Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pedroia Wins AL MVP

It doesn't make up for losing the ALCS but it comes close.

Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia won the 2008 AL MVP in only his second full season in the majors. In 2007, Pedroia won AL Rookie of the Year honors. This season Pedroia finished first in the AL in hits, runs scored and doubles. He also finished second in the AL batting race with a .326 average. Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer hit .328. Pedroia also stole 20 bases and won his first Gold Glove for his defensive work at second base.

Although Red Sox fans have been chanting "MVP" when Pedroia came up in the second half they were also doing it for Kevin Youkilis and I thought they would cancel each other out in the balloting. There was no obvious MVP candidate in '08 unlike last season when Alex Rodriguez won it hands down. While players and coaches were impressed by Pedroia's play it wasn't clear whether he had won over the baseball writers. They could have gone with Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim closer Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez who saved a MLB record 62 games (and was my personal pick). They could have also gone with Twins slugger Justin Morneau who won the AL MVP in 2006. Morneau finished as the runner up. He probably would have got more votes had the Twins reached the postseason. Or they could have gone with Texas Rangers hitting sensation Josh Hamilton. However, the Rangers had a sub .500 record and Hamilton faded in the second half. Carlos Quention, who was a find for the White Sox, would have got more votes had he not been injured in September.

Make no mistake. Pedroia earned this award. He stands 5,9 and weighs 180 pounds. That might be generous. In any case, Pedroia is essentially my size. The fact that he can compete with and outshine men over six feet tall and weighing well over 200 pounds is a testament to his hard work and desire.

I first saw Pedroia play in Pawtucket in 2005. He was one of the Red Sox top prospects having been picked by them in the 2nd round of the 2004 MLB Draft. I have to admit that I didn't see anything special. He debuted with the Sox late in the 2006 season and I didn't see it as he hit only .191 in 31 games. I also didn't see it in the first month of the 2007 season. At one point, Pedroia was hitting .172 and there was pressure to send Pedroia back to Pawtucket. But Sox manager Terry Francona stuck with him and his patience paid off. Pedroia simply needed time to adapt to his new surroundings. Pedroia finished 2007 with a .317 average which was good enough to finish in the Top 10 in the AL batting race and would be a major contributor to the Sox second World Series title in four years.

Aside from getting that World Series ring what personifies Pedroia in the minds of many was his diving play to preserve Clay Buchholz's no-hitter on September 1, 2007. Pedroia dove after the ball as if the field would explode if he didn't. Yet he'll do the same thing in an 8-0 game as I personally witnessed when they played the White Sox last August. Dustin Pedroia's on the field hustle has been compared to that of Pete Rose; a guy not blessed with size and power but used his smarts and dedication to become baseball's all-time hits leader. If in a decade from now we can still compare Pedroia to Rose on the field and not off the field then Pedroia might very well be one of the all-time greats MLB has ever produced.

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