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Dan Shaughnessy

It's hard to believe - but Sox always did

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / November 19, 2008
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Dustin Pedroia, MVP.

Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? It's sort of like the first time you heard "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger" or "Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei."

Dustin Pedroia is the Most Valuable Player of the American League. This is simply one of the amazing sports stories of our time.

He is a miracle. He is a hardball mutant. He is the most unlikely man to win this award in the history of major league baseball.

Think about all the great Red Sox players who never won the award. Manny Ramírez was never MVP. Neither was Carlton Fisk. Nor Wade Boggs.

Fisk and Boggs are in the Hall of Fame and Manny is going to Cooperstown. None of them won an MVP.

Pedro Martínez? Bobby Doerr? MVPs?

Never.

Here's how hard it can be to win this thing: Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942 and in 1947. And he didn't win the MVP either year.

In 1941, Ted hit .406.

"I thought that was pretty good," Ted humbly remembered in 1999.

Pretty good. But not MVP-worthy. The 1941 MVP trophy went to Joltin' Joe DiMaggio.

Maybe if Ted had done something really impressive, like hit .420 . . . Maybe if Ted perhaps had the skill set of . . . Dustin Pedroia.

The mind reels.

Things fell perfectly for Pedroia in 2008. He led the American League in hits (213), runs (118), and doubles (54). He won a Gold Glove. He stole 20 bases. He wore out pitchers. He got on base and didn't strike out, and he did it for a playoff team. In a year in which there was no monster RBI man in the league, Pedroia won the MVP fairly easily. And no matter what happens, he always will have "MVP" on his résumé.

Pedroia gets all the credit. He did this with his work in the batter's box, his work on the basepaths, and his work around second base. He did it with his clubhouse presence. Pedroia somehow manages to be a dominant figure in the locker room, even though he is shorter than most of the batboys and several pieces of clubhouse furniture.

But a few words must be said about Theo Epstein and Sox scouting director Jason McLeod. These men believed in Pedroia when no one else believed. They are the ones who drafted him in the second round in 2004. And Theo is the one who let go of Mark Loretta after the 2006 season and told Terry Francona that Pedroia would be the Red Sox second baseman in 2007.

It was a bold move. Pedroia was called up in September 2006 and looked awful. He'd ballooned to 193 pounds - way too much for his ridiculous 5-foot-7-inch frame (don't buy the 5-9 myth), he couldn't cover any ground, and he hit .191 in his small sample.

There were plenty of reasons to dismiss him, and most people did. I know I did. Pedroia came to 2007 spring training in great shape, but still had a dismal April. Reviews were fairly unanimous: The kid can't play. Nice college player. Nice minor league player. But that's it.

Epstein and McLeod never wavered. They knew. They knew Pedroia looked hideous at times. They knew everybody thought his swing was too big. They knew folks who saw Pedroia just once usually quit on the kid.

But they knew it was worth sticking with him. They knew Pedroia had an uncanny ability to barrel up just about every pitch he swung at. They knew he hit every ball on the screws - in batting practice and in games. They knew Pedroia worked the count mercilessly, and rarely swung and missed. They knew he was a doubles machine. And they knew he was a cocky kid with a lot of Pete Rose in him.

By the middle of 2007, everybody knew. Pedroia was on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Then he hit that statement-making home run at the beginning of the World Series sweep against the Colorado Rockies. At Coors Field, the clubhouse guy wouldn't let Pedroia into the locker room.

Too small.

Again.

And now the little big man has an American League MVP trophy - just like Jimmie Foxx, Ted, Jackie Jensen, Yaz, Freddie Lynn, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, and Mo Vaughn.

Pedroia did it by hitting .326 - same as Yaz in '67. He made himself the first second baseman to win the AL MVP since Nellie Fox of the Chicago White Sox in 1959. Guru Gammons points out that, in August, Pedroia had more extra-base hits than Ramírez.

Pedroia is no Manny Ramírez. But he's MVP of the American League. Just Dustin being Dustin.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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