Years later, Bill James makes cryptic accusations about the 2011 Red Sox

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The 2011 Red Sox are one of the most infamous teams in Boston sports history. The star-filled squad crashed in September and collapsed under the weight of chicken and beer and other clubhouse scandals. But apparently, their problems were even worse than previously thought, at least according to Bill James.

The godfather of sabermetrics and former Red Sox advisor recently shared some cryptic details about the 2011 club on his pay-subscription website. The anecdotes describe a broken team that was split into feuding factions. Dan Shaughnessy included an excerpt in his latest column.

“The [2011] team was split 15 ways, split between pitchers and position players, split between the super-serious guys and the fun-loving guys, split between the drinkers and the pot smokers,” James writes. “A couple of players were suspected of being . . . um insufficiently committed to good relations between the races. One guy who had a great year for us was really kind of a criminal; another guy was just nuts. One guy was just all in for himself. Too many people ran their mouths to the press and to one another. Most everybody on the team had a list of 10 teammates that he couldn’t stand . . . If anybody ever tried to tell you that team chemistry doesn’t matter, man, they should have been there.”

Those words are ironic coming from James, considering he’s downplayed the importance of team chemistry for the bulk of his career. When Shaughnessy called Terry Francona and asked him about James’ comments, Tito brought up James’ previous dismissals of intangibles.

“He’s never been in the clubhouse, to my knowledge,” Francona said.”I don’t even know where to begin. When you lose like we did in Boston, there always has to be a reason. It can’t just be that you weren’t good enough. That team — we started out like 2-12, then we went 80-40 and I don’t remember anybody saying all those things on September 1st. We just kind of [expletive] the bed. Go back and look. Daniel Bard had a horrible September. He didn’t even drink. Our pitching was wiped out. We just played bad. I don’t know where Bill is coming up with all this. Also, Bill spent years telling me that this kind of stuff didn’t matter. It was all about the numbers with him.”

It’s apparent Francona, who was unceremoniously dismissed two days after the season ended, takes issue with James’ criticisms. But it’s worth noting that James changed his tune on chemistry later in his career, perhaps not coincidentally after witnessing the Red Sox’ 2011 collapse.

“I don’t diminish the importance of having a workable chemistry,” James said at the Sloan MIT conference in 2014. “Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. But we certainly operate under the assumption that it is.”

James retired from the Red Sox in October 2019 with four championship rings. All four championship clubs were supremely talented, but in keeping with James’ analysis, the players were also close.

Or at least, a lot closer than the dispirit 2011 team.