Adam LaRoche just made the decision that most Dads wish they could. You see, for the last few years, Adam LaRoche has brought his son Drake to the ballpark with him pretty much every day. The team’s he’s been on (the Washington Nationals from 2011 to 2014 and the Chicago White Sox last year) pretty much accepted the young man as their “26th man.”
After the Nationals won the NL East in 2012, the team celebrated with beer and champagne while Drake and 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper sat in the corner with some sparkling grape juice. That’s just one of a number of stories that have come out since the decision was made in the wake of this story about how Drake was accepted by his father’s teams.
So by all accounts, Drake was beloved by a majority of the guys on the team, was well behaved, and helped out around the clubhouse cleaning cleats, picking up baseballs, and doing laundry like the other teenagers in the clubhouse would. He had a locker next to his father complete with a uniform and everything. Several players who have been on teams with Adam have spoken positively about Darke’s presense, so it seems pretty obvious that this wasn’t a kid causing problems. He’d been around a Major League clubhouse for years and knew what was expected of him.
This spring however, White Sox President Kenny Williams had a couple conversations with LaRoche about bringing his son to the ballpark less often so that the team could focus on baseball. As Williams phrases it, “one of the things we said coming into this seasonis ‘let’s check all the columns’ with regards to our preparation, our focus to give us every chance to win.”
Williams must have pushed the issue in the second conversation with LaRoche because the decision to retire came very soon after. LaRoche decided to step away from the game, likely forfeiting his $13 million salary for 2016.
The White Sox players had a contentious meeting with Williams, which included a profanity-laced verbal tirade from the White Sox’s best player, Chris Sale, directed at Williams. There was even talk of boycotting yesterday’s game before the manager finally convinced them to take the field.
Since then, there has been a lot written wondering why LaRoche would let this decision cause him to retire. But I believe that if you are thinking like that, you’re looking at the situation backwards. When you flip it up, I think everything makes much more sense.
Last season, LaRoche endured the worst season of his career. He hit .207/.293/.340 with 12 home runs in 127 games for the White Sox. The 78 OPS+ was just the second time in his career that he’d posted below average results. The other, 2011 when he missed a chunk of the season with injury. He considered retiring, but ultimately made the decision to return for 2016. I believe his decision was based on the idea of getting to share the Major League experience with his son one last time.
Adam grew up around a Major League clubhouse himself. His father Dave pitched in the Majors for 14 seasons. Adam remembers hanging around the clubhouse with his brother Andy fondly. It was obviously a special experience for him and one that he enjoyed the opportunity to give his son.
Much has been said about the way that the LaRoche’s handle Drake’s schooling to allow him to spend this kind of time with his Dad, and while it might seem strange to regular people, it really isn’t that strange for the child of a professional athlete.
But after Adam has spent the last few seasons of his career with Drake by his side, I can imagine him not wanting to do it any other way.
So Adam made the decision that most parents wish they could make. He decided that spending a bunch of time with his son was more important to him than making $13 million. If only we were all so lucky.
Since LaRoche’s decision and the reasoning behind it became public yesterday, there has been quite a bit written defending the White Sox’s decision. Some say that the White Sox didn’t say that he couldn’t bring Drake sometimes (something disputed by LaRoche’s statement on the second conversation with Williams), just not all the time. But the way this entire discussion has been framed by White Sox upper management—even if they’re saying the opposite—is that they viewed Drake as a distraction.
Some say LaRoche is being selfish by walking away and robbing his son of the experience even part of the time. Some say Drake will now blame himself as the reason his father isn’t playing baseball anymore and he should have been more flexible. Some have even called LaRoche a quitter for retiring. After all, doesn’t LaRoche know that trying to win a World Series is more important than spending time with his son? #sarcasm
All of that might all have a little bit of truth, but when you look at it the way I suggest, things make much more sense and many of those defenses of the White Sox and attacks on LaRoche fail to stick.
Williams defended the decision to the media by asking how many workplaces allow you to bring your kid to work today. That defense rings hollow to me though for one simple fact. A Major League clubhouse isn’t your typical workplace. It isn’t an office job. It isn’t your kid tagging along while you wait tables. That’s an important decision to make. Plus, Adam did have a workplace where he was allowed to bring his son. It was an important part of the discussion before LaRoche signed his contract with the White Sox.
Out of one side of his mouth, Williams says that the decision wasn’t made because Drake was a distraction, but out of the other side he adds that he wanted to make sure they “checked all the boxes” when it came to focus and preparation. So if Drake wasn’t a distraction, why was limiting his access part of checking the boxes of focus and preparation?
LaRoche understood the implication of Williams’ decision.
There is also the argument that Williams was just being the bad guy for a teammate that was uncomfortable going directly to LaRoche with the issue. But if that is the case, I feel like that speaks to a much larger clubhouse issue than a 14 year old coming to work with his Dad. If you can go talk to the team’s President, but not your teammate, that’s a big problem!
Maybe I’m biased though. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were tagging along with my Dad to work. Getting to play on his computer. Getting to draw on his whiteboards (they were the greatest thing ever!). In later years, I came in and did some grunt work and helped out.
I feel like a very important part of my development as a person was getting an opportunity to see my Dad in the workplace setting. There he was more than just my Dad. He was a boss, he was co-worker, he was an employee. Seeing my Dad in those situations shaped many of the principles by which I treat people now.
Those are experiences that I want to share with my son too. My son was at my office yesterday, coincidentally, just after the story broke. He was walking around the office, giving everyone high fives, and playing with a co-worker’s stuffed panda. He and I sat at my desk for a bit and he was asking what everything was.
So I get it. In many ways I get LaRoche’s thought process and decision here. If Drake had been a problem or a distraction, I can understand the organization wanting to restrict his access. But I think the response from the team would have been very different. By all accounts so far, he wasn’t. And furthermore, when LaRoche signed his deal with the White Sox, they assured him he could have his kid around.
Some have called Drake the loser in this situation. I call him the winner. His Dad just told the world that he was more important than $13 million or a World Series ring. And what kid wouldn’t want that.
I hope some day that I can find myself in a situation where I can turn down $13 million to go spend time with my kid.