The Laser Show is Over: Boston Red Sox Star Dustin Pedroia Retires

Dustin Pedroia is my favorite baseball player.

I suppose, now though, I should say Dustin Pedroia was my favorite baseball player. Yesterday the man who dubbed himself “Laser Show” called it a career.

Pedey appeared in just nine games in the past three season as his failing knees wrecked comeback attempt after comeback attempt. It proved to be an ignominious end for one of the greatest and most-beloved Red Sox players of all-time. It is sad that Pedroia’s career end this way, but it is not surprising. As the line from Cocktail goes, “everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” It is impossible to imagine Dustin Pedroia walking away from the game gracefully, leaving at the top of his powers like Ted Williams did. “Graceful” is not a word that comes to mind when thinking about the way Dustin Pedroia played. He played recklessly and with wild abandon. He played angry and defiant. He played with more swagger than his 5’7 frame could contain. He did not play gracefully.

He also played with joy. It isn’t easy find someone who can play with joy and anger at the same time. Michael Jordan did it and I think Steph Curry manages it at times. That rare combination is why writers of a certain generation lionized Pete Rose for so long. Pedro pitched with joy and anger, but anger was always dominant when he was on the hill. There was an angry edge to Big Papi’s game at times, but his joy overwhelmed that side of him. Mookie Betts plays with such grace and joy that it is almost impossible to see the scorching fire beneath it. In Pedroia, anger and joy lived in perfect harmony. He played like he wanted to destroy you and he played like a kid who just walked through the gates of Disney World.

Because he played that way and because he was small and white and looked like he should be teaching a gym class in an Ohio middle school, he was lionized for his hustle, for his grit, for his intangibles and leadership and heart. At Over the Monster, Matt Collins has a great explanation of how these qualities were both real and still probably a bit overwrought in the discussion.

Yes, the intangibles helped, but it feels like a disservice to him as an athlete to boil him down to that and that alone. He could do things physically at second base that I’ve never seen anyone do. He had a swing that could get power out of that small frame. That wasn’t intangibles. That was being bananas good at baseball. The dude could ball…

For a certain generation of fan, Dustin Pedroia was the Red Sox
A tribute to one of the all-time greats in the history of the franchise.
By Matt_Collins @MattRyCollins  Feb 1, 2021, 2:49pm EST

Pedroia won his 2008 MVP Award largely on the strength of “intangibles.” It was deserved- he led the American League in rWAR, hits, runs and doubles that season and was the best defensive second baseman in the league by a mile (only Chase Utley in the NL really compared to peak Pedey with the glove)- the argument for him always came back to his leadership, his hustle and how much his teammates looked to him. The Red Sox were defending champions that season and one of the best teams in the American League, winning 95 games and making to the ALCS, but they were also a team in crisis. Manny Ramirez sulked over his contract negotiations and completely quit on the team. David Oritz was at his absolute nadir coming off knee and wrist injuries and 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell was clearly entering the twilight of his career. Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis carried that team to within one game of the World Series. Youk was incredible at the plate and a stellar first baseman, but Pedroia was Red Sox that year. Youk earned just two first-place MVP votes despite a rWAR just 0.2 behind Pedroia. Pedey got sixteen first-place votes and the award. Such was the power of all the other things Pedroia brought to the table.

I doubt anyone ever wrote about Pedroia without mentioning his diminutive size or his hustle on the field, but for those who really loved watching him play, those were not the main attraction. Sure, I am a small guy and I love seeing small guys who can rake and gun down guys and first and dominate on the field. Pedroia gave you that. But this guy wasn’t David F-ing Eckstein. Pedey was a star. He had otherworldly talent. It was just not in the most obvious qualities, the ones that we are used to finding in exceptional ballplayers. His swing was a testament to that. Have you ever wondered why David Ortiz or Albert Pujols didn’t start their batting stance standing straight up then lunged forward with their entire body, launching themselves and the bat at the ball? Try imitating Pedey’s swing and it will be obvious. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You fell down didn’t you?

Dustin Pedroia had the kind of balance you only see in skiers and X-Games athletes. It is the only way he could possibly swing like. Even if Mike Trout could take a hack with Pedey’s mechanics and manage not to fall over onto plate, I seriously doubt he could do it and get his hands inside quick enough to turn on a fastball. That is something only Pedey could do. I hope Trout tries though, because a guy bigger than 170 lbs managing that kind of swing might hit the ball 700 feet. Pedey needed that cut to get it to go 400.

