Pedroia standing tall as AL MVP
Second baseman proves size and stature no match for talent
This one is for everybody who doesn't weigh enough to play professional football and isn't tall enough to play professional basketball. It turns out that there is still room at the very top of the sports world for somebody who, even by the standards of the general population, is something very different from big.
Dustin Pedroia has been named the 2008 Most Valuable Player of the American League by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. This is a victory for the little people -- not necessarily leprechauns, but people small in stature yet large in heart.
The second baseman of the Boston Red Sox is officially listed at 5-foot-9. He is almost assuredly no taller than 5-foot-7. His listed weight of 180 pounds also seems to be a liberal estimate, particularly since, at one point this season, Pedroia advertised himself as "the strongest 165-pound man in baseball."
But here's the deal: The size just doesn't matter.
There is nothing small about Dustin Pedroia's game. He has transcended the small man's typical descriptions. You have seen him crush the ball. It may be true that he appears to be swinging the bat with every fiber of his being, but he makes the necessary contact. He led the Majors with 54 doubles in 2008, and those weren't all singles stretched by speed.
He hit 17 home runs. He led the AL in runs scored with 118. He tied Ichiro Suzuki for the Major League lead in hits with 213. And he won the AL Gold Glove Award at second base. There isn't anything inherently small about any of this. This is simply the work of a very big talent, in combination with complete determination. The fact that Dustin Pedroia plays baseball with an all-out infectious enthusiasm doesn't lend itself to the characterization of tiny, either.
Pedroia richly merits the MVP, and what makes this award even more fitting is that it was won against a truly impressive field of candidates. One of those candidates was another Boston star, Kevin Youkilis. In these sorts of cases, two viable MVP candidates from the same team, the players often cancel each other out and neither wins the award. In this case, there was so much support for Pedroia -- 16 of 28 first-place votes -- that even though Youkilis had two first-place votes and finished third overall, Pedroia was still able to prevail.
Minnesota's Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, had another strong season and finished second, receiving seven first-place votes. Morneau's teammate, Joe Mauer, who narrowly edged Pedroia for the AL batting title, finished fourth and also received two first-place votes.
Carlos Quentin of the White Sox was a prime MVP candidate until injury prematurely ended his season. He still finished fifth. There had been speculation that Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez would make a run at the award, based on him setting the single-season record for saves. Rodriguez received one first-place vote, but finished sixth overall. Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, who had a highly impressive season, was seventh overall.
That's an imposing field of candidates; some of the best sluggers in the game, the finest all-around catcher in the game, a record-setting closer. As deserving as all of them were, none of these players has a better claim on the MVP than Pedroia.
On a Red Sox team that was beset by injuries to key performers, the work of Pedroia and Youkilis kept the Boston club afloat. A repeat World Series championship was beyond range, but the emergence of these two players in particular allowed their team to not only reach the postseason, but come within one victory of the World Series.
Dustin Pedroia is just 25, with only two full seasons in the big leagues, but he is already on something of a career roll. He joins an extremely exclusive club of players who won Rookie of the Year honors and then won the MVP in the next season. Cal Ripken Jr. and Ryan Howard were the only players to do that.
That's the kind of company that Dustin Pedroia is now keeping in the annals of the game. Ripken and Howard are considerably taller than Pedroia, and Howard has a body type that is several categories removed from Pedroia's. But that kind of difference becomes arbitrary when you consider the kind of game that Dustin Pedroia plays. He has become not only a Most Valuable Player, but an example to one and all that a lack of size can be made into a mere footnote when it is overcome by head and heart, will and talent.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.