Red SoxRed Sox call team advisor’s comments about MLB players ‘inappropriate’ and ‘absurd’

Red Sox call advisor Bill James’s comments about MLB players ‘inappropriate’ and ‘absurd’

Boston, MA 051011 Red Sox statistician Bill James (cq) leaves the MBTA's Boylston Street station in downtown Boston, Tuesday, May 10 2011. James (cq), who has just written a book on serial killers, believes that the Boston Strangler used the subway to get to his victims. Boylston Street station looks much the same as it did 50 years ago, when he was alive. (Globe Staff Photo/Wendy Maeda) section: Living slug: 21james reporter: James Sullivan 19james
Red Sox advisor Bill James leaving the MBTA's Boylston Street station in downtown Boston in 2011. –Wendy Maeda / The Boston Globe

The Red Sox are denouncing the recent comments made by senior advisor Bill James, calling the pioneering baseball statistician’s tweets downplaying the importance of MLB players “inappropriate” and “absurd.”

James was widely criticized by the baseball community after arguing with fellow sportswriters Wednesday on Twitter that MLB players are replaceable and no more integral to the game than “beer vendors” and other people working in the professional baseball industry. The influential writer, who led the mainstreaming of advanced analytics and was hired by the Red Sox as an advisor in 2003, argued — in a now-deleted reply to a tweet about agent Scott Boras complaining about teams tanking for draft picks — that lower-paid MLB players make “more money than they are worth.”

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In another since-deleted tweet, James wrote, “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.

James went on to say he wasn’t complaining about players earning large salaries, but criticized the idea that certain players making millions a year were “underpaid” — relative to the non-athlete workers in the industry. Despite deleting his most scrutinized tweet, he also doubled down on the “obvious” claim that baseball would be just as entertaining with replacement players.

My point is, if you are the 50th best schoolteacher in the world and you make only $8 million a year, are you underpaid because some other schoolteacher makes $30 million? Or should we, as observers, keep the focus on the schoolteacher or the custodian who makes a modest salary?

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

It is disrespectful to the fans, to the workers who build the stadiums, to the umpires, to the sportswriters, to the coaches, to the scouts and to the trainers to say that the players alone are the game. If a player is offended by my saying that, I’ll live with it.

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

They would, yes–just as college basketball players are every bit as entertaining as the pros.

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

It is not in anyone’s interest to have a walkout or a lockout. I am in no way complaining about players having large salaries. I am simply saying that it is asinine for sportswriters or fans to suggest that players making millions of dollars a year are somehow underpaid.

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLB Players Association, responded to James in a statement Thursday, calling his comment “reckless and insulting considering our game’s history regarding the use of replacement players.” During the 1994-1995 players’ strike, the MLB employed replacement players, derided by the union members as “scabs,” during Spring Training.

“The Players ARE the game,” Clark said Thursday. “And our fans have an opportunity to enjoy the most talented baseball Players in the world every season. If these sentiments resonate beyond this one individual, then any challenges that lie ahead will be more difficult to overcome than initially anticipated.”

Executive Director Tony Clark’s regarding Bill James’ comments… pic.twitter.com/UHa4j1LSqD

— #MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) November 8, 2018

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The Red Sox also distanced themselves from James’s comments, saying in a statement Thursday afternoon that he is “a consultant” to the team, rather than an employee, and does not speak for the club. The Red Sox website lists James as a senior advisor for baseball operations, who lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

“His comments on Twitter were inappropriate and do not reflect the opinions of the Red Sox front office or its ownership group,” the team said.

“Our Championships would not have been possible without our incredibly talented players — they are the backbone of our franchise and our industry.” their statement continued. “To insinuate otherwise is absurd.”

The #RedSox Statement Regarding Bill James’ Recent Remarks: pic.twitter.com/JffB08Hqad

— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) November 8, 2018

James also received flack from a number of MLB players — including Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who questioned whether the Red Sox would have won their World Series trophy if one of their stars were swapped out with a replacement player.

Wonder if the @RedSox win the World Series with a replacement player for @mookiebetts or @JDMartinez14 or @DAVIDprice24 or #Bogaerts or @JackieBradleyJr or #ChrisSale or @RickPorcello or @asben16 or #Devers or @kimbrel46 or…….. https://t.co/jtk6lz96y2

— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) November 8, 2018

Though no Red Sox players took to Twitter to criticize James, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. did make a point of thanking Verlander for speaking up on their behalf.

Thanks for sharing JV (@JustinVerlander)! https://t.co/hD4VCVVLeW

— Jackie Bradley Jr. (@JackieBradleyJr) November 8, 2018

For his part, James still appeared to be confused Thursday afternoon about what he did to elicit all the criticism.

Can someone please point me to something specific that I said that upset people? I didn’t say anything about players as assets or anything. Just trying to chase down whatever it is so that I can, if possible, clarify.

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

After more than a few replies on Twitter, he apparently got his answer.

“I do my best not to offend people,” he wrote. “Can’t say that I have much talent for it.”

James said he expressed the same sentiment about players being replaceable to Marvin Miller, the former MLBPA executive director. And while James said Miller strongly disagreed, they were able to remain friends

“He understood that it was not in any way disrespectful to the players; he just thought it was factually wrong,” James tweeted.

Clearly, the late player’s union head isn’t the only one.

Thank you all.

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

I think that’s right; in fact, that’s a remarkable Twitter-short summary. I don’t think of myself as the Establishment or part of the establishment, but I do think that this controversy has arisen because yesterday’s comments were perceived in that way. https://t.co/1DURExzhgK

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

I do my best not to offend people. Can’t say that I have much talent for it.

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018

What I said here yesterday, I once said to Marvin Miller. 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.

— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 8, 2018