More than anything else, though, Pedey had baseball instincts the likes of which we have only seen a few times in recent history. He once told David Ortiz had fix his swing. David. Ortiz. A guy who hit 541 home runs in the show. He listened to Pedey. And IT WORKED!. He once helped David Price, a Cy Young winner, with his mechanics and that was in October 2018, just before Price pitched his way into the World Series MVP conversation. Pedroia was as quick getting to the ball as one who ever played the keystone, not because he was the fastest, but because he reacted instantly to every batted ball that came his way. He stole twenty or more bases four times his career, and 138 bases overall, all because he could read pitchers perfectly. He was caught just 46 times. He knew when to run. He knew when a young pitcher was going to try to beat him inside (veterans knew better). He was the master of positioning himself in the field and got to balls he no business fielding. He understood the game the way other players have.

These gifts made him a star, but it was hard to ignore the signs that this was going to end badly. In 2010, he missed the end of the season after breaking his foot with a batted ball. He had a wrist issue that hampered his production at the plate in 2012, but he gutted out solid batting numbers anyway. It seemed like he was always hurt, but he played well through the pain and bounced back to superstar levels when he was fully healthy. Injuries hampered him again in 2014, but once again, he bounced back and at in 2016, at age 32, he hit .318/.376/.449 and led the Red Sox to 93 wins and the AL East title. He will have interesting Hall of Fame case, one that is merited by a high peak, multiple awards and championships but held back by his lack of longevity.

It is easy to brood on how things might have ended differently if Manny Machado had not spiked him in 2017. But that way lies madness. Pedroia played the way he played and he played the most dangerous position in the game (apart from catcher, of course) and that made the way his career ended something of an inevitability. Maybe if that slide doesn’t happen, Pedey is on the field for the Red Sox incredible 2018 World Series run, but I doubt it. Time wasn’t on his side by 2017 and as wonderful as a last ride into the sunset would have been, Dustin Pedroia was never going to know when to quit. It was going to end badly, otherwise, it wouldn’t end at all.

There is a poetic nature to Manny Machado being the one to end Dustin Pedroia’s career. Machado is so many things that Pedroia is not. He is gifted in all the obvious ways a superstar player is expected to be gifted. He makes insane plays in the field and he makes ordinary plays look like they take no effort at all. He crushes moonshot home runs with a sweet, easy swing- no diving at the ball needed. He doesn’t hustle though. It’s not his thing. He doesn’t have that fire that Pedroia had and he doesn’t look like he is having fun like Pedey did. He is an incredible player and he carries himself with swagger, to be sure, but not the swagger of a man who would tell a reporter to have kids so he could tell them he saw him play. He is not Dustin Pedroia in all the ways that make Dustin Pedroia my favorite player.

I will miss Pedey. I have already missed him. I missed him down the stretch in 2018 when they had to suffer through Eduardo Nunez and Ian Kinsler in his place. I missed him this past season, when there were too few reasons to watch the Red Sox. Pedroia was worth watching every time. He was the laser show. I will miss that show.

Poem of the Day 1/28/21

Sitting, like Rodgers Hornsby, looking

Out the window at the bleak winter day

Waiting- yes, for Spring- for the green grass

And the heralding crack of bats,

For Trout and Mookie and Thor, X-man and Judge, the Polar Bear,

For days less full of nights, certainly

But waiting, also for you and me,

For that version of you and me,

Wandering in lone back fields

And riding rough pine beams

Or watching quietly at night

For sometime we have not seen

Yet in the old ballgame,

Quiet, with sweet anticipation,

Waiting, once again,

For the smallest shred of magic to be reborn,

In a Spring night’s journey home.

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this piece, please consider reading more, or subscribing to this blog.

January 22, 2021
January 21, 2021
January 5, 2021
January 4, 2021
December 28, 2020
December 18, 2020
December 17, 2020

Welcome- An Introduction to this Site

What We are Drinking- Thoughts on Wine Ratings

I have many hobbies. Maybe too many. One is drinking. I am referring to the drinking of alcoholic beverages in part, but not exclusively. I drink coffee and tea and think about drinking these beverages in just about the same way I think about the more intoxicating ones. All of the drinks, regardless of proof, are central to human history and capable of connecting us with times and places distant from our present experience. They are all delicious, or at least they all have the potential to be. They all have sects of devotees that can spend endless amounts of time, money and energy obsessing over them. They are joined by the fact that they are worthy of serious consideration and they can reward that consideration with revelation. And that makes them excellent hobby-fodder.

