When veteran slugger Adam LaRoche signed a two-year, $25 million deal with the Chicago White Sox in 2015, he made it clear to the organization that one thing above all else would be required: his 14-year-old son Drake would be allowed to accompany him to the ballpark at any time.
It’s a request that shouldn’t have been unusual to anybody around baseball who follows LaRoche, known around the league as a devoted family man, when Drake had been a fixture in the locker rooms of several teams LaRoche had previously played for. Inking the deal, the White Sox organization could never have imagined the sort of controversy that would erupt from the situation.
It is likely that when White Sox General Manager Ken Williams agreed to allow Drake to come to the ballpark, he envisioned that the boy would be present at a few dozen games throughout the 162 game season, more than the average big-leaguer’s child for sure, but nothing that would be seen as disruptive to the operations of the organization.
Instead, Drake was present at around 120 of the team’s games, a veritable 26th man on the roster, and was even fitted with his own locker next to his father’s in the clubhouse. Nothing was ever said directly to LaRoche addressing his son’s presence as a problem, but it’s been reported that several players and staff members complained in private to team management. And when 2016 Spring Training rolled around with Drake once again appearing every day, Williams decided to put his foot down.
Williams sat down with LaRoche a couple weeks ago and asked him to scale it back in bringing his son to team events. By all accounts it was not presented as an ultimatum. Drake was never going to be banned and was still to be welcomed in the clubhouse, just not as frequently, and certainly not every day.
This request, as reasonable as it might sound, was of course not in line with what LaRoche had been promised when he signed with the team and sources around the team say that nothing changed after the meeting.
Later, upon seeing Drake standing on the pitcher’s mound during a practice, Williams snapped and told LaRoche that he had lost his privilege altogether, a decision he reneged on shortly afterwards in favor of the original request. But it was too late to appease a disgruntled LaRoche, who promptly packed his bags and announced an early retirement.
Naturally, there was a tremendous amount of blowback from the team, especially given the respect that LaRoche commanded and the fact that the majority of his teammates had seemed to have no issue with Drake’s presence. Newly signed star Todd Frazier said he was a “big loyalty guy” and decried the actions of the White Sox management.
Players nearly boycotted an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Superstar pitcher Chris Sale was the most vocal on the issue, claiming that the team was “bold-faced lied to” by “someone we were supposed to trust” while praising Drake’s maturity and contribution to team morale.
Around the league several players including former teammates of LaRoche have also spoken out mostly against Williams’ action while pundits remain fairly split on the controversy. There have been passionate voices on both sides but the truth is that there is probably no easy answer to this question. Yes, the White Sox gave LaRoche a promise, yes baseball is an American institution that has been passed down from father to son for generations and yes baseball is at heart a children’s game.
But the White Sox didn’t write that agreement down contractually, a father does not need to spend every waking hour with his son to teach him a lesson and playing in the MLB is, at the end of the day, a job. The ballpark is the workplace. Even if most weren’t complaining, the fact that any were should be given credence.
If LaRoche had been working an office job and bringing Drake every day, he would have likely received less support, and it can be argued that the principle between the two scenarios is the same. But either way, whichever side you take, it looks clear that the situation has left the team in a disgruntled state and out of a winning mindset, and as the season rolls around that will end up being the most significant fallout.