The baseball community suffered a tremendous loss on Thursday afternoon when Frank Robinson, a Hall of Famer and baseball pioneer, passed away at the age of 84. Robinson won the Most Valuable Player award in both the American League as well as the National League, and he was also the first ever African-American manager in Major League Baseball.
Frank Robinson left an indelible mark on the sport of baseball both on and off the field, one that no one would ever think to challenge or question.
Unless your name is Bill James, however.
Bill James is a baseball historian and statistician who has been employed by the Boston Red Sox since the 2003 season. His main role seems to be geared towards assisting the Red Sox in their sabermetrics department. James has been regarded as a key component of the team’s success over the last 15 years, having received a World Series ring for each of the team’s four championships during that span.
On Thursday, James decided to flex his sabermetric muscles in the most tone-deaf way possible by sending out a tweet questioning whether or not Frank Robinson deserved to be the MVP in 1966. The tweet, which has since been deleted, read as follows:Bill James is the godfather of modern baseball sabermetrics, but has stirred up controversy with tone-deaf comments on numerous occasions. The @RedSox, writes @ColouroftheIris, should part ways with James.Click To Tweet
“By the way, Baseball Reference WAR insists that the most valuable player in the AL in 1966 was not Frank Robinson, but Earl Wilson, a pitcher 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA, one point better than the league ERA of 3.44. Look it up. No offense; just thought I would mention it.”
Many people who enjoy baseball also enjoy the sabermetrics and statistics that go along with it, but was this really necessary to tweet on the day that Robinson passes? While his tweet may not have been outright offensive the timing of it was most certainly in poor taste. Had it been a one-time faux pas from James then maybe it would have gone unnoticed. The sad truth is that Bill James has a troubling history when it comes to making offensive, off-color comments.
Back in 2012, James drew the ire of many when he addressed the controversy at Penn State and defended Joe Paterno by claiming that he did nothing wrong in that situation. James’ overall thesis was that Paterno was not powerful enough to stop what Jerry Sandusky was doing and that the media was forcefully making Paterno a scapegoat for the situation. These comments were, quite obviously, far beyond unacceptable and led to the Boston Red Sox having to issue an official statement regarding the comments made by James.
“Red Sox Owner John Henry & GM Ben Cherington spoke to Bill James regarding him making public his personal opinions on Joe Paterno. In that call, Mr. James was informed that his comments in no way reflect the opinions or positions of the Red Sox. Because Mr. James is perceived as representative of Red Sox, he was asked to refrain from further public comments on this matter. “
In 2017, James once again emerged online to question the validity of the sexual assault accusations that were made against actor Kevin Spacey. James published a Twitter poll asking his followers whether or not a public figure such as Spacey should have to answer for, “unsubstantiated allegations about what happened 30 years ago.”
The Boston Red Sox, once again, had to answer for James’ actions in an e-mail that was sent to WEEI.com.
“Bill James is a consultant to the Red Sox. He is not an employee, nor does he speak for the club. His tweet is inappropriate, and we are addressing this with him directly.”
Unfortunately for all of us, James did not stay quiet after that. In 2018, James theorized that the players in Major League Baseball are just as important as the “beer vendors” and that, “the game would go on” if they all retired and were replaced the very next day.
“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them,” James continued. “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.”
This prompted the Boston Red Sox, for the third time in the last six years, to issue an apology concerning James’ comments.
This begs the question: why do the Red Sox still bother with Bill James? Is he the only sabermetrician in town that can do the job for the team? Surely a franchise as respected and as rich as the Boston Red Sox can afford someone of similar talent who doesn’t make embarrassing and downright offensive comments.
The Red Sox can refute his comments all they want, but the fact of the matter is that they still sign his paychecks. The organization continually emphasizes that James does not represent their opinions and values, but that is a hard story to spin when he has been on their payroll going on 16 years now.
The Boston Red Sox are a prestigious franchise that is coming off yet another World Series championship. For the organization to be weighed down and burdened by having to constantly defend a man who personifies the concept of putting your foot in your mouth is embarrassing and, quite frankly, beneath them.