From time to time, I am going to write about various beverages. I suspect I will devote most of these entries to wine, but whiskey will get its time to sign along with other spirits and coffee and tea might make an occasional appearance. I hope it is fun and I hope you, brilliant readers, enjoy it and maybe even find it useful.

First, however, something like a disclaimer.

I am not a sommelier. I profess no great training in the art of wine or winemaking. I once made beer. I went…ok. I am just a guy who thinks about what he is drinking and enjoys when other people do the same. There are so many people out there who write about wine and other drinks so well that I probably don’t need to bother.  I will do it, though, because, to paraphrase Joan Didion, I often do know what I think until I write and with all the time I already spending thinking about what I am drinking I might as well put something down on digital paper. I also tend to believe that the idea, of implied if not outright stated, by those who taste, rate, sell or otherwise consider wine et al. for a living, that the evaluation of these things is a careful and precise science.

The sommeliers and other experts aren’t at fault for this impression, really. I suspect that most of them hate the number-one cause of this fallacy even more than the casual drinker. The problem is the damn ratings. The 100 scale of wine ratings is a nightmare. It is unnecessarily specific and that makes it arrogant. What is the qualitative difference in wine that scores 89 and one that scores 91? If it is significant enough to matter, why is the spread only three points on a scale of one hundred? If it is not a meaningful distinction, why even make it? And where are the 50-point wines in this scale (which is the bottom of the Wine Spectator scale linked to above)? Is it safe to assume that that handle of $5.00 Gallo Merlot is a 50 or could it be lower? In reality, outside the wine magazines themselves, you only see ratings over eighty anyway, because no one advertises a rating that is lower. Fifty-to-one hundred is a fifty-point scale and a difference of three points looks more meaningful in that context. If only wines that get over 80 are worth consideration, that make a twenty-point scale for those, where a three point spread actually matters a lot. So what is the real scale and how much is each point really worth?

There is no good answer if you are just at wine shop trying to decide on something to buy. False precision makes the system itself seem almost useless. The ratings imply more meaningful difference than the drinks can possibly deliver. And for an industry that is hurt by a reputation for snobbishness to start with, being arrogant enough to believe you can rate things this precisely is more off-putting than helpful.  In reality, I tend to see a few tiers of quality and craftsmanship and not much more worth digging into. The predictive power a 91 rating over an 89 rating for enjoyability is essentailly zilch, even if the rating system linked to above implies they are in different classes. Wines that are rated 95+ are the great wines of the World, basically without fail and they are correspondently rare. That doesn’t mean you will like them. You might love them, but you might also find them above your taste, but that is, at least, a very distinct class. Experience is key with this class (and some serious money to spend helps too).  I drink wines in the second tier almost exclusively, for practical reasons. Or at least I try to. When rated by the big ratings folks, they will score somewhere between 92 and 87, and they are, for the most part, reliably good, though not reliably exciting or thought-provoking and ratings difference seems basically arbitrary. The next tier down would be the vast majority of non-jug wine. The average ones, the kind of wine that you could grab for a decent price, serve to people and they would nod with thoughtless approval. It’s “meh” in a bottle, not objectionable or memorable in any way. Price is no predictor of the difference between the second and third tier and ratings don’t really nail the difference down either. It’s wildly subjective and the best guide is either the tasting notes and your preference or advice from someone with taste like yours, preferably an expert. Below that, there are ones you regret buying and ones you probably shouldn’t have been considering in the first place.

People like the ratings, though.Hell,  I even kind of like them (mostly because they come with better tasting notes than the winemaker’s).  I am loathe to go without them completely. I think they just need more humility by way of broader strokes. If I have to create some kind of numbering system for wine rating, I’m going to go with the 20-80 scale that baseball scouts use. It is sx-tiers, with grades limited to the tens and “half-grades” at the fives. The 80- grade is extremely rare (it’s Mike Trout and nobody else) and the 20 grade is so low as to not factor into most discussions (you might say Bartolo Colon is 20-grade baserunner, but that’s about it). 50 is average and while half-grades (ie 55, exists), they are used judiciously. A 75 is rare in relation to how rare 80 grades are and so on down the line. This works well for wine not only because it gives nice, understandable tiers and enough wiggle room to make distinctions but because it also implies, through its lineage that different factors could score differently and that would be a welcome addition to the wine conversation in my mind. 65 nose, 50 pairing ability, 60 finish, solid everyday contributor with a chance to develop into something special in 5-10 years. I’d by that wine and start it at shortstop tomorrow.