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

The famed statistician asserted that players "are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are."

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.

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.”

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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.”

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.

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.

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

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.”

“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.

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