Dustin Pedroia retires from Red Sox. These are the moments that built his legend (2024)

More than 14 years after his stunning rookie season, and two years after his final big league at-bat, Dustin Pedroia’s playing career is over. The iconic Red Sox second baseman – a former MVP with three World Series rings and an outsized personality – announced his retirement on Monday from the franchise that drafted him in 2004. His was a defiant and audacious career.


Pedroia is 37 years old, cemented as one of the greatest Red Sox of all time despite his past three seasons being derailed by a knee injury that would not let him stay on the field. During the 11 years before that, though, he boldly and loudly dismissed anyone who questioned his physical abilities as one of the game’s biggest personalities on and off the field — with the numbers to back it up.

Short and balding, tough and ornery, Pedroia was not a classic image of a great athlete, but he was driven to greatness by his larger-than-life attitude, confidence and ability. Unabashedly fueled by perceived slights and real detractors, he made himself a great fielder and a dangerous hitter, becoming one of the most iconic players of the franchise’s most successful era.

From his days as a young boy in California, to his championship moments as a New England sports hero, there are snapshots in Pedroia’s life that seem to define the way we now see him as a player and as a person, creating a career arc that few outside of Pedroia himself ever believed possible.

Dustin Pedroia Field, Woodland, Calif.

The Little League field that now bears his name is just a short walk from Woodland High School where Pedroia became a star, and only a few blocks north of Main Street where his father ran a tire store when Pedroia was a kid. Pedroia has called his hometown a dump. He’s also expressed love for the place and its people. Such is the mixed bag of memories and connections.

“He has surprised everybody along the way,” Pedroia’s high school coach, Rob Rinaldi, once said, “except his mother and himself.”

Pedroia’s father once told Boston Magazine that Pedroia was walking at seven months old. There’s an apocryphal story of an 18-month-old Pedroia accidentally killing a pet goose while swinging a tiny bat in the backyard. His T-ball teams — coached by Pedroia’s ultra-competitive mother — ran up the score and demolished lesser opponents. He was hitting off a high-velocity pitching machine by age 7. His 12-year-old Little League team nearly advanced to the World Series. As a 13-year-old, he scrimmaged with his older brother’s college team. At 14, he broke his ankle playing quarterback for his freshman football team, the ruinous hit coming from future Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs.

Growing up in Woodland, Pedroia was tough. He was talented. He was competitive. He was brash. He was all of these things by the time he was a teenager, and he was small only because height and weight are the two things we can definitively measure. Even his own father has admitted some early doubts that Pedroia had the size to play professional baseball. When Arizona State coach Pat Murphy went to recruit Pedroia, he encountered an undersized kid who fit perfectly on a baseball field, but perhaps not in the batter’s box.

“He looked like the bat boy,” Murphy told the Boston Globe. “You’d only have to talk to him for five minutes to find out he wasn’t the bat boy. He thinks he’s the MVP.”

Pedroia, it turns out, was right.

2004 amateur draft, 2ndround, 65th pick overall

The first line of Pedroia’s 2004 Baseball America draft scouting report spoke volumes: “Pedroia’s tools are below-average across the board, but people have learned not to sell him short.”

Had they learned, though?

Pedroia was three times All-Pac-10 at Arizona State. He was the National Defensive Player of the Year twice, the Pac-10 co-Player of the Year once, and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as a junior. He never missed a college game in three years, was twice chosen for Team USA, and eventually gave up his scholarship so Arizona State could recruit and sign another player. An opposing coach once called him, “the Pete Rose of college baseball.”

But Pedroia still didn’t look the part. Listed generously at 5-foot-9, he was inevitably compared to light-hitting Angels shortstop David Eckstein, and the idea that he would one day win an MVP award, lead the league in doubles and regularly hit 15-plus home runs a season was hard to imagine. “While he led the Sun Devils with a .409 average and nine home runs,” Baseball America wrote, “he doesn’t have a pretty swing and is a slap hitter.” Remember, that analysis came from an outlet that regularly praised Pedroia and wrote that he could be a future big league regular. He challenged the industry’s expectations of the way an elite player should look.


For the Red Sox, such a player represented an opportunity. They lost their 2004 first-round pick when they signed Keith Foulke, and so the second-round — 65th overall — was the best chance for the Red Sox to land an impact prospect.

In the 56-year history of the draft, the only Red Sox draft picks who have delivered a higher career WAR for the organization are Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans.

Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine, Batting second, playing second

April 7, 2005 was Opening Day of Pedroia’s first full season of professional baseball. He’d been assigned to Double-A Portland, a prospect-heavy team with Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester in the rotation, David Murphy and Brandon Moss in the outfield, and 21-year-old phenom Hanley Ramirez at shortstop.

Pedroia played second base.

Shortstop had always been his position. Pedroia had famously beaten out Ian Kinsler for the job in college, and it was the only position he played during his first partial year in the minor leagues. But, inevitably, there were questions about his physicality. Did Pedroia have the arm for the position? Did he have the range? And there was the subject of Ramirez, a more highly touted prospect who, at the time, seemed to block Pedroia’s path to eventually playing shortstop in the majors.

“You don’t tell the team, hey, I’m going to (only play shortstop),” Pedroia told The Athletic in 2018. “They said, ‘You’re going to try to make the team at second base.’ I was like, all right.”

