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Dan Daly: Pedroia propelled by slugger shortage

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

Let the record show that five years after Major League Baseball began requiring urine samples, a dwarf of a second baseman was voted the American League's MVP. Suddenly, it's 1959 again, and Nellie Fox, chewing on his big chaw of tobacco and choking up on his thick-handled bat, is back in style.

Before drug testing came along, it would have been hard to imagine a player with Dustin Pedroia's attributes making off with the MVP. That's a bone that goes to the big dogs, to the guys who put the ball and the fannies in the seats. Oh, an Ichiro Suzuki can take the league by storm in his first year and win the award, but only if he gets 242 hits, steals 56 bases and plays his position like some computer creation.

Nowadays, though, with biceps and power numbers shrinking, the door is open even to a sawed-off second sacker who specializes in dirty uniforms. That's right, folks, the most prestigious trophy in baseball can once again be won by someone no bigger than you and me. That has to be the best news for the game since, what, the introduction of wild cards?

We are, after all, a nation of Little Leaguers - Little Leaguers who, in most cases, couldn't cut it on The Big Field. Indeed, many of us, in our 60-foot-basepaths days, probably played with or against a kid who was Pedroia's height, if not taller.

The Smallest Red Sox is listed at 5-foot-9, but one glance at him standing at the plate, looking like Beaver to the catcher's Wally, tells you he's no more than 5-7, maybe 5-8. (Perhaps there's some security footage of him leaving a 7-Eleven that would clear it up for us, show us where he falls between the 5-foot and 6-foot marks on the frame of the door.)

It doesn't matter, really, if Pedroia was the best player in the American League this season. Crunch the numbers and you can come up with arguments for a bunch of different candidates. What does matter, though, what always matters in sports, is the feeling that All Things Are Possible - the Tampa Bay Rays can go to the World Series, Mike Mussina can finally win 20 games after 18 years of trying and, yes, Dustin Pedroia can be the MVP.

So much had to happen for him to even have a shot. The first thing, of course, was for baseball to get its head out of, uh, the ball bag and start making it tougher for players to use performance-enhancing drugs. The effect has been stunning. No longer does every Mo, Barry and Carlos swat 40 homers. This season, in fact, there only two members of the club, Ryan Howard (48) and Adam Dunn (40), both in the National League.

The American League home run champ was Miguel Cabrera with 37, and he was just an afterthought in the balloting, 14th overall. That left Pedroia, who had a modest 17 dingers, with competition that didn't overwhelm him in the muscle categories. As a result, his 54 doubles, 213 hits, .326 average, 20 stolen bases (in 21 attempts) and Gold Glove began to look pretty good to voters. He's not a superstar in the classic sense, but he's a relatively complete player with some pop in his bat.

Now let's look at the rest of the top-10 finishers:

10. Carlos Pena, Rays - Batted .247. Had a much better year last year.

9. Grady Sizemore, Indians - Wasn't even the MVP of his team; Cy Young winner Cliff (22-3) Lee - who, mysteriously, finished lower (12th) in the voting, was.

8. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees - Missed 24 games. Statistics reverted to '06 levels.

7. Josh Hamilton, Rangers - Followed 95-RBI first half with 35-RBI second half. (Pedroia, batting second, had 36 ribbies after the All-Star break.)

6. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels - Probably should have placed higher. Obviously, baseball writers aren't as enamored of the save as they once were - otherwise K-Rod, who had a record-shattering 62 this season, would have at least walked off with the Cy.

5. Carlos Quentin, White Sox - Disqualified himself in early September when he fractured his right wrist while slapping his bat in a moment of pique.

4. Joe Mauer, Twins - How could you give the award to a 6-5, 220-pound guy who hit fewer homers (nine) than Pedroia?

3. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox - "The Greek God of ..." is a great start to a nickname. It's the "Walks" that kills him.

2. Justin Morneau, Twins - How could you give the award to a 6-4, 205-pound guy whose slugging percentage (.499) was only six points higher than Pedroia's?

See how easy it is to dismiss all the other contenders? Only in a year like this could an Everyman like Pedroia win the MVP Award. And as a person who has a great deal of experience being 5-9 - or thereabouts - I have a hard time finding fault with it.