to the last-place finishes, up to and including his retirement from baseball, which Pedroia formalized on Monday. But if you can recall a single time where Pedroia didn’t give you everything he had, well, I’d love to hear it, because I can’t ever remember him dogging a play or failing to compete.
Does it make him perfect? No. But, pound for pound, on a long list of Boston athletes, there are few, if any, who gave you a more honest effort. That has to be at least partly why, in the end, Pedroia’s body broke down and abandoned him after what was, indisputably, a terrific major league career.
By now, of course, you may know just about everything there is know about Pedroia, the bad and the good, so I’ll try to give you some stuff that maybe you haven’t heard. Managers, coaches and teammates loved the fact that Pedroia mercilessly tweaked Jacoby Ellsbury about spending too much time in the trainer’s room and not enough time on the field. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Ellsbury left the Red Sox and has since turned into one of the biggest free agent busts in baseball history, having last appeared in a game for the Yankees in 2017 despite a seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted the Yankees to file a grievance.
Think about that. Ellsbury has been on a major league roster for 14 years and played 1,235 games, an average of 88 per season. He ends up a major disappointment. A gifted athlete whose ceiling was a near MVP season in 2011, Ellsbury should have been one of the most dynamic players in baseball. But if you ask me, he didn’t end up with half the career that Pedroia did, which speaks to the importance of commitment.
Get the picture? Ellsbury should have had a better career than Pedroia. He didn’t. One guy cared and one guy really didn’t, which is fine. But it showed then and it shows now.
In 2008, for what it’s worth, Pedroia won the Most Valuable Player Award, finishing ahead of, among others, teammate Kevin Youkilis. I was among those who believed Youkilis should have won the award. Shortly thereafter, the Red Sox gave Pedroia a six-year, $40.5 million contract that I thought was a huge win for the Red Sox, which drew me an unforgettable, nasty phone call from one of his agents, Seth Levinson. Pedroia was similarly tweaked and let me know it.
Not long after, while the Red Sox were in Anaheim and with Pedroia giving me the Ellsbury treatment, he unexpectedly approached me in the Boston clubhouse, gave me a quick embrace and walked away. He said nothing. I turned to a Red Sox staffer and asked what that was all about, and she told me that maybe Pedroia had come to the realization that there were bigger problems in the world than someone’s opinion on an MVP vote or a contract.
That week, reports had surfaced that Pedroia’s brother had been charged with child molestation, the kind of real-world event that gives everyone a reality check.
I had respect for Pedroia before all of that and I have even more now.
Going forward, there are and will be obvious questions. Is he a Hall-of-Famer? Is he the best Red Sox second baseman ever? My answer on both is probably not. (I never saw Bobby Doerr play but he is enshrined at Cooperstown.) In many ways, those answers don’t really matter.
Because if you ask me to put together a team of current and former Red Sox from my lifetime to play a real game with real stakes against Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees, I know whose name I’m writing into the lineup, ideally in the 2-hole.
And I wouldn’t hesitate for even an instant.