CHICAGO -- One thing not up for debate during a wild two days for the Chicago White Sox is the quality of the kid at the center of a saga that erupted between the team and veteran slugger Adam LaRoche.
Cases can be made for whether a 14-year-old’s presence in a Major League Baseball clubhouse should be unlimited, with restrictions, or not allowed at all.
There is no evidence, however, that LaRoche’s son, Drake, an aspiring third-generation baseball player, is anything but a respectful, appropriately confident, well-liked kid who was never anything but a delight to be around.
So why all the fuss? Why would the White Sox ask that LaRoche curtail the clubhouse visits by his son? And why would a veteran of 12 major league seasons choose the forfeiture of a $13 million salary as a way to make a stand?
Although the clubhouse is typically the domain of the players and manager, it was White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams who made the request of LaRoche to reduce his son’s visits by half. How much did that play a role in what appears to be LaRoche’s decision to walk away with a year on his contract rather than limit his son’s presence?
Drake LaRoche, who is believed to participate in a combination of home schooling as well as traditional education, has been in White Sox camp in Arizona this spring every day that his dad has been there, according to statements Williams made to multiple outlets. So Williams made a request, and it turned out to be a not-so-simple one.
Williams reportedly told LaRoche that even half the visits by his son were too many, in his opinion, but he was willing to meet somewhere in the middle. Two days later, LaRoche apparently tendered his resignation, leaving a small fortune on the table.
In LaRoche’s defense, he also grew up as a kid in major league clubhouses. His father, Dave LaRoche, was a pitcher for 14 seasons, most notably six with the California Angels. So he knew from firsthand experience how valuable time in a major league clubhouse can be.
According to sources, LaRoche had asked after signing with the White Sox last winter if Drake could have clubhouse access, and that request was granted by White Sox manager Robin Ventura. Drake not only had his own uniform and spring training locker last year, but also had a locker in the White Sox clubhouse during the regular season.
At no point did Drake appear to be a distraction last season, and was in fact a welcome addition to the group. He played video games with players pregame, shagged balls during batting practice and was not one to draw attention to himself in the clubhouse, respecting the players’ space.
It is not known if management asked Ventura to change the access policy for LaRoche and his son. Williams, though, felt a change was in order.
In the defense of the front office, unlimited clubhouse access for a family member is unprecedented. Visitors are frequent, even repeat visits from individuals, but unlimited visits are rare, if not unheard of.
Williams clearly felt that the team was put in position to clarify some kind of clubhouse policy. Williams said that family members were not being banned from visiting, or even participating in workouts; he just requested that it be dialed back some in the case of the LaRoche family.
Instead of compromise, Williams’ request was met with the equivalent of "I’m taking my ball and going home." Always a good teammate, forever accountable, LaRoche obviously felt this was an area where he would not bend.
The facts are that LaRoche did struggle offensively last year, his first with the White Sox, and he is dealing with more issues this year as back spasms have reduced his spring to a handful of games. There also were indications that the current roster construction would seriously limit his plate appearances.
In that respect, perhaps the request to limit his son’s visits was the final straw for the 36-year-old.
While the players in the clubhouse were supportive of LaRoche, and Ventura asked his slugger to take some time to cool off before making such a drastic decision, the front office should not be viewed as the bad guy here.
Drake LaRoche is a good kid, but what if somebody else wanted to bring in a brother, cousin or friend who wasn’t so respectful of the players’ space? Where would the White Sox be if they told one player that his cousin had to go while outfitting a full locker for another player’s family member?
The sad part in all of it is that a 14-year-old kid got caught in the middle. Ideally, Drake knows that this isn’t about him. He should know that his presence was appreciated by all and that the way he carries himself for a young man is commendable. The way he swings a bat at his age, you can hear yourself saying, “I knew him when.”
Instead, this was one side making a request of another, and somebody deciding that the request was so unreasonable, it wasn’t even worth settling with his presence this season, much less honoring his contractual commitment.
Adam LaRoche has signaled loud and clear that he is a family man. That part is commendable. But assuming we have all the facts in this case, a concept that does give you pause at a moment like this, the White Sox’s request was not all that unreasonable.