Somewhere along the twisted storyline of Adam LaRoche’s shocking retirement from the White Sox, this became a national debate over children in the workplace. But this employee is a millionaire athlete, and the office happens to be a baseball clubhouse, or locker room.
Here’s a quick synopsis. The White Sox told LaRoche that his 14-year-old son, Drake, no longer could be his daily companion at the stadium. In response, LaRoche said he would retire, which meant forfeiting his $13-million salary for this season.
What followed was a near-revolt this past week by the White Sox players, who reportedly considered boycotting an exhibition game because they were furious at executive vice president Kenny Williams. On Friday, Chris Sale, the team’s ace, even hung Drake’s uniform in his locker as a protest.
LaRoche said in a statement that before he signed with the White Sox prior to the 2015 season, he and the club reached an agreement about Drake. Later in the statement, he said Williams recently told him to “significantly scale back the time that my son spent in the clubhouse’’ and later told him “not to bring him to the ballpark at all.’’
Depending on your perspective, either Williams was in the wrong, as a cold, anti-Drake authority figure going back on a promise, or LaRoche was, as a clingy, self-absorbed parent. But for those outside the White Sox organization, the LaRoche arrangement — having his son with him on nearly a full-time basis — is so unique that it’s difficult to relate to.
What LaRoche enjoyed, and apparently negotiated for when he first signed with the White Sox, is an alien concept to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who maintains a relatively lenient clubhouse policy for kids.
“That conversation is foreign to me because we don’t have that problem,” he said before Friday’s game at Steinbrenner Field. “We have not experienced anything like that and don’t plan on it. There are some latitudes we provide at times. We try to work within our structure. Circumstances do pop up. But that’s very foreign. It’s hard to understand.”
Cashman did take strong exception, however, to the idea that the clubhouse somehow belongs to the players, as Sale asserted during his rant against Williams. Sale told reporters that “it’s a hard pill to swallow for someone outside the clubhouse to tell us what’s going to happen. We don’t go up to his office and tell him how to do his job.”
Those comments seem to suggest a serious disconnect between the players employed by the White Sox and the people actually in charge, such as Williams and the team’s chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf.
That distinction was not lost on Cashman, who emphasized the separation. He made a point of spelling out who runs what in the Yankees’ world.
“The entire facility is our facility, and we control it,” Cashman said. “We control the rules governing the facility. And that’s the policy. There’s definitely no part of a workplace that’s owned by the players, above the company. It’s the New York Yankees’ clubhouse, the New York Yankees’ training room, the New York Yankees’ dugout, the New York Yankees’ field. We dictate the access.”
Those wearing the pinstripes, from manager Joe Girardi on down, seem fine with the current environment. The Yankees haven’t had any kids-related issues in recent memory, dating to 1983. That’s when, according to a New York Times story about Ken Griffey Jr., who then was 13 years old, Griffey said he and his brother were singled out among 14 equally noisy children of Yankees players and told to leave a corridor outside the clubhouse by Yankees manager Billy Martin. Griffey continued to hold that against the Yankees well into his Hall of Fame career. On Friday, Cashman joked that Martin probably was just acting on George Steinbrenner’s orders anyway.
It’s certainly a kinder, gentler clubhouse these days. Joe Girardi often can be spotted throwing batting practice or hitting grounders to his son, Dante. His daughters also come by the manager’s office on occasion, and Girardi encourages a family-friendly atmosphere around the team.
There are limits, however. And Girardi hinted that having a player’s kids around constantly, as in the case of Drake, might be tough to handle.
“I know, in my eyes, families are extremely important,” Girardi said Friday. “And I always thought, since I’ve been a little boy, that it’s important to know what your father does. But I wasn’t with my father every time he went out on a job.”
For the Yankees, the clubhouse door is regularly open to their kids, and it’s not unusual to see little boys, dressed in dad’s pinstripes and number, running around after games, preferably wins. Some teams have a “victory-only” policy in an attempt to avoid upset players maybe getting annoyed.
“Generally, I don’t bring them in unless it’s after a win,” said Chase Headley, whose oldest son, Colt, is 4. “Personally, I think that’s how I want to handle it. I know some guys that will have their guys in prior to batting practice, really early. But for me, it’s always easier to do after.”
Headley described the usual postgame routine — ice, maybe the training room, talking with the media — as taking roughly a half-hour, with the kids coming in afterward. The plan is to not disrupt what other colleagues may be doing, which is the concern of any workplace, really, and no one seems to mind with how the Yankees address it.
“I don’t have any gripes about it,” Andrew Miller said. “I’ve seen it become an issue and people had to adapt or change the rules. Every team is different, every manager is different, every front office is different.”
The Mets employ a policy similar to the Yankees, also mindful of the hours needed for preparation. “We allow them until a certain time, then it’s time to get ready for the game,” Terry Collins said Friday. “Then we allow them in when the game’s over after a period of time so that players can cool down. We [create rules] as a team. Our veteran players have a say in things. One of the things they have asked is that . . . if you want to bring some people in before a game, that’s fine, but an hour before, they’ve got to be gone.”
By all accounts, LaRoche’s son Drake was a personable and well-liked addition to the White Sox clubhouse, and Sale described him as sort of a team mascot. But as Williams stressed, this is not about what kind of kid Drake is. There clearly is mounting pressure on the White Sox, who have made one playoff appearance since winning the 2005 World Series. And LaRoche batted .207 last season, the first of his two-year, $25-million contract.
