I want to make the case. I'm trying to make the case. I simply can't make the case.
Dustin Pedroia may have possessed Hall of Fame talent, but he lacked Hall of Fame durability. That it was taken from him by a needlessly dirty slide belongs alongside Ulf Samuelsson blindsiding Cam Neely in the annals of angry Boston what-might-have-beens.
I'm guessing Pedroia's response to this topic would be, "I don't give a (expletive)." And that's fair. After all, he has already undergone a partial knee replacement and is primarily focused on being as active in retirement as possible with his three sons, a sentence that should never be written about any world-class athlete just weeks shy of his 38th birthday, let alone one as driven and indomitable as Pedroia.
When the Red Sox honor the former second baseman before Friday's game against the Yankees, it will give the fans a chance to say a proper goodbye to one of the most popular players in franchise history. Pedroia didn't just wring every ounce of talent from his 5-foot-9 frame, he sucked it out like rattlesnake venom.
From his arrival as 2007 Rookie of the Year and World Series hero through an MVP award and three All-Star berths in his first four seasons, Pedroia got an early jump on joining Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, and Charlie Gehringer atop the list of greatest second basemen ever.
But like some hero out of Tolkien who absorbs a dozen arrows before finally succumbing to an onslaught of Orcs, Pedroia simply could not outlast a succession of injuries that robbed him not only of an appropriate sendoff, but also the late-career numbers that would've made his case for Cooperstown a slam dunk.
As recently as 2016, a path to immortality still existed. Pedroia played through pain for 154 games and hit .318 while earning his penultimate Gold Glove nomination. He underwent knee surgery that October, however, thus starting a downward spiral that proved inescapable.
A dirty Manny Machado slide in 2017 limited Pedroia to 105 games and effectively ended his career. He played a total of nine games between 2018 and 2019, technically earning his third World Series ring. He went 3 for 31 over his final two seasons, though, dropping his lifetime batting average to .299 after more than 12 years above .300.
He's signed through this season, and the Red Sox had envisioned him still contributing at second base. There's no telling what his final numbers would've looked like with four more reasonably healthy seasons, but it's safe to say he would've easily surpassed 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, and 150 homers. He probably would've added at least another Gold Glove and All-Star appearance to his four of each. Maybe he'd be a year or two away from receiving a Derek Jeter- or David Ortiz-style league-wide sendoff.
Instead his career ends like so many others -- before he's ready, the game cruelly dismissing him on its terms rather than his.
Even accepting that he effectively played 11 seasons, Pedroia still nearly did enough to make a legitimate Hall of Fame case. As it is, he deserves and will receive fringe consideration. He measures favorably against a number of inductees, whether it's Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Red Schoendienst, or Bill Mazeroski. And his prime years compare to virtually anyone's at the position.
When you consider Pedroia's physical tools, it's astounding he had the career he did. Scouts dismissed him because he lacked size and straight-line speed, but he played faster than his measurables as the baseball version of former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, always in the right place, always in the middle of the action, always delivering when it mattered most.
That should've been enough to find him a permanent home in Cooperstown, perhaps with former manager Terry Francona making the introductions. Instead, he leaves the game knowing that he gave it everything he had, especially when it comes to his knee.
There's zero shame in the fact that it wasn't enough. He may have broken down, but he never gave in, and he doesn't need a plaque to prove it.