By Paul Newberry
AP National Writer
This is a debate with no bad guys.
Kudos to Adam LaRoche for wanting to spend quality time with his teenage son, and walking away from a $13 million salary to make sure that happened.
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with the Chicago White Sox telling the first baseman that “Bring Your Child To Work Day” doesn’t mean every day.
When the White Sox asked LaRoche to “dial back” the amount of time 14-year-old Drake spent with the team — which was basically 24/7 — the player opted for retirement instead, sparking a national conversation over the proper role of kids in the workplace.
Plenty of fellow players and even managers sided with LaRoche. Some of the more vocal White Sox players say they were lied to by executive vice president Kenny Williams, and the team acknowledged Friday that LaRoche had at least a verbal agreement allowing his son to be with the team.
“Everybody talks about the family, the importance of family,” said Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker. “But how are you supposed to have a family sometimes if you don’t bring your kids to work?”
Others could understand the reasoning put forward by Williams.
“First and foremost, we want to be respectful to the players that don’t have sons and make sure they’ve got concentrated time to get their work in for their own preparation,” Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “It can be a sensitive issue.”
They’re all right on point.
It’s not the least bit unusual to see children, in all sports, hanging out with a parent who happens to be a professional athlete. Baseball has always been especially kid-friendly, likely because a good chunk of the season occurs during the long summer break for school-age children. At spring training, too, there are usually chances for a dad to hang out with his kid at least a week without missing any classroom time.
After a recent workout, Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski let his son, Austin, take some swings in the batting cage. Albert Pujols Jr. was in the Angels clubhouse this week, wearing a No. 15 uniform and showing off his golf swing to some of his father’s teammates.
Still to be determined is whether the White Sox reneged on a contractual agreement with LaRoche, and whether the players’ union might file a grievance.
Beyond that, though, it seems LaRoche over-extended the unwritten rules about kids in the clubhouse by effectively turning Drake into a 26th member of the team, complete with his own locker and uniform, as well as making arrangements for his schoolwork to be done while accompanying the White Sox on road trips.
To put this in personal terms, I can’t take my 17-year-old son into the press box when I’m covering a game, and he’s certainly not allowed to follow me into the clubhouse while I’m conducting player interviews.
For nearly every working adult in this country, that’s the way it is, outside of those who own their own businesses or perhaps work in a daycare.
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons says he’s never had a problem with children in the clubhouse, but he understands there are limits.
“I encourage it,” he said. “There is so much time away (from family) — that bonding time — but I can see too how it can become overwhelming if somebody is around all the time because teammates might not like it.”
There is no indication that Drake was a distraction to the White Sox.
“I think everyone would say we enjoyed Drake LaRoche in the clubhouse and everything he brought to the clubhouse,” said Chicago outfielder Adam Eaton. “Drake would clean cleats, he would help out in drills, pick up baseballs when we needed, he didn’t say boo to anybody and was never a trouble in the clubhouse.”
But who knows if there were players with kids of their own, who privately wondered why LaRoche’s child got special treatment? Or those who felt like they couldn’t be entirely open in the supposed sanctity of the clubhouse because a 14-year-old was always nearby? Or those without children who simply found the whole situation a bit annoying?
Even Williams conceded there was no evidence that Drake’s constant presence was a problem. Still, we can see why the White Sox executive found this a potentially troubling issue, especially with the team coming off its third straight losing season.
“We have to have answer for the next guy and the next one after that,” Williams said. “How many kids do you have traveling with you and all the things that can come about? Not to mention there are great influences at times and not great influences at times.”
LaRoche commented on the issue in an extended tweet sent out Friday, saying he never wanted his son to be a distraction and that it was basically a dispute between him and Williams.
“In life, we’re all faced with difficult decisions and will have a choice to make,” LaRoche wrote. “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.”
Best wishes, Adam. You have made the best decision for you and your family.
And here’s hoping the White Sox are able to put this whole issue behind them. We understand where they’re coming from, too.
There’s no blame to go around in this debate.