When word broke that Adam LaRoche had announced to his teammates on Tuesday that he was going to retire, it was largely assumed that the “personal reasons” cited as the cause had something to do with his back.
He’d missed time with the injury which may have been the underlying cause of his problems in 2015, and it can’t be comfortable to play a professional sport with that sort of ailment. Wednesday, a little more light was shed when Ken Rosenthal reported that LaRoche was retiring because he was told by Executive Vice President Ken Williams that he could no longer bring his son into the clubhouse. It was later clarified that it wasn’t his presence, but the frequency of his presence that was no longer welcome. 14 year-old Drake LaRoche was essentially a part of the White Sox team for the entirety of the previous campaign. He had a uniform and was on the field before every game. He had a locker next to his dad’s in the clubhouse, complete with name plate. He was living the major league life while still a minor.
In the endless public responses to this, on one end there are emphatic nods and congratulatory sentiments expressed towards the White Sox because after all, a Major League clubhouse is no place for children. On the other end, severe disapproval of the White Sox, who are clearly purveyors of injustice. It’s an odd situation, one without direct precedent, and there really isn’t any right or wrong here. An organization that wants to create a particular atmosphere for its employees, and a man with firm familial priorities. Nobody needs to be villainized.
It’s important to understand that nobody was banned from the clubhouse. The White Sox are within the bounds of reason to ask that a non-team member not be present for team activities every single day. And Adam LaRoche is within the bounds of reason to end his career a little early because he wants to spend more time with his son. He’s collected about $70M in his Major League career prior to this season, and he’ll be fine if he sticks to this decision. The White Sox notched just 76 wins in 2015 behind their DH’s below-average production. They’ll also be fine.
The Sox have a strong history of nepotism. It seems rare that a draft passes without seeing the son of a White Sox staffer selected. Jerry Reinsdorf is both panned and lauded for his loyalty. Ozzie Guillen’s sons were a fixture in the clubhouse during his tenure as manager, though a case could be made that their presence also precipitated his departure. Most recently, and most directly related to the case of Drake LaRoche, is Drake LaRoche’s presence throughout 2015. His constant presence alongside his dad has been noted in the past, through multiple organizations. The elder LaRoche felt that his son would learn more hanging around the clubhouse, learning valuable life lessons, than he would in school, of which he’s made clear he’s not a fan. Then the team decided it was time for a change.
Williams made a point of stating that Drake was still welcome in the clubhouse, but expressed that every day was too much. He spoke well of Drake and insisted that complaints of his presence were not prevalent. The latter bit could be Williams showing a willingness to take the heat in a difficult situation in the event that there were more than a few grumbles from other players. The Sox executive pointedly asks, “where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?” It could even be asked where could you bring your child to work a little under half the time, which is an allowance it seems the White Sox were willing to make.
Unfortunately, lost in all of this is how Drake may feel about it. He knows his dad better than he knows anybody, and it surely didn’t take a gesture as grand as this to know that he loves him. His name is being bandied about on social media now, and repurposed for jokes and angry screed, whether there’s a basic understanding of what occurred or not. It helps to be reminded sometimes that baseball players are people too, and it goes without saying that the members of their families are as well.
This isn’t just baseball; a kid’s game. It’s baseball; a job. 25 players are going to be wearing official jerseys on opening day, while all other spring hopefuls will be stuck in minor league jerseys or street clothes. Those in official jerseys have been professional baseball players for a while. They know this is their job, they know how it works. They were fully prepared to not be in the company of every player they laughed and spent time with over the last few weeks. And between injury and performance, they all knew it was possible that Adam LaRoche would not be part of this show before any of Tuesday’s events went down. Several teammates have spoken out in support of LaRoche’s decision, they have also yet to express any serious ill will towards the team’s decision that I’ve seen.
It’s impossible to tell if this would have happened if LaRoche had, say, been an All-Star last year. If he still had much left in the tank, I doubt such a demand from the team causes him to walk away from the game. His back may be close to done as it is and already he’s sat out much more than he’s participated this Spring as is. The desire to get up every day and test it out, fight through the pain enough to give Robin the ‘OK’ to pencil him into the lineup might not be very strong anymore, and not being able to have his son by his side the whole time might just have been the straw that broke LaRoche’s back.
If you’ve ever quit a job, there’s a good chance you made up your mind well before the moment you decided to put in your notice, whether you acknowledged it or not.
It’s just that most of us aren’t leaving $13M on the table.