The brewing war between MLB owners and the MLB Players Association was ratcheted up another notch Wednesday night.
In a series of since deleted tweets, sabermetrics godfather and Red Sox special consultant Bill James responded to general criticism by agent Scott Boras, who ripped teams for tanking during the GM Meetings earlier this week. In those since-deleted tweets, James called all players replaceable (transcript via Hardball Talk):
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 is, of course, nonsense, through and through. The players are the game. Not the owners, not front offices, not the coaches, not the beer vendors, not the media. The players are the game, plain and simple. They are the reason everyone watches and they are the ones who generate billions -- tens of billions -- in revenue each year. Functionally, yes, every player can be replaced. The quality of play would suffer greatly, however, and a sport that is already seeing declining attendance would suffer even more.
Needless to say, a team executive calling all players replaceable did not sit well with the union. MLBPA chief Tony Clark responded to James' stunningly dense tweets with a statement Thursday morning.
"These 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."
MLB owners recruited players, mostly fringe big leaguers and career minor leaguers, to fill their rosters in spring training 1995 as the 1994-95 work stoppage wore on. Players who crossed the picket line were not permitted to join the union. Journeyman lefty reliever Ron Mahay, who retired in 2011, was the last 1995 replacement player to appear on an MLB roster.
The Red Sox issued the following statement Thursday afternoon in response to James' comments:
"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."
Several current and former MLB players responded to James' comments on Twitter:
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........ https://t.co/jtk6lz96y2— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) November 8, 2018
The Bill James stuff is completely nonsensical. He mentioned coaches and staff. Go ahead..ask them. They’ll tell you the game is entirely about the players. The players and fans then connect and bond. That isn’t something that gets tossed aside...it matters. 1/— Michael Young (@MikeyY626) November 8, 2018
Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., the reigning ALCS MVP, quote-tweeted Justin Verlander ripping James and said "Thanks for sharing JV!"
The MLBPA had been gearing up for a labor fight with the MLB owners as the sport's revenues continue to be funneled away from players and to ownership. The current collective bargaining agreement does not expire until December 2021, so a work stoppage is not imminent, but there are already rumblings it could happen.