“Could it have ended better and I finished my career the right way? Yeah of course,” Pedroia said on a Zoom call with the media. “But there was a reason I was the first one dressed at 5:30 for a 7 o’clock game. I always tell my teammates that you never know if the game is going to start early. My biggest thing in my mind was that this could be my last game and you don’t know. That’s the best way I approached it from Little League on. I had the best time playing.”
As recently as January 2020, Pedroia planned on returning to the baseball field, working with the Red Sox training staff to rehabilitate his knee. After waking up one morning with his knee once again swelling, he learned that he would need a partial knee replacement. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the surgery was delayed until December 2020.
“I wasn’t in a good place. I grinded every day just to be able to play with my kids and just live a normal life,” Pedroia said. “My knee was bad and I’m a young guy. I had the surgery and a week later, I could tell I could walk without pain. I could do everything except run. I can’t run anymore, but who needs that. Once I had the surgery, nobody had ever played with a partial knee replacement. If it breaks, my life would be severely impacted by it.”
He continued: “It wasn’t physically possible for me to continue to play baseball with the partial knee replacement, so once I got that done, I knew.”
Pedroia had struggled to walk up the stairs, and he could not stand in one place for a long period of time without feeling pain or needing ice.
“Every day I would break down. I didn’t show it to my wife and kids, but I would go into the bathroom and chill a little bit and break down because it’s hard,” Pedroia said. “When I was in Little League, I would get up at 5 in the morning for a noon game. I did this my entire life. To have it just stop and then you fight to get it back, it’s tough. Everybody that was around me knows how hard I worked to try to get back and that’s enough for me.”
Pedroia, 37, a four-time All-Star who was named American League Rookie of the Year in 2007 and AL MVP in 2008, played his entire 17-season professional career in the Red Sox organization. He won three World Series rings and was a four-time Gold Glove winner.
“Dustin is so much more than his American League Most Valuable Player award, his All-Star game selections, and the Gold Gloves he amassed throughout his impressive 17-year playing career in our organization,” Red Sox owner John Henry said in a statement.
“Dustin came to represent the kind of grit, passion and competitive drive that resonates with baseball fans everywhere, and especially with Red Sox fans. 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 our region as an important role model showing all of us how much one can accomplish with determination and hard work.”
Pedroia’s knee troubles began in April 2017, when then-Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado took him out with a hard slide at second base. Since then, he has undergone multiple surgeries on his left knee, beginning with the initial procedure in October 2017. He played just nine games total between the 2018 and ’19 seasons.
When asked if he feels any lasting resentment about the Machado slide that effectively ended his career, Pedroia said he’s moved on from the play.
“That play could’ve happened my rookie year. When you play second base and you play second like me, you hang on to the last possible second to get the ball. You watched it, if there’s a slim chance at a double play, there’s one guy on planet Earth that can turn and you’re talking to him. It happened,” Pedroia said. “I’m at peace with everything that me and the training staff and the doctors did everything we possibly could to try to continue to play baseball. We made it back. I played nine games and 90% of the doctors said there was zero chance that I could play.”
He is the only player ever to earn Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove and MVP awards along with a World Series championship in his first two full seasons. Only nine other players have accomplished those feats in their career.
Pedroia became noted for his leadership within the Red Sox clubhouse, often cited as the team’s de facto unofficial captain following the retirement of Jason Varitek in 2011, and his retirement elicited strong reactions from former teammates.
“He was the ultimate team player,” said Terry Francona, who managed Pedroia from 2004 to ’11 and regularly played the cribbage with the second baseman before games. “He always seemed to save his very best plays for the most important time of the game. He seemed to will himself at times to lead us to victory. It is impossible to spend any amount of time with him and not become close to him. He just has that type of personality.”
Said David Ortiz: “It got to the point while I played that I asked myself one day, who would be a player that you would buy a ticket to see, because it was worth it to watch him play for nine innings. And my answer was Dustin Pedroia. He played with a little chip on his shoulder. He basically had the F-U type of mentality whenever he took the field. I got to the point where I worried so much about him, the way he hustled, the way he played hard, his discipline. He was committed to do well for his team and his teammates. His commitment was extraordinary.”
While Pedroia became a rare presence at Fenway Park over the past few seasons, spending time with his family in Arizona while rehabbing his knee, the Red Sox maintained his locker in the clubhouse. Throughout the course of his career in Boston, Pedroia became one of Boston’s most popular public figures. According to a Red Sox marketing official, in 2011, when coconut water company Vita Coco launched a national advertising campaign, they chose Rihanna as a national spokesperson. When they launched the same campaign in Boston, the company chose Pedroia as their spokesman, citing internal research that Pedroia carried more influence in the Boston market than the international pop star.
While many pegged him as a future big league manager during his playing days, Pedroia said he has no plans to commit to a full-time major league coaching job until his kids are grown up and out of the house. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said that Pedroia could have any role he wants with the organization when he is ready.
“Right now, my youngest son is 6 and I definitely want to be involved, but I don’t know what capacity yet. When all of my boys are out of the house, that’s when things will change to more of a greater role with the organization,” Pedroia said. “Right now, I want to enjoy being a dad and having fun with my boys and being here, not worrying about rehabbing all day long or worried about what game we’re playing. Just be normal for a little bit, when it’s time, it’s 100 percent in whatever I choose to do.”
Pedroia has one season remaining in a $110 million, eight-year contract. Of his $12 million salary for 2021, $2.5 million is deferred without interest and payable on July 15, 2028. His contract called for deferred payments for previous salaries of $2 million each on July 15 this year and in 2022, 2023 and 2024, and $2.5 million each in 2025, 2026 and 2027.
In 14 major league seasons, he hit .299/.365/.439 with 140 homers, 394 doubles, 725 RBIs and 138 stolen bases.
He is one of three Red Sox players to record at least 100 homers and 100 steals for the franchise, joining Mookie Betts and Carl Yastrzemski.
ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.