Although we’re almost the same age, Drake LaRoche’s life is drastically different than that of my own. In 2012, when the Nationals made a playoff run, I watched on TV, while Drake watched from the dugout. While I lived out the life of a fifth and sixth grader, Drake lived the idyllic life of a Major League ballplayer, wearing uniforms, hanging out on field with his dad, Adam, during batting practice, and pouring sparkling cider on Bryce Harper’s head. When Adam LaRoche drove in his 100th RBI of the 2012 season with a home run, Drake LaRoche was there, waiting in the home dugout for his father with open arms. In comparison, it made my daily routine seem pitiful. He was living the life in every sense of the phrase.
However, the odd part for me, was that Drake, at the age of ten, was living the life I dreamed of having. Drake LaRoche hung out in the clubhouse and took ground balls – in my mind, he was a Major Leaguer at age 10. This meant that I asked him for baseballs and stared at him from the stands. And every day, while he was inside the little rope fence during batting practice, I was far behind it.
Drake got to live the life of a Major Leaguer for years, and eventually left the Nationals for the White Sox, where the same continued.
Then, this spring training, someone complained. Nobody knows who. Nobody knows why, and nobody knows how many players complained, and requested Drake spend less time in the clubhouse. But there was a message from inside the White Sox clubhouse that Drake was no longer welcome, or at least no longer welcome on a daily basis. The White Sox brass told Adam LaRoche of that opinion, and asked him to limit his son’s time in the clubhouse.
Adam LaRoche, who was owed $13 million over the 2016 season, made a call that favored his family over his salary. He retired from the game and left the money on the table. He wanted to take his son with him to work, and the White Sox wouldn’t let him. He decided to retire, so he could be with his family, which no matter what context it’s in, is a good decision.
But let’s forget about LaRoche’s decision. Instead, let’s think about the White Sox and their front office.
The complaint filed regarding Drake was likely minor – someone probably felt uncomfortable having a fourteen year old around in the locker room, was annoyed by him, or felt as if his constant presence wasn’t productive.
Was Drake’s presence a negative impact on the team? From watching Drake LaRoche and reading about him, it doesn’t seem like he was a hassle to have around- in fact, he was mainly the opposite. Players in both the Nats & White Sox clubhouse loved him. Every day, he took over first base during batting practice, catching ground balls and flipping them into the ball bucket. He played catch with his dad.
If LaRoche was being annoying or disrespectful, it would be a whole other situation, but as far as anyone from the outside can tell, that certainly wasn’t the case. White Sox Manager Robin Ventura said that Drake LaRoche is “probably more mature than most of the guys in there,”. Sox closer David Robertson said he thought of Drake as “part of the team”.
Shouldn’t have he been at school? The LaRoche family made a decision to tutor him on his own, and give him the opportunity to learn at the ballpark. “We’re not big on school,” LaRoche said. “I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.’ ” Certainly not a traditional choice, but judging the parenting style of others is never a good decision.
Did players feel that it wasn’t normal workplace behavior to bring a teenager into a Major League clubhouse? That question is legitimate, and does raise some issues. But one thing to remember: if baseball players were so dedicated to a normal workplace atmosphere, they would stop injecting steroids into their arms and rear ends. In no other office in America do employees take substances to improve their performance and then routinely lie about it, unless you count Red Bull.
It seems as if the players had very little ground to stand on when making this complaint, especially considering LaRoche’s status and stature as a respected veteran.
However, the blame cannot lie solely on the players; White Sox management played just as big of a part in creating such a disastrous situation.
White Sox VP Kenny Williams, who informed LaRoche of the club’s request, made a huge mistake by listening to the complaint and honoring said complainer’s request. Not only did he value the opinion of any other player higher than that of a team leader and veteran, but he also failed in policy and in contradicting the team’s actions.
When LaRoche initially arrived at Spring Training with the White Sox in 2015, he found two lockers with his last name on them. One for himself, one for his son. Both were outfitted with White Sox uniforms, both were treated as part of the team. That was part of the agreement when LaRoche signed the contract during the 2014-15 offseason. Drake got hitting advice from the team, helped out, and hung out with the guys. There seemed to be no problem. Then, Kenny Williams turned it around, and Drake was essentially asked to leave.
That in itself is a huge problem. Forget if Drake LaRoche actually belongs in a clubhouse – if the organization said something, they can’t just turn it around – that sets a horrible standard for the legitimacy of any agreement made in contract negotiations. If Kenny Williams had a problem with LaRoche’s son, they should’ve told him. If the players had a problem with LaRoche’s son, they should’ve told Adam LaRoche himself.
Then comes the question of winning – if the White Sox wanted to win, they would’ve not only tried to keep Adam LaRoche on the team, but they also would’ve tried to keep the clubhouse happy, which they clearly weren’t today.
Chris Sale, the ace and star of the White Sox, said he believes the players “got (bald)-faced lied to by someone we are supposed to be able to trust (Kenny Williams).”
“If we’re truly here to win a championship and come together … and win as a team, these issues don’t come up,” Sale said. “Somebody walked out those doors the other day, and it was the wrong guy, plain and simple.”
I’m certainly not saying “Poor, little, innocent, Drake LaRoche.”, nor am I saying that Adam LaRoche was the victim of this situation. Adam LaRoche enjoyed a successful career, while Drake LaRoche got to lead a spectacular life for his first fourteen years. How both of their spectacular times in the Major Leagues were shut down, however, were simply for the wrong reason: poor decision making due to illegitimate concerns, which, no matter how you put it, is a sour note to end on.
If Drake’s father’s career should’ve gone with his own is another question, but one that Adam LaRoche seemed at peace with. The now-retired first baseman answered simply. “Of one thing I am certain: we will regret NOT spending enough time with our kids, not the other way around,”. What Drake will do next is beyond any of us. Maybe he’ll hunt. Maybe he’ll go to school.