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There are many “What If’s” in Boston Red Sox history.
What if they never sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees?
What if Ted Williams never has to go to war?
What if Tony Conigliaro never gets hit in the face with that baseball?
What if they never sign David Ortiz in 2003?
What if Manny Machado never spikes Dustin Pedroia?
The collapse of Pedroia’s knee, and therefore, his career, is one of the great tragedies in franchise history. The incident derailed what would have been a Hall of Fame career for the beloved homegrown second baseman, who won Rookie of the Year in 2007 and MVP in 2008.
In 2017, Pedroia was manning second base when then-Orioles infielder Machado ran from first to second on a slow roller by Mark Trumbo. Machado slid high, and his spikes caught Pedroia’s left calf.
While the impact of the slide was originally considered to be minimal, it would prove to be devastating, instead. Pedroia played 105 games in 2017, always in pain, but refusing to abandon his teammates. He hit .293. As soon as the season was over, he had surgery. Over the next two seasons, he’d play a total of nine games, the final ones of his career.
It wasn’t the first time Pedroia had spent an MLB season in pain. On Opening Day 2013, he tore the UCL in his thumb. He played 160 games and helped his team win a World Series. Only after the second World Series parade of his career did he finally have surgery.
But 2017 was different.
Red Sox: Does Dustin Pedroia hold a grudge?
This week, on the heels of his longtime teammate David Ortiz being elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, Pedroia spoke to The Athletic about Manny Ramirez’s PED use keeping him out of the Hall of Fame, and his choice not to “take something that could maybe help me out healthwise so I could play a longer career” in light of his injuries:
Pedroia specifically referred to the Machado incident, saying “one slide deters my career.” That’s about as explicit as he’s ever been on the slide that was essentially the beginning of the end for him. When asked about it, he never mentions the slider by name.
While Machado claimed that the slide “wasn’t intentional,” his actions spoke louder. He has continued to have similar incidents on the basepaths in recent years, including to Brock Holt, when the then-Red Sox utility man was filling in for none other than an injured-by-Machado Pedroia in 2018. The irony.
During that year’s postseason, Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich called Machado a “dirty player.”
In April 2019, I went to a Red Sox-Orioles game at Fenway Park. Pedroia had returned to the lineup few days earlier and played a couple of games, a big deal, considering he’d only played three games in 2018. On that chilly day in April, he was issued what would be the final walk of his big-league career, and he’d score his final run, though we didn’t know any of that at the time. I remember seeing him get on base and standing there with the biggest smile, as if he was thinking to himself, I finally made it back. For six games in April, he thought it was going to be like it was.
On February 1, it will be one year since Pedroia announced his retirement. He spent years trying to come back, undergoing numerous surgeries – including a partial knee replacement – and rehab stints between 2017-20. Setback after setback, and he still fought for a comeback.
Ever the class act, Pedroia says he is at peace with the slide that ended his career. But for a player who loved the game so much and the fans who loved watching him play it, the fact that he was not able to end his career on his terms is a heartbreak that will last a lifetime.