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Bill James becoming an embarrassment for Red Sox

Alex Reimer
November 08, 2018 - 3:11 pm

Bill James is becoming an embarrassment for the Red Sox. The Father of Sabermetrics, who serves as a senior advisor to the team, keeps making ignominious public comments about topics ranging from Joe Paterno’s seeming complicity in Jerry Sandusky’s repeated sexual assaults of young boys to the value of baseball players. Once upon a time, James used to publish cutting-edge work in the field of sports statistics. Nowadays, the Red Sox publish statements that rebuke his bizarre words. 

On Wednesday, James was in the midst of a Twitter debate –– which never end well –– and fired off this doozy about how all MLB players are overpaid. “If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on,” he wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “In three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”

Those are ignorant words from somebody whose wellbeing is entirely dependent on baseball players. Predictably, the MLB Players’ Association condemned James’ arrogant take. "The comments Bill James made yesterday are both reckless and insulting considering our game's history regarding the use of replacement players," MLBPA head Tony Clark said in a statement issued Thursday, per ESPN. "The Players ARE the game. And our fans have an opportunity to enjoy the most talented baseball Players in the world every season.”

Several star players, including Justin Verlander, blasted James as well. The Red Sox were forced to issue a stern response, stressing James is not an employee of the club.

When John Henry brought James aboard in 2003, he worked in concert with Theo Epstein to build the Red Sox’ robust analytics department. James is often credited with shifting the team’s emphasis towards on-base percentage, resulting in the acquisitions of lynchpins David Ortiz and Kevin Millar. It’s apparent James was a big asset to the organization. 

His role is less clear now. Henry called on James to become more integrated with the team following the disastrous 2012 campaign, but now Dave Dombrowski is in charge. When Dombrowski was hired as president of baseball operations, he received full control over personnel matters.  

In addition, the Red Sox, like every other organization in MLB, employ several analytics gurus. Their current point man, Zack Scott, led an overhaul of the department just last year. As of 2017, the Red Sox had nearly 12 statistical analysts on staff. In front offices littered with Ivy League numbers wonks, James is no longer an anomaly. 

That is, except when it comes to his opinions on select social issues. James was one of the few respectable public figures who questioned Paterno’s culpability in the Sandusky case, saying showering with young boys was common when Paterno grew up, so maybe the deceased football coach didn’t think his longtime assistant was doing anything wrong.

Right on.

Last year, James put up a Twitter poll asking whether Kevin Spacey and other public figures should have to answer “unsubstantiated allegations” about sexual assaults that happened “30 years ago.” More than a dozen men have accused Spacey of sexual misconduct. 

In response to that weird outburst, the Red Sox told me James’ tweet was “inappropriate” and they were “addressing” the issue with him. It looks like it’s time for them to have another conversation. And given James’ recent track record, it shouldn’t be long before they’re forced to do this all over again. 

Related: Red Sox issue stern response to Bill James tweet

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