This past Monday, February 1, 2021, marked the final nail in the coffin for a time gone by, an era dominated by the clash of titans. You may not have noticed, in part because the era’s heyday has been almost a decade gone, having fallen prey to Boston’s “Chicken and Beer” collapse of 2011 and the calamity known as the 2013 Yankees. Despite this, however, its memory still hung around, clinging to the league by a thread — specifically, the cartilage in Dustin Pedroia’s left knee.
That time has come to an end, as the Boston second baseman announced his formal retirement from baseball, citing a knee injury that has caused him to play only 9 games from 2018-2019 and miss the entire 2020 season. He ends his 14-year career with 1805 hits, a 113 OPS+, four All-Star Game appearances, three Gold Gloves, the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award, the 2008 AL MVP. and (unfortunately) either two or three World Series rings (Baseball Reference does not seem to treat him as a member of the 2018 Red Sox). On top of that, he was a widely respected player, one that I loved to hate — the highest compliment I can give to a member of a rival organization.
We’re a Yankee blog, however, and I’m not here to wax poetic on Pedroia’s career; you can check out Over the Monster for that, although I imagine if you’re reading this, you’re probably not going to want to. Instead, I want to talk about what Pedroia represents.
Pedroia made his debut on August 22, 2006, one day after the Yankees had completed a five-game sweep, commonly known as the Boston Massacre II, to give the team a 6.5-game lead in the division with a little over a month remaining. In many ways, it was fitting that Pedroia emerged on the scene right after one of the biggest regular-season moments in the Rivalry in the middle of one of the most intense periods in it: from 2002 to 2011, the Yankees won 975 games and Boston 932, with both teams being two of three top teams in the division every season, along with three World Series titles in four appearances.
The rivalry that Pedroia stepped into had been in its hottest period since the 1980s, and he was one of the many players that defined this generation of enmity. One by one, however, those players have stepped away from the game, victims to Father Time: Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramírez, Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, Derek Jeter and Jason Varitek. Pedroia’s retirement severs the last link to these teams: as of now, the longest-tenured player on each side of the rivalry are Aaron Hicks (2016) and Xander Bogaerts (2013), and even if Brett Gardner returned to the Yankees next season, he did not take on a truly full-time role until the 2010 season and represents the Yankees of the 2010s more than the rivalry of the 2000s.
Truly, an era has come to an end.