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It's a small world

Posted by Maureen Mullen October 23, 2008 05:58 AM

The chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P” regularly rang out at Fenway Park as Dustin Pedroia stepped into the batter’s box this season.

The crowd was showing its appreciation for the second baseman’s numbers — league bests in hits (213), runs scored (118), multiple-hit games (61), and doubles (54); he also racked up a .326 average.

But Pedroia had some work to do before he won over Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.

“When I first saw him, I wasn’t impressed,” Morgan said of their initial encounter, early in 2007. “He was swinging at the high pitch. He was struggling, and I said, ‘Well, that’s the reason he’s struggling, because he wasn’t handling that high fastball.’

“The next time I saw him, a month or two later, he was finding his groove and he was swinging well. And I was impressed with the fact that he seemed like he had the right level of confidence to play in the big leagues. Anytime you’re struggling, your confidence level is going to struggle. But he was playing well. He’s a very good defensive second baseman. He plays the game, brings energy to the game. He’s a special player.”

Like Morgan — listed at 5-feet-7, 160 pounds in his playing days — Pedroia is vertically challenged, generously listed at 5-feet-9, 180 pounds. For Morgan, that’s where the similarities end.

“I don’t compare anybody to me or me to anybody else,” he said. “We’re all different. Everybody’s different. I [hit] left-handed for one thing. I played the game differently than he does. He plays the way he plays it. The only similarity that you can tell is we both had a passion for the game. I loved playing. You can tell that he loves playing. So that’s where the similarities are. But I don’t think it’s fair for either one of us to do that.”

But, like Pedroia, Morgan also heard that he was too small to play in the big leagues.

“When I was coming along, all the players were big,” he said. “They only wanted big players. So little guys didn’t have a chance to prove it. We had to prove it right away. You didn’t get a second chance. It’s easier now because people realize that some of the small guys are the real deal. So I just think it was tougher when I first came along. But right now they’ll still look at you funny. But I think you get an opportunity now, whereas before if you didn’t make the impression on the first day, you were kind of done.”

Morgan made his impression as a member of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, winning back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1975 and 1976. He beat out formidable candidates Greg Luzinski, Dave Parker, teammate George Foster, and Mike Schmidt. Since then, only two second basemen — Ryne Sandberg in 1984 and Jeff Kent in 2000, both in the NL — have earned MVP honors.

How does he handicap Pedroia’s odds for winning the AL MVP this season? He’d be the first second baseman to snag the award in 49 years, since Nellie Fox of the White Sox in 1959.

“I’ve tried to be fair about this with everybody,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of guys who are candidates for MVP. He definitely can wear the mantle well if he’s chosen, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But there are a lot of guys who had great seasons and who are MVP candidates. And it would be unfair of me to say that he’s the only one. I’d be proud if he does, but it’s not easy. The MVP is a very difficult thing to decipher sometimes.”

Ernie Banks on Manny

So, Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, member of the 500-home-run club, first-ballot Hall of Famer: Is Manny Ramirez worthy of Cooperstown?

“Yes, he really is,” said Banks, whose wife, Liz, runs a website dedicated to the 500-home-run club. “When he hit his 500th home run, it was with Boston, and we contacted him. He’s just a fun guy. He has fun playing the game. He reminds me of what [fellow Hall of Famer] Roy Campanella said many years ago: ‘To play baseball you got to have a little boy in you.’ You got to be like a little boy, not an adult, a little boy. [Manny’s] funny. He’s smart. He plays the game with fun.

“He was just so gracious. And the things he said were just right on target. How he’s a lucky guy. He plays for fun. He loves it. It’s a great thrill, and all of that.”

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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