Why Adam LaRoche, White Sox are both right in a scenario that's all wrong

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·MLB columnist
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No villains exist in the fascinating case of the Chicago White Sox and Adam LaRoche, whose disagreement over the amount of time a player’s child can spend with the team prompted LaRoche to step away from the game Tuesday. The White Sox are not insensitive bogeymen. LaRoche is not a fool for forfeiting $13 million because he didn’t get his way. For two parties with such a significant philosophical difference, they’re actually quite similar.

Adam and Drake LaRoche (AP Images)
Adam and Drake LaRoche (AP Images)

This is about principle. The White Sox believed their team would benefit from a more tightly controlled environment, even at the price of a potentially productive player and the risk of alienating LaRoche’s teammates. Rather than play baseball without his teenage son, Drake, alongside him every day, LaRoche chose not to play at all, leaving behind a game he reveres enough to have raised his child in its corridors.

Before we try to understand each side’s perspective, it’s important to understand the sanctity of a clubhouse to baseball players and the place of children in it. Teams enforce varying rules; some go laissez-faire with kids tromping around almost daily, others limit interaction to after the game and barely a child can be found in a few. Kids have run around clubhouses forever. Drake LaRoche is thought to be the first who practically lived in one.

LaRoche prefers the education of the ballpark to school. Drake goes to traditional school only in the winter. He spent springs and summers with his father, and even as recently as this week, he was fully outfitted in a White Sox uniform and shagging fly balls, just like he did last season and the two previous with the Washington Nationals, who first allowed Drake to tag along.

Never mind that a baseball clubhouse is about the least representative place possible for a real-world education – a moneyed bubble in which rich men do and say what they want with limited consequences. For all the lessons it teaches – the value of teamwork and perseverance and camaraderie – baseball’s core tenets translate as well to society as Hollywood’s. LaRoche is a father, though, and he gets to educate his son how he pleases. And by all accounts, that son’s behavior was exemplary.

“Drake LaRoche was the best kid ever in the clubhouse,” one person familiar with him said. “He actually did work.”

The White Sox didn’t dispute this. Team president Kenny Williams, who asked LaRoche to halve the days Drake spent with the team, praised the 14-year-old. Williams also said he worried about a Pandora’s box, with other players seeing the privileges granted LaRoche’s son and expecting the same themselves, a valid point if not for a report that surfaced late Wednesday.

Chicago-area radio host David Kaplan said Drake being allowed in the clubhouse was part of LaRoche’s deal to sign with Chicago for two years and $25 million before 2015, and the Twitter account of LaRoche’s company, E3 Meat, tweeted out a thumbs up emoji, followed by: “you are on to something.”

Welching on promises is bad business, and if the White Sox did that to LaRoche following the worst season of his career, it’s an awful look – the sort that, fair or not, will stoke thoughts that Chicago wanted rid of him and took advantage of a weak spot for his son. After the misery of last year, of course, the White Sox were well within their rights to assess their policies and protocols, and if focus was a problem, reducing the team to its essence is a reasonable step.

One, of course, that should’ve been taken before mid-March. The White Sox didn’t necessarily err in trying to limit children in their clubhouse. This was a failure of timing and, if a promise was indeed broken, of honesty. Some teams prioritize the comfort of their players, seeing it as a small advantage for minimal cost. Overhaul family rooms at stadiums. Provide concierge services. Make up for the fact that in a six-month season dad is gone half the time.

Players so often lament missing their kids’ first steps, birthdays, milestones. LaRoche refused to, and the cudgel of his past secured him what felt like an ideal arrangement. All of it came crashing this week, and that it pitted a player so beloved by his teammates against the team for whom they play makes for an awkward dynamic.

During a meeting with Williams, several White Sox players voiced their displeasure, according to multiple reports. They like LaRoche. They like Drake. And they believe that for an executive to come into their domain and tell them who can and can’t spend time in their clubhouse smacked of short-sightedness and cost them someone for whom they cared. At the same time, any distraction from this will be temporary, unless the White Sox’s focus really is as bad as the team’s executives feared. Harping on this does nobody good. Especially a team trying to win the AL Central after a finishing 10 games under .500 last season.

So barring a reconsideration from LaRoche, he is done at 36, off somewhere with Drake, maybe to hunt, maybe to play catch, able to do whatever he pleases. When you’ve made $71 million over a dozen seasons, it’s the sort of insurance that can guarantee clear-headedness.

And make no mistake: LaRoche believes he’s in the right, truly and deeply, enough to turn his back on a staggering sum of money matched by his conviction. Just as with the White Sox, the principle mattered. In Adam LaRoche’s case, the price was $13 million.