BOSTON -- "I'm not sure."
Since the Red Sox selected Dustin Pedroia with their first pick in the 2004 draft, those are the last words we'd expect to hear him say. He rocketed through the minors on the strength of what he called "The Laser Show," which described not only the line drives leaving his bat, but the non-stop barrage of braggadocio leaving his mouth.
Pedroia's capacity for self-confidence felt not just limitless, but in directly inverse proportion to the rest of him. He didn't let a lack of size keep him from winning Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a World Series, all within his first two MLB seasons.
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But the somber Pedroia who took to the podium on Monday afternoon, flanked by manager Alex Cora and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, had been drained of all bluster. And so when he was asked if he'll play again, he delivered about the most anti-Pedroia answer imaginable.
"I'm not sure."
For a fanbase accustomed to hearing Pedroia brag about being 160 pounds of Grade A USDA beef, or responding to a Fenway Park bomb threat by flexing and declaring, "Bomb squad? They're early!" or letting out a Ric Flairesque, "Whoooo!" for no reason except that's how much he loved baseball, Monday's press conference felt like the proverbial whimper.
"I'm at a point now where I need some time," Pedroia said. "That's what my status is."
If this is end, let the record show that Pedroia did everything possible to return. The knee injury he suffered in 2017 after a rough slide by Orioles infielder Manny Machado felt inevitable. If Machado's spikes hadn't caught Pedroia in a vulnerable position, someone else's probably would have. He played through injuries for most of his final 10 seasons, and at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, simply wasn't built to last.
Dombrowski said he should be remembered alongside franchise icons such as David Ortiz, and it's easy to forget how brightly Pedroia's flamed burned. Hitting only .180 on May 1 as a rookie, he exploded for the rest of 2007 en route to Rookie of the Year honors.
He burnished his legend by homering to lead off Game 1 of the World Series at home against the Rockies and then being asked for ID before entering Coors Field for Game 3.
"I'm the guy who took Jeff Francis onto the Mass Pike," he retorted.
It would be easy to say that Pedroia played beyond the limits of his physical skills, but that would do a disservice to his considerable physical skills. Blessed with absurdly quick hands and an unorthodox swing that saw him collapse his back leg while punishing fastballs that ended up at his eyes, Pedroia was truly one of a kind.
On the day the Red Sox drafted him in 2004, general manager Theo Epstein bristled at the suggestion that Pedroia looked like more of a performance player at Arizona State than a toolsy one.
"When you've accomplished what he has and can do what he can do, you're not a performance player or a tools player – you're a special player," Epstein said. "That's why we drafted him."
Pedroia's last great season came in 2016, when he gutted through leg injuries to hit .318 over 154 games. The four-time Gold Glover and four-time All-Star directly contributed to a pair of titles, including in 2013, when he tore a thumb ligament diving into first base on Opening Day and led the American League in plate appearances (724) anyway.
"People shouldn't know if you're 100 percent or not. It is what it is, and it's my responsibility to perform well,'' Pedroia told the Boston Herald at the time. "My mindset is if I'm nicked up, I have to find other ways to perform. That's the way I think about it. Maybe I'm crazy.''
He wasn't crazy, but he wasn't invincible, either. Deep down, he clearly knew that returning this season would be a challenge, especially after undergoing a cartilage restoration procedure on his knee that he now admits he'd decline if he could do it all again. He had hoped to return as an everyday player this season, but his latest rehab stint made it clear that would not be possible.
"We can't have 25 guys, and one of them not be able to play one day, especially a middle infielder," Pedroia said. "We can't do that."
Listening to Pedroia discuss what he can't do is so out of character, it's disorienting. But the reality is this: Ask one of the most self-assured players in Red Sox history what the future holds, and the best he can say is, "I'm not sure."
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