Several players on the Chicago White Sox threatened to boycott an exhibition game Wednesday. They were angry about the way Sox vice president Kenny Williams treated teammate Adam LaRoche, whose 14-year old son, Drake, was a fixture in the clubhouse.
Definition of fixture: Drake was there before, during and after every game, at home and on the road, from the beginning of spring training through the end of the season. He had his own locker.
Williams finally came to the rational conclusion that enough is enough. We think your son is a wonderful young man, Adam LaRoche was told, and we’re happy to regard him as a guest in the clubhouse. Let’s just remember that he’s a guest, not a permanent presence in a professional workplace.
Williams says he asked LaRoche to limit his son’s clubhouse access from full time to something more reasonable, such as one or two visits a week. LaRoche counters that Williams told him that Drake was no longer welcome in the clubhouse on any occasion.
What’s not in dispute is LaRoche’s response: Rather than acquiesce to Williams’ wishes, the 36-year old first baseman/designated hitter quit, renouncing a salary that guaranteed him $13 million in 2016.
Is LaRoche a principled parent or a nitwit? It’s an intriguing question in a saga containing many of them, beginning with this one: because he’s old and slow and beset by a cranky back that contributed to his .207 batting average last season, how did former Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik not identify this guy as a vital cog for the Mariners?
LaRoche, in any case, appeared to be well-liked by many of his fellow players, if not all of them. Hence their threat to boycott the exhibition game. Cooler heads prevailed — whew! — sparing us the unimaginably harrowing prospect of the White Sox not showing up for their Cactus League exhibition against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Still, averting a crisis is not the same as solving a crisis, and it’s clear the White Sox are a team divided by those who sympathize with LaRoche and those who believe a clubhouse should not be mistaken for a day care center.
What about school? Drake LaRoche apparently has learned how to read, write and count from private tutors, who’ve spared him the trauma of running down the hallway to beat the first-period bell and considering the cafeteria option, always somber, between creamed chipped beef and tuna salad.
So he’s been hanging with his dad, staying at hotels where the bed linens are always fresh and high-definition televisions offer 340 choices. If the menu fare in the players’ lounge isn’t to his liking, hey, there’s hotel room service five stars beyond creamed chipped beef and tuna salad.
“It’s like having your son and your best friend alongside you all day long at work, which never gets to happen,” Adam LaRoche explained a few years ago. “I don’t know how many jobs where you can bring your kid and not have to put him in a day care situation. It’s been awesome.”
“Awesome” is one word that applies to a father’s determination to keep his son pickled inside a Never Never Land jar. Other words, off the top of my head, include “weird” and “scary.”
My father was my hero — he died 15 years ago, and yet it’s rare that a day goes by without me thinking of him — but I can’t imagine spending a childhood tethered to his side. Then again, he worked in the railroad-supply industry, which required him to make frequent trips to places such as Baltimore and St. Louis. His job wasn’t as glamorous as Adam LaRoche’s.
Dad once invited me to a long lunch with a purchasing agent before an afternoon ballgame in Chicago. I ordered a steak sandwich on toast and finished it in about five minutes. For the other 45 minutes, I reveled in the fact I was 14 years old and allowed to sit at a table where businessmen were talking business.
But once was enough. Once was all I needed. Had I occupied a chair at that table five days a week, denied the high-school challenge of figuring out how to cope with kids my age — bad kids, sad kids, odd kids — I would have been deprived of a lesson in developing the most essential of life skills.
Adam LaRoche wants his son to keep a safe distance from bad kids, sad kids and odd kids. LaRoche is so committed to keeping his son safe, he walked away from a job paying him $13 million to play six months of baseball.
It’s a mad, mad world, a mixed up and crazy world, a world with complications a 14-year-old will be forced to face after emptying a locker in the big league clubhouse he came to know as home.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org