Contributed by Richard Cuicchi
If there was a villain in the strange case of Adam LaRoche last week, it wasn’t Drake LaRoche, Adam’s 14-year-old son. He was just doing what every young, aspiring baseball player in America would kill for—hang out in the clubhouse and on the playing field with a big league club. Plus, he got to hang out every day with his major league dad, a veteran Chicago White Sox player.
When White Sox executive Ken Williams informed LaRoche he had to limit the amount of time Drake could spend with the team, LaRoche immediately announced he was retiring from baseball mid-way through spring training. LaRoche drew both criticism and acclaim for his reaction to the situation.
Known as the consummate professional by his teammates, LaRoche took an unexpected hard stand to stick by his desire to have his son come to the ballpark every day, even if it meant forgoing $13 million on the remaining year of his contract with the White Sox. For those of us who will never see $13 million in our lifetime, much less in a year, LaRoche’s decision was a really strong statement for upholding his family values. In that sense, he is a role model for sticking to his principles.
On the other hand, LaRoche was viewed by some as having taken advantage of a good thing by allowing his son to accompany him to work every day at the ballpark. Sons of major leaguers have been around big league clubhouses and shagging fly balls in batting practice for decades. But apparently it was not done in such a way that it interfered with the team’s business—winning games. What is unclear is whether LaRoche’s son had actually become a distraction to the team over time. If so, evidently no one had really confronted the elder LaRoche about it before now.
Enter Ken Williams. He said in no uncertain terms last week that LaRoche would have to discontinue the practice of allowing 14-year-old Drake to routinely come to work with him. You can bet Williams’ main position is all about winning White Sox games. In fact, he’s desperate for a winning team this year, having finished in fourth or fifth place in the AL Central Division for the past three seasons. However, he was initially criticized by some for taking such a harsh stance with LaRoche and for how it was communicated.
Perhaps Williams’ action was partially in response to LaRoche’s manager, coaches, and teammates finally saying “enough is enough.” Major league teams have traditionally allowed relatives of the players to occasionally take batting practice or shag fly balls before games, as well as come into the clubhouse after winning games at the home ballpark. But not every day. Drake LaRoche even had his own locker in the clubhouse, even though he did not have an official role with the White Sox such as a batboy or clubhouse assistant.
One can understand how such a situation could be awkward for some of LaRoche’s teammates and that they might have complained. But shouldn’t LaRoche have sensed that? After all, he’s not a rookie; he’s been in major league locker rooms for thirteen seasons.
When Pete Rose was shopping around for a new team in the free agent marketplace in the late 1970s, one of his considerations for a new team was which one would accept his son, Pete Jr., as a more or less permanent part of the locker room scene. The Philadelphia Phillies agreed, and Rose consequently signed with them.
If LaRoche had been a player in the prime of his career like Rose, would he have been treated differently by the White Sox? The 35-year-old LaRoche is coming off of a sub par season in 2015 when the White Sox were counting on his bat to lift the team as a division contender. Did that come into play with Williams’ decision about LaRoche’s son? Perhaps. In any case, Williams is probably not grieving too much over the additional $13 million salary he has available now.
At the end of the day, White Sox management was not out of line in demanding LaRoche to limit his son’s time at the ballpark. However, the negative publicity of the situation could have likely been avoided if the White Sox front office had approached LaRoche before the season started to express their intentions going forward. It’s unfortunate Drake had to be dragged through the media fray last week.
Adam LaRoche is the son of a former major leaguer himself. Dave LaRoche pitched for five different major league teams during 1970 to 1983. Primarily a reliever, he was an all-star selection in 1976 and 1977. Adam’s brother, Andy, is a six-year veteran of the majors, last appearing in 2014.