A Major League Baseball story has gotten a lot of headlines (inside and outside the sports section), produced a tsunami of social media incontinence, made it easy for sports hate radio hosts to fill time, and generally annoyed me. (Non-sports fans: bear with me—the story touches on multiple hot spots.)
Last week, Adam LaRoche, a player for my Chicago White Sox, announced that he was going to step away from baseball. This was like a Christmas present to a Sox fan: He was absolutely awful last year, and if he played this season, he would’ve earned 13 million dollars of the White Sox’ money.
It seemed noble: His skills were in sharp decline, he’d already missed spring training time because of back problems, and he’d be walking away from a lot of money.
Not so fast. He wasn’t quitting because he concluded he sucked and would be stealing the White Sox’ (and a little of my) money. No, it was because he could no longer have his 14-year-old son along—in the locker room, on the field, on the plane—for most of the team’s games. He’d been allowed that privilege last year, but after a horrible season by the Sox, a team executive asked him to dial back the amount of time the boy was around this year.
But LaRoche ignored the request. The executive spied the teen son on a spring training pitcher’s mound, the incensed exec drew a line, and LaRoche quit.
To me, that should be the end of it. But no. Cue the hot-button stuff:
He-said, he-said: LaRoche said that he had a verbal agreement with the White Sox, and the White Sox were reneging. But there was no contractual agreement, and –- by my reckoning, saying it wouldn’t be a problem if a player brought a kid along some of the time looks a lot different than giving the kid a locker and a uniform and having him around for 125 of 162 games.
Organizational politics: His fellow players were quick to stand up for LaRoche and son, arguing that the son was a good kid, and that none of the players had a problem with it. Except some did, as reported by this venerable columnist. And as this column points out, given the ridiculous reaction of LaRoche and some players to simply asking that the kids spend less, not no time around the team, it’s easy to see why players, coaches and staff would have gone straight to management instead of trying to talk to the player.
Life-work-family balance: Everyone strives for it. And everyone—outside of LaRoche and a couple players—seems to understand that trade-offs are involved. I know executives (men and women) who are constantly on the road, who work long hours when they’re home, and they come to grips with the painful trade-offs. They understand they can’t have everything. I worked some long hours when our son Gus was young and eventually stopped because, well, I knew I was missing something and I was fortunate enough to be able to call my own shots at that point. This Chicago sportswriter sums it up pretty well in a column called White Sox Kidding Themselves.
So, I think you can sort of tell where I stand on all this. As in, don’t let the door hit you on your way out, Adam. And that goes for…. But there are a couple last thoughts—
The player-son thing at MLB parks has a deep tradition. Ken Griffey, Jr.—who will be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer—spent time with his father and the Cincinnati Reds. Prince Fielder hit batting practice home runs at Tiger Stadium when his father Cecil played for Detroit. It goes on and on.
But: None of these kids were constant fixtures. Griffey, Jr. says he joined the team four or five times a year. It was a privilege, not a right.
Finally, about that father-son-baseball thing: I hold it kind of dear. I’ve noted in other posts that I played catch in the back yard with my dad for hours on end. And there’s that Field of Dreams ending.
But I’m not possessive about it—it doesn’t have to only be fathers and sons playing catch. In fact, my mom was a much bigger baseball fan. I talked baseball with her more than I ever did with my dad, and my mom taught me to swear at players through the TV, a coping tactic that is our twisted version of stress management.
And, this: the times, they are a changing, as Mo’ne Davis exemplifies. Whether or not some MLB player’s daughter is eventually the touch point for a locker room controversy, I don’t know.
But I do know this: Adam LaRoche says this was all about family, by his own words. But he has a wife—and oh, a daughter, too—and somehow he wasn’t so dedicated to that part of his family that he felt compelled to quit earlier. Or to have them along in the clubhouse.