There are a lot of reasons to like social media, but if you’re going to have an argument with someone, that’s not the place for it.
Baseball historian/author/sabermetrics guru Bill James is the latest to learn that lesson.
James, who lives in Lawrence and is an adviser for the Boston Red Sox, and Chris Towers of CBS Sports on Wednesday were arguing about player salaries in Major League Baseball. Here is what they tweeted at each other (James deleted a number of his tweets, but a screenshot of the conversation is here):
James: “I challenge you to explain to me why a player making $3 million a year is underpaid. I want to hear it.”
Towers: “Because the sport generates a ton of revenue and profit, and labor deserves a large share of that. If every player in baseball made $2-3 million, the player pool as a whole would be laughably and obviously underpaid.”
James: “Yes, but what makes the baseball player a part of that labor, and not the beer vendor, or the security guard or the ticket taker or the scoreboard attendant or the scout or the concessions stand worker? Red Sox are very generous to me, but not every employee of every team ....”
Towers: “...This is such a wildly disingenuous argument, but if you want to lobby your bosses to pay the beer vendors more, I’ll co-sign it.”
James: “OK, why is it legitimate to argue that the players are merely splitting the money with the owners, but disingenuous to argue that they are taking money out of the mouths of concessions workers?”
A Twitter user named Will Norton interjected: “Players drive entertainment/commercial value, media rights, and (in some cases) culture. They collectively bargain as a union, and let’s be honest: they are the PRODUCT. Everything else (beer vendors, etc.) is incidental.”
James responded: “No. This is just flat not true. 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 beer vendors are.”
That last tweet, as noted, was deleted. But unsurprisingly, it upset players, the union and the Red Sox.
Was James saying that if every Major League Baseball disappeared, the game itself would return three years from now or was he saying it would continue at the same level in three years?
Not surprisingly, the comments led to a backlash among those in Major League Baseball.
The Boston Red Sox tweeted: ““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 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.”
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark said in 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 Players ARE the game. 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.”
Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander tweeted: “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........”
Former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter tweeted: “So smart that Bill James lost touch with reality! True ballers can’t be replaced but you can!”
Former Yankees/Mets/Marlins pitcher Al Leiter tweeted: “As a former player & player Rep. This article is disturbing to me. @billjamesonline recognized as Godfather of Sabermetrics & admired..with ANALYTIC Depts. growing & hearing comments like players are assets & commodities..players beware! #players”
In an email to the Boston Herald, James wrote: ““I understand that the Red Sox are not in business to offend people, and certainly regret that I gave offense to anyone.”