As Bill wrote last night, father of Sabermetrics Bill James, now a senior advisor on baseball operations for the Red Sox, had quite a night on Twitter. He talked about players being overpaid and, when it was suggested that some were underpaid, he sarcastically said “my heart bleeds for them.” He went on to say “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.”
While that may a be sentiment some fans have regarding the value of players, it was quite a thing to hear from someone high up in the baseball operations department of a major league baseball team. Indeed, it was such a thing that this morning it elicited a strong response from MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, who just issued the following statement:
The Comments Bill James made yesterday were both reckless and insulting considering our game’s history regarding the use of replacement players. The Players ARE the game. And our fans have the 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.”
I’m sure Tony Clark knows this already, but those sentiments do resonate beyond Bill James. Indeed, it’s certainly the case that a great many people in baseball front offices believe that the players are not as important a part of the game as they actually are and, at the very least, would be fascinated with the opportunity that a mass retirement of players would present. I suspect that if they are critical of the 1995 replacement player scandal, they are no doubt mostly critical of the sloppy way the plan was implemented, not the existence of the plan itself. It is the age-old owner vs. worker dynamic, which applies to baseball just as it does any other industry.
The difference is that, in baseball, management has spent the past 20 years or so learning not to say such things out loud. James’ offense here, from the point of view of baseball teams, is likely giving voice to that quiet part.