Most of us know that baseball is a kid’s game, played by adults who get paid millions of dollars. Despite all the money made professionally by Major League Baseball, at it’s core it is a game beloved and cherished by kids. No matter the popularity, I doubt this ever changes. Baseball has long had a tradition of it’s players having their kids tag along with the team in the clubhouse, as guys like Prince Fielder, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Brian McRae are just a few player’s sons who frequented many a trip to the ballpark and would end up playing the game at its highest level. Adam LaRoche was another of those sons(his dad was former pitcher Dave LaRoche) who would end up playing in the big leagues and over the last couple seasons has had his now 14 year old son, Drake, tag along for a large chunk of the season. Problem is, earlier this week LaRoche stepped away from the game after Chicago White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams told him to limit the amount of time Drake was in the White Sox clubhouse this year. Many have taken shots at LaRoche for this action, but this development is all about priorities.
There is a number of issues to bring up with this situation, so let’s start first with Williams comments on the situation and what he talked to LaRoche about:
“It is true I asked Adam to dial it back,” Williams confirmed that point in a phone conversation with MLB.com on Wednesday. “I felt 100 percent was a bit much. So I asked that he dial it back. I said I think even 50 percent is a bit much.
“We are focused on trying to get everybody on the same page on some things with regards to preparing for this season. And I don’t want that to be misconstrued as Drake was a distraction. I’m not saying that.
“You’ve been around this kid. He’s a great kid. And everyone loves him,” Williams said. “I just thought at this point in time, where we are right now, that 100 percent was a little much. So I asked him to dial it back.”
Alright, let’s start here. I think we can all understand part of this, as we all work jobs and aren’t allowed to take our kids to work with us every day. Some jobs allow you to occasionally bring your kid with you, but not most. So that part you can kind of understand, although the argument can be made that baseball is not a normal job. In fact, to varying degree’s this has been a part of the game for decades now. But at the least, we can understand not wanting a kid around the workplace 100% of the time. I will say that the oddest part of this is the timing of Williams request, as he decided to do this halfway through Spring Training. This seems like the sort of edict that should have been brought down either at the end of last season or before LaRoche was headed to Arizona. Deciding a few weeks in seems odd and weirdly timed.
The other part that struck me was that in my mind this felt like a decision the players should be making, not someone from the front office. Apparently I wasn’t alone:
The fellow players are the ones who would have to be around Drake the most and if they had an issue I’m sure LaRoche could understand that and even acquiesce to it. It is the players clubhouse and what is allowed there is normally dictated to a large degree on what the players feel is appropriate. That being said, it has become obvious the players were not only okay with the young LaRoche being around, they stood up to Williams about it. This paragraph alone tells you quite a bit about how the majority of the White Sox players felt:
Ace pitcher Chris Sale reportedly tore into Williams during a tense clubhouse meeting after the decision was announced, with Sale telling Williams he isn’t in the clubhouse enough to know the deal. Sale wasn’t alone; players evenconsidered boycotting a game. From all reports, LaRoche had the OK of general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura to bring Drake around as much as he wanted. The reversal from on high apparently bothered teammates as much as anything.
A few other players spoke out in support of having Drake around, including Adam Eaton. It does appear that even if a few players complained about the situation(and there’s a good chance they did) they would have been the minority and definitely didn’t seem to be speaking for the leaders of this team.
The other part I find interesting is how highly the team speaks of this young man. Drake is not ony there spending time with his dad(which I will get to in a moment), but he is also helping out. Many spoke of how he would clean cleats and fetch balls while he was there, so he was helping out the team in a small capacity. I know there are some that believe a young man his age shouldn’t be around a big league clubhouse, but I actually think this is great for him to learn some old school life lessons. I’m not saying the kid shouldn’t be in school like a normal kid, but he also has a chance to encounter something very few people do in life and will be able to come away from the experience with a different view of life than most would. There are lessons here of responsibility, character building exercises and simple occurrences that he will end up running up against in life. For instance,most of the players have to be at the fields by a certain time and be ready to work out before the game. Don’t most of us have to be at work on time, ready to go when we are expected to be there? Doing chores like the ones mentioned above build character and show he has to earn his keep while he is there rather than just hang around and play ball. Most importantly, he is learning the responsibility a parent has to his child and how vital it is to his development.
To me, that is what this is really about. LaRoche is at a point in his career where spending time with his son is possibly the most important it has ever been. A ballplayer spends 7+ months on the road, zig-zagging across the country and a lot of that time is spent away from the family. What good parent would not want to spend more time with his kids, as long as he gets permission, which is what LaRoche did? I can not begin to express how much respect I have for Adam, as he has shown how high a priority his family is. As much as many people enjoy their jobs, family should always be the highest of priorities for a ballplayer with one. What LaRoche has done is tell the White Sox “my family comes first and if you can’t understand that, I will leave.” While he can rescind his retirement papers within a few days, the fact that LaRoche is willing to walk away from a job that pays him $13 million a season in the name of family speaks volumes. Many athletes miss valuable time with their children because of their job; LaRoche has been interweaving the two for years now and up until this point teams have been willing to work with him. I respect the hell out of him for that and wish more people did this in general, not just athletes.
The other part of this is just how badly Williams misread his locker room. For a guy who not only is a VP but also a former player, to come down on this and not realize what it would do to the morale of this team is mind boggling. In just a few short days, he has lost one of the most respected players in the game and alienated his locker room. For a team that is hoping to contend, this is a giant fumble and one that could cost this White Sox team for quite awhile. There also seems to be a loss in trust with the front office, which doesn’t bode well for not only this 2016 team but also players who would consider coming to Chicago in the future. This misstep could affect the team now, the rest of the season and well into the future.
I’ve heard people say LaRoche is in the wrong here, that he owes his teammates and that a kid shouldn’t be in a major league clubhouse. Honestly, this issue is more about character, family and one’s personal belief system than anything else. We all have a line that we aren’t willing to cross when it comes to juggling our jobs and our family. Some people’s line is farther away than others, but there is a line. LaRoche has decided where his line is and is standing firmly in front of it. We might all choose a different path for our lives and that is fine, but no one can tell Adam LaRoche what is best for him and his family. There is always a deal-breaker, and the White Sox found his. Your child should always be your top priority and parents that go the extra mile to spend as much time with their kids should be praised, not condemned for it. I commend LaRoche for his choice and agree 100% with his decision. As much as we all love baseball, it is just a game. Thank you, Adam, for that reminder.