Jerry Reinsdorf issued a statement Sunday saying he “did not believe there is anyone directly to blame” in the week-long Adam LaRoche debacle that attracted gawkers for hundreds of miles.
The spirit of refusal to pin this on one person is understandable, and I agree with it, but there’s a better alternative. Finding fault for the organization looking ridiculous and alienating their fans by turning a clubhouse policy change into a civil war can be spread all over.
First, there’s Adam Eaton, who redefined the concept of overstating a point by calling 14-year-old Drake LaRoche “a leader” that the White Sox had lost. That major league clubhouses are alien organisms that cannot be compared to normal workplaces is a truism that players are understandably diligent about emphasizing, but the Sox roster repeatedly overdid it with comments that had no chance of coming off as anything but ridiculous to casual fans and seasoned industry observers alike. Worse yet, this time it came from a voice that previously has been trusted to be relatable about goings with the team.
The players who liked Drake really liked him, liked having him around and are aggrieved about him being removed in what they see as an unjust manner, but this kind of talk only discredits the team, rather than burnishing the reputation of a 14-year-old
In that vein, there’s Chris Sale, who had the right and responsibility as a franchise player on the roster to confront Kenny Williams, and forcefully, but came off just as detached from reality as Eaton did just with the severity of his tone. Sale is such an elite talent that there’s a degree that any reaction he has is legitimized because management needs to assuage him, but “reasonable,” “level-headed” and “measured” will never be qualities tagged to him after he stood in front of a self-made LaRoche altar at his locker and escalated this dispute to the level of calling for the team’s executive vice president to be fired.
Of course there’s actually Kenny Williams himself. Beyond critiquing the wisdom of taking it upon himself to commandeer a clubhouse situation, it’s simple enough to say that if multiple players come out of a team meeting calling you a liar, or your media accounts of events inaccurate, it was an unsuccessful run of conflict management. Williams intentionally positioned himself to be the bad guy in what he knew would be an unpopular team decision, and now he’s the team executive at the center of the most bizarre MLB dispute in years.
Williams’ role in this conflict strangely drowns out manager Robin Ventura, who appears in retellings of the Sox slide into madness when he diffuses a potential work stoppage, and retained the clubhouse’s respect, but is mostly uninvolved in the process of fielding player concerns about Drake’s presence in the clubhouse, or perhaps more importantly, on the field, and isn’t around in the saga of Williams asking LaRoche to reduce his son’s presence, then angrily trying to revoke it entirely when there was no sign of that reduction taking place. It’s hard to tell if Ventura is unassertive or was just underutilized, but for a guy whose merits as a clubhouse presence are typically touted when his in-game tactics are questioned, being a bit player while the clubhouse detonates is uninspiring stuff.
Finally, there’s Reinsdorf himself, who has finally rolled in and committed everyone to silence only after every fissure in the organization was laid bare. He is perhaps the only figure in the franchise centralizing enough to mediate the situation, but by now the notion that all the team’s divisions and damage to their league reputation could be patched in a single weekend seems beyond fatuous.
Maybe the only major Sox figure who avoids blame is Rick Hahn, the general manager who made the agreement with LaRoche which the fracture of kickstarted this whole mess. Sale even gave him a nod of improvement during his immolation of Williams, noting “Rick, I truly believe is trying to build a winning team.”
It was a nice exception to make, but Hahn’s reputation as a skilled actor swamped by mitigating factors didn’t need another entry.
Lead Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki // USA Today Sports Images