The position suited him, even if Pedroia always thought of himself as a shortstop simply filling in at second. He won four Gold Gloves at second base, and was, for some, the best defensive second baseman of his generation. Even on a bad knee in 2017 – his last semi-healthy season — Pedroia made a play in Texas that epitomized the way he fielded his position: Backing up first on an errant throw in the ninth inning, Pedroia played the ball off a wild foul territory carom. He made a diving stop barehanded and threw perfectly to first base as he flopped from his knees to his stomach.

It was reactionary. It was instinctual. It was athletic. It was a play another second baseman might have abandoned long before it really developed, but Pedroia was there, in the right place at the right time. He was, you might say, in the right position.

“Pedroia has the unbelievable ability,” his college coach once said, “to understand himself in time and space.”


Fenway Park, postgame interview on May 4, 2010

The quote became legendary because, in two words, Pedroia encapsulated the way he carried himself on the field and in the clubhouse. He was, at the time, speaking in defense of a slumping David Ortiz, but Pedroia used his own career to provide context.

“A couple of years ago, I had 60 at-bats and I was hitting .170, and everyone was ready to kill me, too,” Pedroia said. “And what happened? Laser show.”

That quote has been painted onto blocks of wood to be sold on Etsy. It’s been printed on t-shirts. It pops up on Pinterest, it’s become shorthand on Twitter, and it’s the name of a Double IPA beer in Canada. “Laser show” is perfectly Pedroia.

Turns out, Pedroia had been using that phrase for at least a decade before it became famous throughout New England. Former Arizona State sports information director Jeff Evans once told ESPN that Pedroia used to predict laser shows before college games, predicting he would fill the box score with line drives and home runs, balls crushed by a hitter who had no physical right to hit a ball that hard.

“Then he’d go out and do it,” Evans said. “That’s the way he carried himself, and it didn’t stop.”

Pedroia debuted briefly with the Red Sox in 2006, but 2007 was his official rookie year when he did, in fact, hit just .167 through his first 60 at-bats. He finished that year hitting .317 with a World Series ring and a couple of playoff home runs. He was the American League Rookie of the Year.

The next year, Pedroia was the MVP, a Gold Glove winner, an a Silver Slugger. The year after that, he led the league in runs. After that, his third straight All-Star selection. Three years after that, a second championship and a third top-10 MVP finish.


For 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, Pedroia had an .815 OPS with the seventh-highest fWAR in baseball — better than Evan Longoria, Chase Utley, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Brian McCann. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system of evaluating Hall of Fame candidates ranks Pedroia as the 20th-best second baseman of all time, ahead of Jeff Kent and Bobby Doerr. His seven-year peak WAR ranks 16th, within two wins of Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio. Had he continued at that pace, his retirement might have come with an inevitable coronation in Cooperstown five years later.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Eighth inning, April 21, 2017

Joe Kelly was pitching. Mark Trumbo was the batter. Manny Machado was running at first base. On a soft ground ball to Xander Bogaerts, Pedroia covered second. He was expecting a close play and kept the bulk of his body as far from the runner as possible. When Machado slid, though, his right cleat dug into Pedroia’s left knee.

Everything that came next was a painful, arduous, unforgiving attempt to repair damage already done.

“I never felt anything (before),” Pedroia told The Athletic in 2018. “But that slide, it felt weird like a pop, and that was cartilage tearing off my tibia, so once that happened there was no forgiving. It was just bone on bone, and it was pretty tough.”

After sitting for five days, Pedroia returned to play most of that 2017 season and hit .299 the rest of the way, but he underwent extensive surgery that offseason, a microfracture procedure at the top of his tibia and cartilage replacement inside his knee.

He tried to return in 2018 but lasted only three major league games. He tried again in 2019, but after a series of starts and stops —both in the minor leagues and though his last six games in the majors — Pedroia was shut down. On May 27, 2019, the defiant Red Sox second baseman acknowledged his career might be over.

I don’t know,” Pedroia said. “That’s why we’re taking the time right now to see if that helps. If it doesn’t help, then, no.”


He underwent joint preservation surgery in August 2019, and longshot hopes of a return were dashed when Pedroia suffered a “significant setback” one month before 2020 spring training. His contract was set to end after this season, but at 37 years old, Pedroia might have had another year or two to play. We’ll never know.

Pedroia was 33 when he felt the pop in his knee that day in Baltimore. He would will himself to play through the rest of that season, then fight for two years to play at his elite level again, but when Pedroia’s knee was shot, one of the great, audacious careers in Red Sox history essentially was finished.

The Athletic has been around to cover Pedroia only since the 2018 season, meaning we missed quite literally every high point of Pedroia’s career. In putting together this look back at his life and career, we leaned often on the great work done by some of our friends and colleagues long before our site came into existence. We wanted to single out five in particular that helped fill in the gaps and provide many of the quotes and anecdotes provided above.

Most valuable half-pint (Boston Globe)

Fielding more than his share of bad hops (ESPN)

Dustin Pedroia Comes Out Swinging (Boston Magazine)

Pedroia: The College Years (Boston Globe)

Pedroia delivers on scrappy attitude (ESPN)

(Photo: Jim Davis / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Dustin Pedroia retires from Red Sox. These are the moments that built his legend (2024)


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