BOSTON — Dustin Pedroia is no stranger to drama.
In 12 seasons with the Red Sox, Pedroia has been part of two World Series-winning teams and three last-place clubs. He has made the playoffs five times and endured a historic September collapse stained by beer and chicken. He played for one manager he loved (Terry Francona) and another he loathed (Bobby Valentine).
Rarely, if ever, has it been boring.
Through it all, though, Pedroia usually was surrounded by high-character veteran position players who helped him deflect the credit and bear the criticism. Early in his career, it was Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell. As Pedroia got older, he played alongside the likes of Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, Mike Cameron, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino.
And, of course, there was always David Ortiz.
This season has been different. Ortiz retired last fall, leaving Pedroia as the longest-tenured player on an exceedingly young Red Sox team. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and rookie Andrew Benintendi have plenty of talent, but they’re still finding their way, both on the field and within the clubhouse dynamic.
And so, 29 days after lefty David Price aired out Hall of Fame pitcher and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley on the team plane before a flight to Toronto — and with salacious details of the incident continuing to leak, including the fact that no uniformed member of the team has apologized — the topic of leadership within the Red Sox’s clubhouse has become part of the conversation.
In the post-Ortiz world, do the Red Sox have a team leader?
“I’m standing right here,” Pedroia said Friday after gathering reporters and cameras to his locker, before Boston’s 4-2 loss to Kansas City. “I’ve been here for a long time. We’re in first place. That’s it. Write what you guys want. Here I am. See anybody else standing up doing this? Do you? Nope. That’s a fact. There’s your source — from the mouth.”
From there, Pedroia said he spoke to Price “one-on-one” after the pitcher berated Eckersley for a comment he made during an NESN telecast about fellow lefty Eduardo Rodriguez’s poor performance in a minor league rehab start earlier that night. Pedroia also denied a report that he was among a group of players who stood and applauded after Price mocked and cursed at Eckersley, calling the report “not true.”
But Pedroia stopped short of saying Price should apologize. (Eckersley got an apology from owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, team president Sam Kennedy and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, but not from manager John Farrell or any players.) And Pedroia claimed Price hasn’t talked to Eckersley only because he hasn’t seen him, which seems unlikely considering Eckersley called 10 consecutive games in three cities after the episode happened.
“They’ll have a conversation when they see each other,” Pedroia said. “David’s a man. He’s going to do it face-to-face. He’s not going to do it over the phone or text message. We’re grown men here. I’m not disciplining my 6-year-old son, you know what I mean?”
Actually, the whole thing is childish. It’s also not the point.
For years, Pedroia has been a leader by example. He plays all-out all the time, through broken bones and strained ligaments. There’s neither a ball he won’t dive for nor a grounder he won’t run out.
But being a team spokesman isn’t a role Pedroia has ever appeared comfortable playing. It just isn’t his style. After a 5-2 loss to the Orioles on May 1 in which Betts was hit by a pitch as part of an ongoing beanball feud between the teams, Pedroia answered a question by saying, “Can I go home? This is ridiculous, man. We’re trying to play baseball and win games. I don’t have time for this.”
Indeed, Pedroia isn’t always available to the media after games, which is his prerogative. But it’s not the hallmark of a prototypical leader.
It probably doesn’t help that, less than one month into his first season without Ortiz by his side, Pedroia was involved in his own controversy. After reliever Matt Barnes threw a fastball behind the head of Orioles slugger Manny Machado on April 23, an apparent retaliation for Machado sliding hard into Pedroia two nights earlier, TV cameras caught Pedroia yelling out to Machado, “It’s not me. It’s them.” The implication, fair or not, was that Pedroia was taking sides against a teammate.
And so, the questions arose about a leadership vacuum in the Red Sox’s clubhouse.
Give credit to Pedroia for doing the right thing Friday. With Price going on the disabled list because of left elbow inflammation before what would have been his first start since an explosive Boston Globe report detailing the Eckersley affair, Pedroia did what a leader does. He tried to defuse the situation before it got any worse.
If only someone had thought to do that a month earlier. Maybe then the whole thing wouldn’t have erupted into a “distraction,” as Pedroia called it.
“In this clubhouse, we have two rules: [Be] on time and be professional,” Pedroia said. “After that incident, obviously we talked about it. That’s it. We’ve kind of moved on from that.”
Not yet, it seems.
Pedroia acted like a leader on Friday. It was a good look for him, one that he ought to show off more frequently.