PHOENIX – Long before Dustin Pedroia turned spectacular double plays for the Boston Red Sox, he was turning heads in the desert.
On the heels of the former Arizona State baseball star and long-time Red Sox second baseman announcing his retirement on Monday after 14 seasons with the franchise, his former college coach marveled at Pedroia’s vast legacy. From giving up his ASU scholarship to forging a Cooperstown-worthy career, Pedroia, said Pat Murphy, is a “modern-day legend.”
Pedroia, 37, played three seasons with the Sun Devils from 2002 to 2004 before being selected by the Red Sox with the 65th pick in the second round in the 2004 MLB Draft.
The 2008 AL MVP, four-time Gold Glove award winner, four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion will go down as arguably the best second baseman in Red Sox history.
“He impacted so many people and that impact will last a long time,” said Murphy, ASU’s former baseball coach. “He redefined some things in baseball being a guy who is a consummate, non-projectable guy to an All-Star, MVP, Rookie of the Year and World Champion. What’s even better is who he is as a person.”
Pedroia had been battling a knee injury for the past three seasons and played a total of nine games in the 2018 and ‘19 seasons combined. He did not play in the shortened 2020 season.
Pedroia said he was preparing to play this past season but that he woke up one morning in January 2020 and his knee was “huge”, almost like “an explosion went off”. Doctors told him he needed to get a partial knee replacement but that the pandemic delayed surgery until December.
“I wasn’t in a good place,” Pedroia said. “I grinded everyday just to be able to play with my kids and just live a normal life. My knee was bad and I’m a young guy.”
After the procedure, Pedroia said he could finally walk without pain but he cannot run anymore. Once he understood he could not play baseball any longer with a partial knee replacement, he knew it was time to hang up the cleats.
“I don’t have any regrets about anything,” Pedroia said. “I never took one play off from Little League on.”
Before being drafted, Pedroia made a name for himself in Tempe at Arizona State under his college coach Murphy, who drove the Sun Devils’ program for 14 seasons from 1995 to 2009.
Pedroia is one of the best baseball players in program history and the accolades and awards are endless from his time with the Sun Devils.
In his 185-game career with ASU, he did not miss a single game and was named first-team All-Pac-10 three years in a row, only the fourth ASU player in history to do so three consecutive years. He was a two-time National Defensive Player of the Year, a Golden Spikes Finalist in 2004, and a co-Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2003. He concluded his college career seventh in program history in batting average (.384) and fourth in hits (298).
“He changed our program in so many ways,” said Murphy, currently the Milwaukee Brewers’ bench coach. “He set the tone of how things were going to be done. He set the tone of what type of program we would have. It wouldn’t be about just superstars and first-round picks. It would be about the toughness, the grinders, the overachievers, the guy who does the little things. We call those guys winning players and Dustin was a winning player from day one.”
Murphy recalls his assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jay Sferra finding Pedroia out of Woodland High School in Woodland, California, about 25 minutes west of Sacramento.
“I thought he recruited him at first just because (Dustin) was Italian and Jay was Italian,” Murphy said. “The truth be told, it’s obvious to see why he was so adamant about him.
“Jay said, ‘This kid, we won’t need another shortstop for four years. He will be our shortstop for four years.’ I trusted it and he was everything and more once he got here.”
After a stellar freshman season where he was named a Freshman All-American and a first-team All-Pac-10 selection, Pedroia gave up his scholarship to help the team pursue other recruits.
“Willie Bloomquist was the first to give up his scholarship in 1999,” Murphy said. “Dustin saw that and said, ‘Hey, I’ll do that. My parents do well. They’re successful. I’ll give back my scholarship for the program.’ He said it one day, quickly. It didn’t matter. He just wanted to do what was best for the program.”
From facing some of the best competition in the country day in and day out in the then Pac-10 Conference, the spark in Pedroia was lit to be the best player he could.
“Any time you are in the ASU program, you’re going to be forced to adjust to get better or you’re going to get out,” Murphy said. “With the competitiveness and the expectations, you have no choice. Dustin adjusted to everything he needed to adjust to. We gave him a license to be himself. That meant he could talk smack and be that underdog and he doubled down on it. He just made that part of his repertoire.
“He saw all the other first-round picks and he knew he was every bit as good. He could match up and say, ‘Hey, I can beat these guys. I’m better than these guys.’ He never let doubters slow him down. They just motivated him.”
Murphy said he and Pedroia are “bonded for life” and he would love to see Pedroia enshrined in Cooperstown some day.
“He’s a modern-day legend,” Murphy said. “Hopefully he is a Hall of Famer and hopefully because it’s beyond the numbers. It’s always been beyond the numbers for Dustin. His impact on championships and his impact on other people in the game, it’s unbelievable.”