Dustin Pedroia Comes Out Swinging
He’s not that short, can’t stand his hometown, and thinks A-Rod is a big “dork.” And even after the World Series win, even after the MVP award, he still feels he needs to fight for respect.
In this, Pedroia’s story has lined up neatly with a story baseball desperately wants to tell about itself, here at the dawn of what we’re now all solemnly calling the Post-Steroid Era. Two years into Pedroia’s career, in fact, it has already been smoothed into myth: the tiny Everyman who, by dint of sheer effort and uncommon grit, without the benefit of size or Norbolethone, manages to pull himself through the early chapters of an Alger novel and become a superstar. The little infielder who could. A grinder. Plucky. Scrappy—always scrappy. Here’s the Boston Globe last fall, damn near hitting for the cycle: “Pedroia is the national pastime’s epitome of pluck, a trash-talking scrapper who outplayed expectations at every level, from T-ball to the bigs, grinding his way to stardom.” There are many things wrong with this sentiment, not least of which is that it shortchanges a player whose gifts are every bit as singular as, say, Alex Rodriguez’s. It takes a lot more than pluck to go an entire season of high school baseball without striking out once—not once—as Pedroia did his senior year in Woodland, California.
But baseball today is less interested in the gifts of a player than in the tedious assurance that they have been arrived at honestly. This explains why Pedroia, not your traditional cover boy, is now pictured on the front of video games. He represents the sort of character to whom baseball often turns, in times of perceived crisis, as a reliquary for an imagined set of lost values: the scrappy ballplayer. Because of his size and his style of play and the false narrative of his constant overachievement (a story that can be told about anyone on a 25-man roster, steroids or no), he has been judged the safe superstar, the hood ornament for “clean” baseball. Pedroia finds himself in a funny position: overpraised for all the wrong reasons, underappreciated for all the important ones. This visibly bothers him. A rare talent wanders onto the scene and all anybody wants to talk about is what he isn’t—not big, not tall, not chemically promiscuous.
“Did I watch A-Rod?” Pedroia says. The day before, Rodriguez had done his elaborate butoh dance for the cameras. The day before that, David Ortiz had spent a press conference torching the better part of the Bill of Rights and trying to out-witch-hunt the witch-hunters, demanding more testing and stiffer penalties. Only a few days into camp, the subject was already radioactive. “Yeah, I watched him.” And he laughs uncomfortably. “I guess he’s sorry. I don’t know. I don’t really understand that whole era. I missed it. …I’ve never taken a shortcut in my entire life.”
Earlier in the month, when news broke that a Rodriguez sample from 2003 had tested positive for Primobolan, an anabolic steroid that cannot be sold or marketed in the United States, Pedroia was in Arizona, working out at Athletes’ Performance, a sort of Muscle Beach for major-sport athletes. “When the Sports Illustrated report came out, we were sitting there,” Pedroia recalls, “and this humongous football player laughed and looked at me and goes, ‘You don’t have to ever worry about that.’ And I’m like, You know what? That pisses me off. Like, No shit. But my body’s not that bad, know what I mean?”