I get it. John Henry is a geek.
And his obsequious fondness toward the biggest geek in sports, famed baseball author/statistician Bill James, is not healthy.
Because Henry is an extremely rich geek, he has the checkbook as well as the power to put James in any position he darn well pleases. And a recent email to a Boston Herald writer implied James, after an apparent brief respite from consulting with the Red Sox baseball operations department, will be back making recommendations — maybe as a co-general manager — to Ben Cherington & Co.
That’s a mistake of Carl Crawford-like proportions.
In reality, the decline of the Red Sox over the last half-decade and, in particular, the two implosions over the last year, probably have as much to do with Henry’s mismanagement than anything else that James could have done. Henry, whether he lost his senses while courting a new love of his life or the obsession with growing the Fenway Sports Group, took his eye off his baseball team.
Here’s a fact Henry must face: The Red Sox are a mess of epic proportions and a “championship run” is out of the question for at least one or two more seasons.
James is not the answer. He’s an entertainer, albeit an incredibly geeky one.
Agreed, his paralysis-by-analysis is interesting, thought-provoking and has visionary qualities. He has player breakdowns for every baseball happenstance imaginable.
But his incredible library of information always seems to leave out one important factor about the game of baseball — it is played by human beings.
James can show me — and he did, through former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein — 10 different ways that J.D. Drew was not only a “great player” before he got to Boston, but he remarkably has data to “prove” his career was worth every cent of the $70 million he received.
We, who lived through the 606 games, know better. Drew’s problem was a simple one. He didn’t love baseball as much as the people who watched him did and they let him know it. Basically, he was a Hall-of-Fame talent with the passion of a long reliever.
But I don’t blame Drew for coming here. I blame Henry for falling for James’ statistical recommendations.
I’ve tried to figure out James’ “guys” since joining the Red Sox as a consultant in November of 2002.
Did he have anything to do with snaring David Ortiz and Bill Mueller from the scrap heap in 2003 or Hideki Okajima in 2006, all of whom played key roles in both championship runs? Did he recommend the free agent signing of closer Keith Foulke in 2004 or the trade for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in 2005 for Hanley Ramirez?
Or does James get blame for screwing up the shortstop position for nearly nine seasons with Edgar Renteria (2004), who couldn’t handle the everyday scrutiny in Boston (that wasn’t on the stats sheet!), and Julio Lugo (2006), who was supposed to be a leadoff hitter who ended up being a back-of-the-lineup batter and disaster in the field?
What about the pitchers the Red Sox signed — Daisuke Matsuzaka (2006), Brad Penny (2008) and John Lackey (2009) — while Epstein was taking James’ phone calls and emails?
I get it. James adores walks, runs and defensive zone coverage. He isn’t so fond of closers (saves, he says, are way overrated), RBI, bunts and stolen bases.
I disagree with him in most of those areas, but I wouldn’t hedge my bet solely on those stats.
Another problem I have with James is his penchant to take strange stances in some large international stories. It was James who defended Pete Rose in a mock trial a decade ago, saying there is no proof Rose bet on a baseball while making an impassioned plea against the commissioner and his minions.
Most recently, James went out of his way to defend Joe Paterno’s knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, actually believing the famed college coach was insulated from the pedophile. Very weird.
James reminds of the once famed pop “singing” duo of Milli Vanilli, who were exposed after demanding the world hear their real voices.
James does his best work in some dark room with a handy calculator. I call it entertainment for geeks.
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.