Clearly, Williams didn’t just wake up this past week and decide Drake had to go. USA Today reported that Williams was reacting to the complaints of others in the organization by cutting back on Drake’s time with the team, and that makes the most sense. While Drake seemed to be popular, and fun to have around to some degree, it’s easy to see how the situation eventually could become too much to tolerate.
Like an office tower, or manufacturing facility, or firehouse, a major-league stadium — aside from the seats in the stands — is an adult workplace in which business is conducted. And despite the fact that this is baseball, a game, it’s a high-pressure environment in which employees are paid exorbitant salaries to perform.
If the corporate decision-makers believe something can be done to improve that work environment — or make that place more conducive to the company’s goals — then it becomes management’s responsibility to step in, as Williams felt compelled to do this past week with the White Sox. From the outside, those actions may appear unpopular, or even dishonest. But those hard decisions are part of running a business.
Even LaRoche, who was frustrated enough to leave $13 million on the table, has to understand the bottom line here, and he articulated that in the Friday statement he released on Twitter.
LaRoche, a 12-year veteran, was fortunate that two of his employers, the Nationals and White Sox, made special concessions to allow Drake to not only be a regular part of his workday but the entire team’s as well. In confirming his retirement Friday, LaRoche didn’t sound bitter about what must have felt like a betrayal, fair or not.
“I understand that many people will not understand my decision,” LaRoche said in the statement. “
As fathers, we have an opportunity to help mold our kids into men and women of character, with morals and values that can’t be shaken by the world around them.
LaRoche, speaking as a dad, is above criticism. That bond is unassailable. But the intersection of that commendable role, and his place among a team of 24 other players, along with where that fits inside a much larger organization, is something that will remain open for debate.
It’s probably safe to say, however, that what the LaRoche family had with the White Sox is likely to be the last of its kind. Whether that’s a good or bad thing might depend on where you sit in your own workplace, or if you’re in charge of managing one. With Anthony Rieber
and Marc Carig
Adam LaRoche’s entire statement
“Given the suddenness of my departure and the stir it has caused in both the media and the clubhouse, I feel it’s necessary to provide my perspective.
Over the last five years, with both the Nationals and the White Sox, I have been given the opportunity to have my son with me in the clubhouse. It is a privilege I have greatly valued. I have never taken it for granted, and I feel an enormous amount of gratitude toward both of those organizations.
Though I clearly indicated to both teams the importance of having my son with me, I also made clear that if there was ever a moment when a teammate, coach or manager was made to feel uncomfortable, then I would immediately address it. I realize that this is their office and their career, and it would not be fair to the team if anybody in the clubhouse was unhappy with the situation. Fortunately, that problem never developed. I’m not going to speak about my son Drake’s behavior, his manners, and the quality of person that he is, because everyone knows that I am biased. All of the statements from my teammates, past and present, should say enough. Those comments from all of the people who have interacted with Drake are a testimony to how he carries himself.
Prior to signing with the White Sox, my first question to the club concerned my son’s ability to be a part of the team. After some due diligence on the club’s part, we reached an agreement. The 2015 season presented no problems as far as Drake was concerned. (My bat and our record are another story!)
With all of this in mind, we move toward the current situation which arose after White Sox VP Ken Williams recently advised me to significantly scale back the time that my son spent in the clubhouse. Later, I was told not to bring him to the ballpark at all. Obviously, I expressed my displeasure toward this decision to alter the agreement we had reached before I signed with the White Sox. Upon doing so, I had to make a decision. Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family? The decision was easy, but in no way was it a reflection of how I feel about my teammates, manager, general manager or the club’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
The White Sox organization is full of people with strong values and solid character. My decision to walk away was simply the result of a fundamental disagreement between myself and Ken Williams.
I understand that many people will not understand my decision. I respect that, and all I ask is for that same level of respect in return. I live by certain values that are rooted in my faith, and I am grateful to my parents for that. I have tried to set a good example on and off the field and live a life that represents these values. As fathers, we have an opportunity to help mold our kids into men and women of character, with morals and values that can’t be shaken by the world around them. Of one thing I am certain: we will regret not spending enough time with our kids, not the other way around.
At every level of my career, the game of baseball has reinforced the importance of family to me. Being at my father’s side when he coached. Playing alongside my brothers as a kid and as an adult in the big leagues.
Likewise, it has been great to have my son by my side to share in this experience as I played.
In each and every instance, baseball has given me some of my life’s greatest memories. This was likely to be the last year of my career, and there’s no way I was going to spend it without my son.
Baseball has taught me countless life lessons. I’ve learned how to face challenges, how to overcome failure, how to maintain humility, and most importantly, to trust that the Lord is in control and that I was put here to do more than play the game of baseball. We are called to live life with an unwavering love for God and love for each other. These are lessons I try to teach my kids every day. I truly am blessed to have been granted each of those experiences.
Thank you to all of my previous managers, past teammates and friends across the league for making these past 12 years such a wonderful journey, and for providing me with memories that I will never forget — especially the ones with my son by my side.
I will leave you with the same advice that I left my teammates. In life, we’re all faced with difficult decisions and will have a choice to make. Do we act based on the consequences, or do we act on what we know and believe in our hearts to be right? I choose the latter.”