Sometimes the worst part of Hall of Fame voting is checking names you find distasteful, from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to Alex Rodriguez. Other times it's the names you leave off, and we're heading for a rough one next winter.
Baseball announced its latest Hall of Fame class on Tuesday, which means we can officially begin evaluating next year's candidates. Will Ichiro Suzuki's enshrinement be unanimous? Will Billy Wagner succeed in his final attempt at immortality? And most distressingly from a local perspective, what do we do with Dustin Pedroia?
Might as well just get this out of the way: I'm a no on the fan favorite, which frankly sucks. At the height of his powers, he was a Hall of Famer in every sense – from his play on the field to his personality off of it. A Rookie of the Year, MVP, Gold Glover, and World Series champion, Pedroia was one of the defining players of the aughts, a heart-and-soul dirt dog who embodied selflessness and relentlessness.
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Unfortunately, he just wasn't built to last, and those who wondered how long he could maintain his Charge of the Light Brigade style would eventually get their answer – not long enough.
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Injuries derailed Pedroia's career, from wrist maladies that robbed him of power, to knee problems that ultimately spelled the end. Had Manny Machado not taken him out with a dirty slide in 2017, Pedroia might've finished his contract in 2021 while reaching the statistical benchmarks – 2,500 hits, .300 lifetime average, maybe two more Gold Gloves and/or All-Star teams – that would've bumped his candidacy into more compelling Joe Mauer territory.
It hardly seems fair to leave him off the ballot, given what Pedroia sacrificed. He tried everything to return in 2018 and 2019, but his knee was so destroyed, it required a partial replacement just so he could play with his kids. He went 3 for 31 over his final two seasons, dropping his lifetime average to .299, because baseball is nothing if not cruel.
A lesser human would've walked away much sooner, but Pedroia didn't reach the big leagues as an undersized second baseman because he let the odds dictate his future. Watching him hobble to the finish line obscures the fact that even at less than full strength, he still managed to hit .318 in 2016 during his best season in years, or that in the three months after Machado spiked him, he somehow batted .322.
He just didn't do it long enough. He spent 14 years in the big leagues and failed to top 135 games in six of them. His career basically boils down to five great seasons: his Rookie of the Year in 2007, his MVP in 2008, an All-Star appearance in 2009, and Gold Gloves and top-10 MVP finishes in 2011 and 2013.
The last season might've been the most impressive of all, given that Pedroia tore a thumb ligament on opening day and then proceeded to play in all but two games while batting .301.
If the Hall of Fame were solely about heart, desire, and ceiling, Pedroia would be a first-ballot slam dunk. His top seasons were tremendous by any standard, but especially considering how he compiled them: dirtying his uniform, running his mouth while unleashing the Laser Show, unloading on eye-high fastballs despite standing only 5-foot-9. If he just could've done it a little longer, he'd have a real shot.
A small window of greatness is why I never got to yes on 2023 inductee Todd Helton, and why I only reluctantly, after a lot of back and forth, ended up selecting Mauer, his classmate.
(I suppose I should add, in response to the inevitable suspicion/accusation that, "You're not voting for Pedroia because he wasn't nice to you," it's actually the exact opposite. Pedroia is one of the best athletes I've ever covered: accountable, available, personable, self-effacing. Chronicling his entire career was a privilege and voting no would be a lot easier if he had played somewhere else.)
Boston sports are marked by athletes whose careers ended too soon, from the tragic cases of Darryl Stingley and Reggie Lewis, to the sad ones of Tony Conigliaro and Normand Léveillé. We would've loved more time with Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, and Cam Neely, too.
Pedroia isn't quite any of the above. If there's a comp, it's probably former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, another surefire Hall of Famer who broke down before he could finish the job.
There's no shame in that. Pedroia's place in Red Sox history is assured. He and David Ortiz will always be two of the faces of baseball from 2007-13 and the Boston titles that bookended that era. Falling short of Cooperstown just means that Pedroia's body of work wasn't quite supported by his body.