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Pedroia has fought that predictable bias his entire life and has delighted in shutting up and shouting down the doubters. By age 25 he had won the Rookie of the Year award, the Most Valuable Player Award and a World Series title. Through his first six seasons Pedroia has an .838 OPS. Only five second basemen have started better: Chase Utley and four others who played more than half a century ago (Jackie Robinson, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon and George Grantham). This season, however, has been his best yet. His .880 OPS through Sunday is a career-high, as are his 22 stolen bases and .401 OBP. He has already hit 15 home runs (two shy of his career high) and ranks behind only Jose Bautista of Toronto in Wins Above Replacement, an advanced metric that measures how many more victories a player is worth than a Triple A player at the same position. And that's after an abysmal start (he was hitting .237 on May 11) and with a screw in his foot from a 2010 injury that only now has healed fully.
Pedroia plays as big as anyone—big hits, big swing, big mouth—yet is undersold because of the narrative we attach to small players: scrappy overachiever, otherwise known as David Eckstein Syndrome. Pedroia is indeed a zealous worker, as evidenced by his improved speed. On scouts' 80-point scale, Pedroia was a 40 to 45 runner in college. "Now he's a 50 and an elite base stealer," Epstein says. "That's almost impossible. I can't remember it ever happening [with speed rating]. It always goes in the other direction."
Pedroia, however, is gifted with freakish hand-eye coordination. He is, in truth, far more like Yogi Berra, Joe Morgan and Kirby Puckett—impact players no bigger than he—than he is like Eckstein. Pedroia's career OPS (granted, he is still at the peak of his career) is higher than that of any player listed at 5'8" or less since World War II.
"Scrappy is the word he can't get away from," Epstein says. "It's bull---- because it undersells him, [says] that all he's doing is outworking people. He's a great baseball player."
There is a reason the Red Sox put Pedroia on the cover of the player-development manual they distributed to their staff in spring training three years ago. He is the template for not only how to play the game but also how to approach it. At Arizona State, Pedroia, the son of a tire salesman, gave up his scholarship his last two years so Murphy could recruit a much-needed pitcher. After his second season with Boston, he signed so quickly and so cheaply for such a long-term deal (six years, $40.5 million, with a team option for a seventh year) that even Epstein admitted, "We almost felt guilty adding an option year. He said, 'I love it here. I want to be here.' He encouraged [us to make] it as long as possible."
In short Pedroia is not just the touchstone of Red Sox baseball ("We give him so much responsibility," Francona says) but also an elixir for all those who have grown disillusioned by a dearth of effort, humility or loyalty in pro sports. "I really don't do anything except play baseball and go home and do whatever my son wants to do," Pedroia said. "Off the field I'm normal. On the field? I'm kind of a maniac."
One day last month in their clubhouse, Red Sox players were discussing rumors that the front office was trying to trade for Colorado pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.
"I know there's no way I could be in that deal," said Pedroia, who had a home run and four RBIs in Boston's 2007 World Series sweep of the Rockies, "because I'm wanted for murder in Colorado."
Before Game 3 of that Series, the Red Sox were walking into Coors Field when a security guard sized up Pedroia, took him for an intruder rather than a ballplayer, and insisted that he produce I.D. Pedroia didn't break stride. Recalling the bomb he hit with his first Series swing, he barked, "I'm the guy who took Jeff Francis onto the Mass Pike. How's that?"
On Sept. 23, 2006—hitting .183 and in the big leagues for all of one month as a late-season call-up—Pedroia hit a leadoff homer off hard-throwing Toronto righthander A.J. Burnett and boasted when he reached the dugout, "Ninety-eight [mph] coming in and 108 going out!"