Outside of Arlington: A White Sox Editorial
If you’re a baseball fan and haven’t been living under a rock, you already know the story. Chicago White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche abruptly announced his retirement earlier this week. Why? It was discovered, and then later announced by the man himself, that Executive Vice President Ken Williams set a precedent that LaRoche needed to scale back the amount of time that Drake, his 14-year old son, was spending in the clubhouse.
Look, I get it. From the last line of William’s statement to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, “Where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?”
You can’t. But this is baseball. This is a family sport. The workplace of a professional athlete, no matter what sport, is a unique one, where you CAN bring your child to work and nobody thinks twice about it.
Some back story: Drake LaRoche has been traveling with his dad for several years, dating back well into his time with the Washington Nationals. Over in D.C., a locker was put up for Drake, and he was in the clubhouse all the time. Articles have been written about how the LaRoche family is handling his education, with a little bit of admitted difficulty, but also with admitted success, and the rest of the LaRoche clan has been on board with the unique upbringing. This isn’t about LaRoche’s parenting, though – it’s about the backwards talk of Chicago White Sox’ Executive Vice President Ken Williams.
The LaRoche father-son locker setup in the Sox’s clubhouse at the Cell last year: pic.twitter.com/lvyZV21YOk
— Danny Ecker (@DannyEcker) March 16, 2016
First, there’s this. This is not something that is begrudgingly setup by an organization if they’re not on board with it. This is a full-fledged, player locker for LaRoche and LaRoche. This from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick last year, after LaRoche had signed his 2-year, $26 million contract:
“The White Sox outdid themselves with a second, equally thoughtful gesture: They saved the adjoining locker for LaRoche’s son, Drake, who accompanies him to spring training every year. Drake LaRoche, 13, arrived to find his very own nameplate and uniform hanging in the stall.”
Even if the White Sox were just replicating the treatment that the LaRoches got in Washington, that’s still the gesture of a team that looks to embrace every facet of a player’s game and personality. If the team had an issue with this, there was plenty of time during contract negotiations last winter to tell LaRoche, “You can come, but your kid can’t.” Before anyone accuses the younger LaRoche of potentially being a clubhouse distraction, consider this from Colleen Kane of The Chicago Tribune last summer:
“On game days, Drake LaRoche can often be found inside the White Sox clubhouse, hanging out at his locker or with players watching TV before heading out to shag balls during batting practice…It helps that Drake seems to know his place…Before games, shagging balls is Drake’s favorite activity, as he keeps track of consecutive fly balls caught to try to break his record of 24. He hangs out in the Sox video room during games and runs errands like grabbing water or sunflower seeds. [Adam]LaRoche doesn’t feel like he needs to keep tabs on his son at all times but said he is expected to earn his keep.
“He knows if he’s going to be a part of it, he needs to stay out of the way when guys are working and then help out where he can,” [Adam] LaRoche said.”
Yeah, a real nuisance. Flash forward to Wednesday and the statement that Ken Williams made to Ken Rosenthal.
“I asked Adam, said, ‘Listen, our focus, our interest, our desire this year is to make sure we give ourselves every opportunity to focus on a daily basis on getting better.'”
Is that so, Mr. Williams? That’s your focus, interest and desire THIS year? So what were you doing all of last year? Last year, the Pale Hose finished 76-86, fourth place in the AL Central, after many predicted them to at least be contenders, having picked up key free agents like LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, and David Robertson, and having traded for Jeff Samardzija. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the poor performance of the Chicago White Sox rested squarely on the shoulders of one Adam LaRoche.
True, LaRoche had a career-worst year: a slash line of .207/.293/.340, 12 home runs, 44 RBI, 133 strikeouts, and 49 walks, all just about career lows (for his full seasons) as he switched to the American League and had to deal with being primarily a Designated Hitter for the first time in his career. But near everyone on that team failed to live up to expectations, as the cylinders never really ever clicked all together.
As it related to your Texas Rangers, certainly the presence of Adrian Beltre‘s and Prince Fielder‘s children certainly haven’t had an adverse effect on the team and weren’t a big problem when they won the West last year.
What about the rest of the team? This, again, from The Chicago Tribune:
“Obviously there are restrictions,” [Conor] Gillaspie said. “There are areas and times when (LaRoche) does a pretty good job of not letting him do certain things that he shouldn’t be allowed to do. I don’t see a reason more people don’t do that as far as the practice aspect of it.”…
Gillaspie and second baseman Carlos Sanchez have sons too young to traipse around a clubhouse, but they said they’d love to do what LaRoche does when they’re older.
“He’s amazing,” Sanchez said. “I want to have my son be with me everywhere, too, like LaRoche’s son. Every time I see LaRoche’s son with him, it’s a really good feeling.”
Said White Sox’ Manager Robin Ventura:
“The kid also has to be like Drake LaRoche. The kid is pretty impressive when you’re around him, with manners and knowing where he’s at and understanding when he can move around and when it’s probably time to sit tight.”
It’s obviously not a clubhouse atmosphere problem. In fact, early on Thursday morning, ESPN.com reported that the White Sox were considering boycotting their Spring Training game in a show of support for LaRoche’s decision. To me, that doesn’t sound like a team that was relieved that a 14-year old kid wouldn’t be running amok around their clubhouse anymore.
Is it a managerial issue? Jeff Joyce and Jeff Nelson on MLB Network Radio Wednesday said that perhaps there was a worry that manager Robin Ventura would lose the clubhouse if he allowed shenanigans like this to happen for one player – what happens when the next player wants to bring his kids around constantly? That could be a sign of losing the clubhouse, making exceptions for one player. So, was Ventura in danger of losing the team? First, if you’ll go back to that Chicago Tribune article, someone from the Chicago White Sox said that it’s up to the manager to set the team family policy. Ventura was on board with this. Secondly, as LaRoche demonstrated, players will do what they want to do, if they are so inclined. Thursday morning, the decision to boycott the game was abandoned…at the behest of Robin Ventura, who, the article mentions, “intervened and persuaded the players” to continue on with the game.
That sure sounds like a manager who has lost his team. The sarcasm font fully applies.
Finally, take this from Ken Williams’ statement to Rosenthal:
“This young man that we’re talking about, Drake, everyone loves this young man. In no way do I want this to be about him.”
You know when someone says, “No offense, BUT…” or “Not to complain, BUT…” or “I don’t mean to be a jerk, BUT…”? That’s exactly what this sentence says. In short, Williams is looking for a scapegoat for the 2015 season and figured that a kid in the clubhouse, a kid that has not been a distraction, but instead, a student of the game (LaRoche has been teaching his kid the ropes at 1st base), is the one to blame.
For a guy who isn’t in the clubhouse 100% of the time, Mr. Williams, this is not your place. Just because you decided to place a significant amount of chips on a player who was entering his declining years and the rest of the team never pulled it together around him, don’t step down from your office and decide that YOU, Mr. Williams, know what’s best for the players on the field.