Less than 10 days after winning the World Series, the Red Sox were distancing themselves from one of their senior advisers.
Bill James, known by many as the godfather of sabermetrics for his analytical work that led to his hiring by the Red Sox in 2002, was publicly reprimanded by the team Thursday for comments made from his personal Twitter account.
In an email to the Herald, James acknowledged the repercussions of his words.
“I understand that the Red Sox are not in business to offend people, and certainly regret that I gave offense to anyone,” he wrote.
James had spent some time on Wednesday engaging with folks about the perceived value of major league players, particularly as it relates to their salaries. From a series of tweets with various users, it appeared James’ point was that, in theory, there is no such thing as an underpaid baseball player in the big leagues.
But as James delved further into the discussion, he made some comments that caught the attention of the Players Association, a few All-Star players, current and retired, and the organization he works for.
The now-deleted tweet that caused some controversy read: “If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”
He added: “The entire GAME is the product.”
Another tweet read: “We’re all replaceable, the players as much as the beer vendors. If they’re unhappy about that, talk to God about it; I don’t make these rules.”
Naturally, the idea of players being replaceable did not rub the union in a positive way. And by yesterday morning, Tony Clark issued a statement.
“The comments Bill James made yesterday are both reckless and insulting considering our game’s history regarding the use of replacement players,” the MLBPA head said. “The Players ARE the game. And our fans have an opportunity to enjoy the most talented baseball Players in the world every season.”
Yesterday afternoon, the Red Sox chimed in with their own remarks, which focused heavily on distancing themselves from a man who has his own profile on their website reading, “He works with senior management and the baseball operations department to provide research and analysis of special projects, and on-going (sic) concerns.”
The Sox’ statement regarding James’ Twitter comments were less friendly: “Bill James is a consultant to the Red Sox. He is not an employee, nor does he speak for the club. His comments on Twitter were inappropriate and do not reflect the opinions of the Red Sox front office or its ownership group. Our Championships (sic) would not have been possible without our incredibly talented players — they are the backbone of our franchise and our industry. To insinuate otherwise is absurd.”
That the Red Sox chose not to better understand or explain James’ ideas in a public forum and instead scolded him for them did not bother James.
“I’m not offended,” he wrote in an email to the Herald. “None of us in the organization — or, like me, sort of attached to the organization although not exactly in the organization — none of us should give offense unnecessarily. If I did that — and obviously I must have — it isn’t their fault; it’s mine.
“I do think that my remarks, taken in context, could not be misunderstood in the way that they have been. But it is pathetic for a writer to say ‘I’ve been misunderstood.’ Our job is to make ourselves understood.”
Former Mets pitcher Al Leiter wrote on Twitter that James’ comments about players being replaceable were “disturbing.” Justin Verlander wondered if the Red Sox would’ve won the World Series without their star players, a tweet for which Jackie Bradley Jr. thanked him.
It was quite the chain reaction of comments, and a reaction to be expected if the players felt a war brewing about their value to the game of baseball.
But James usually speaks in broad terms, sharing big picture ideas and opinions that relate to theory more so than practical action.
“What I said here yesterday, I once said to (former union head) Marvin Miller,” James tweeted. “Marvin very strongly disagreed with it, but we were still friends. He understood that it was not in any way disrespectful to the players; he just thought it was factually wrong.”
Perhaps the discussion would be better in a different forum. The Red Sox might prefer it. The players certainly would.
As James later tweeted, “Twitter is inherently frustrating as a place to have a serious conversation.”