Craig Calcaterra has started a conversation this week about how fans often miss that ballplayers are, above all, human beings with a personal life. They are not defined by baseball alone, largely for the better. Those personal lives can bleed into the regular season and affect performance and attitude. Such seems to be the case with the White Sox, where designated hitter Adam LaRoche abruptly retired yesterday in the wake of the team's request that he bring his 14 year old son into the clubhouse less often.
This is not about that young man, and I have no interest in criticizing a kid or in criticizing Adam LaRoche's parenting. He is a loving dad who wants his son (and presumably his daughter, circumstances permitting) around him as much as possible. That's great, or at least certainly better than the opposite. As a dad, I understand how he feels, even if being around my own children that much might cause me to lose my mind.
My colleague, Matt Goldman, lays out the entire timeline here and comes to the conclusion that the White Sox are at fault for going back on their promise to LaRoche that his son would be welcome in the clubhouse whenever his dad wanted to bring him around. I sympathize with that position; I really do. Kenny Williams did, apparently, go back on his word to LaRoche. That certainly isn't a good thing, in a vacuum, and the team's vice president is apparently hearing it from stars Chris Sale and Adam Eaton today. Which, again, would make you think that the Sox are heartless jerks for not following through on their promise when they signed LaRoche last year.
But here's the thing: The White Sox are a business. The clubhouse and the ballfield are workspaces. And they they aren't just cubicles, they are shared workspaces. Williams's promise to LaRoche that his son could hang around is important. But so is his implicit promise to LaRoche's teammates that they would also have a comfortable workspace. Kenny Williams isn't just responsible for Adam LaRoche's happiness, but for the performance of the whole organization.
Think of it this way. You start a new job and are promised that you can listen to your headphones at your desk as much as you want. Podcasts, music, talk radio, ballgames, whatever. That seems entirely reasonable. But what happens when your headphones are pounding so loud that they're disturbing your coworkers, or you're unable to hear it when someone is talking to you, or you're not as productive as you're supposed to be? Well, then it's time to have a conversation with management about how to solve the problems in your organization. And asking you to turn down your headphones, or leave an ear free, or shutting the damn thing off and get some work done, goddammit, would be entirely appropriate, wouldn't it? Telling you to act more professionally is entirely reasonable. Now, going back on that promise may cause some hard feelings in you and in your more bohemian colleagues. But, ultimately, if it makes your organization better, your manager did the right thing.
Now imagine your organization is in the same situation, except that your colleague keeps bringing their kid into the office. Of course, it's not a perfect parallel. Baseball is different from your job, and clubhouses are different from your office. But if you think you might start to resent the presence of this kid, imagine how the players themselves would feel. We're learning this offseason that there's an internal culture clash in baseball, and that ballplayers are not a monolithic group. It's not at all safe to assume that everyone, or even most of everyone, was on board with this young man being around so often. Some may have been annoyed that they couldn't bring their own kids around more often. And, especially if Robin Ventura, Sale, and Adam Eaton supported LaRoche, these players may not have felt empowered to bring those concerns up publicly. Indeed, given that yesterday's team meeting devolved into a flurry of f-bombs, it seems like they were right to take that approach. Think about it as going to tell your boss or HR that there's a problem, rather than dealing it with directly with a popular or sensitive coworker. What Williams was asking was for LaRoche to be a more considerate member of the team, and the veteran refused to do that.
Last year, the White Sox finished with 86 losses and were a distant fourth in the AL Central. LaRoche had, by far, the worst full season of his career, hitting .207/.293/.340. He was well below replacement level. Asking that member of your organization to focus a little harder on baseball, and to allow the rest of the team to focus on it as well? Asking him to think of his coworkers? That's responsible management, especially when there are reports that multiple teammates complained to Kenny Williams privately:
Source tells @MattAbbatacola that several players went to KW complaining about LaRoche. So that explains the timing.— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) March 16, 2016
Are the White Sox at fault? I suppose on one level they are. They apparently acquiesced to what, to me, seems like an unreasonable request to get a player on their team, thinking he would help them make a postseason run. In that way, this is a crisis entirely of their own making. Still, that doesn't mean they are being jerks or are in the wrong now. LaRoche didn't help his team either. He stuck to his unreasonable request, even when his organization told him that it was hurting the team. He probably is a great dad, but it sure sounds like he was an awful coworker.