Back in 2003 the Boston Red Sox made a move that was pretty dang shocking at the time: they hired Bill James — the outsider analyst and father of sabermetrics — and put him in their front office. Or at least near their front office. The terms of his employment, his physical location and the exact things he did for the team varied over the years were never wholly clear to outsiders, but his hiring, the same year the book “Moneyball” was published, marked a new era in baseball. One in which teams, apart from just the weirdo low-budget Oakland A’s, embraced a new way of thinking.
In subsequent years every team opened their own analytics operations and they’re all now doing things light years beyond what was state-of-the-art back in 2003. Which makes it not super surprising that the now-70-year-old James and the Red Sox are parting ways on what appears to be good terms. From his website:
I leave the Red Sox on the best possible terms. I am still friendly with everyone that I have worked with there, from the owners to the security guards . . . I’m 70 years old, maximum take-your-Social-Security-dammit age, and, to be honest, I haven’t earned my paycheck with the Red Sox for the last couple of years. I’ve fallen out of step with the organization. The normal flow of work assignments to work products has deteriorated to basically nothing; honestly, I should have left a couple of years ago . . . I appreciate you all reading my work, and to the Red Sox: it’s been a blast. Thank you all.
James is still going to continue writing, and he mentioned several projects he has in the works. Any time he wants to do an update of his New Historical Baseball Abstract would be fine with me, of course, given that it’s the best baseball book of all time. But I digress.
James’ tenure with the Red Sox coincided with four World Series titles, and he should get at least some degree of credit for that, as he no doubt worked on projects which helped the team win them. In more recent years, though, he tended to make news for the wrong reasons, usually for saying or tweeting something controversial and, in some cases downright indefensible.
Most recently he called players 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.” That caused the Red Sox to underscore James’ status as a consultant, not an employee, of the team and to distance the organization from his comments.
More notoriously, James spent a good deal of time and effort defending the late Joe Paterno’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Indeed, he spent so much time — and made so many appalling comments in the course of doing so — that the Red Sox publicly told him to cut it out. Just a few months later, though, they expanded James’ role with the club, so they seemed to be more upset about the bad press than they were about James’ judgment.
Now, though, his time working for major league baseball teams is over. At least on a full time basis. I wouldn’t be shocked if someone asked him to do what he used to do and consult on an arbitration case or whatever, but mostly now he’s going to be an author again.