March 23, 2016

Adam LaRoche: Family Versus Baseball

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On Nov. 24, 2014, the Chicago White Sox signed Adam LaRoche to a two year contract worth $25 million. In the three seasons before he signed the contract, LaRoche averaged 26 home runs, a .346 on base percentage, and a .256 batting average. In addition to his impressive offensive production, he also provided stellar defense as a first baseman. Essentially, LaRoche was a very good player who played at a level that exceeded the contract that he received as a free agent with the White Sox. His 2015 season was less than successful, after hitting .207 and striking out 133 times, which were both career worsts.

On March 6, 2016, the White Sox signed outfielder Austin Jackson to play centerfield, moving Adam Eaton to left field and Melky Cabrera into the role of designated hitter. These moves meant that Adam LaRoche was unlikely to see nearly as much playing time as expected. With a diminished role for the team, LaRoche became worth much less than the $13 million that he was owed. What makes this situation interesting is that Adam LaRoche just walked away from his $13 million contract.

Over the course of his career, LaRoche made almost $72 million over 12 seasons as a ballplayer. Recently, LaRoche has made waves when he retired after the White Sox management requested that he limit the amount of time that he brings his 14-year-old son, Drake, to the clubhouse. LaRoche had made arrangements with management during his time with the Nationals (where he spent 2011-2014) that allowed him to bring his son to the majority of games that the team played. He made a similar arrangement with the Chicago White Sox, before signing his contract. He mentioned this agreement as a significant reason for signing with Chicago. Drake was even given his own locker and uniform, and was allowed to participate in practice drills with the team.

During spring training, White Sox chairman Kenny Williams asked LaRoche to cut back the amount of time that his son spent with the team to about half of all games. LaRoche declined to follow the instructions of Williams, leading to a clubhouse ban of Drake. LaRoche decided to retire after this incident. After he retired, Williams put back his original offer onto the table (half of the games), but this was not enough to keep LaRoche in a White Sox uniform.

In this situation, no party truly appears to be at fault, and the end result may have been the best thing for all sides involved. Provided that Adam LaRoche has saved a significant amount of the money that he earned as a ballplayer, the money is not an absolute necessity for LaRoche’s family. LaRoche is simply prioritizing raising his child in the way he sees fit over one extra year of his salary. He does have a very unique parenting style that would be very difficult for the average person to pull off. Drake studies with a private tutor while with the team, and goes to school during the offseason. In 2013, Adam LaRoche was quoted as saying “We’re not big on school, I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.’” While this is slightly absurd, it is helpful to understand that LaRoche himself grew up in a big league clubhouse. Dave LaRoche, Adam’s father, worked as a coach with the White Sox while Adam was growing up. This makes it easy to see how LaRoche would want his son to grow up in the same environment, whether or not it is the right way to raise him. He should be admired for prioritizing his role as a father over his role as a baseball player.

As for the other side, the White Sox shed a thirteen million dollar commitment to a player that would not have pronounced role with the team. There also were reports that the team had received anonymous complaints from players who did not feel that a 14-year-old was welcome on a regular basis in their place of work. Interestingly enough, some players felt that the team betrayed and lied to LaRoche. The team did not handle the situation well, but the end result was good $13 million to spend more time with his son, and the White Sox saved $13 million that can be spent on something more useful than an aging LaRoche.