SARASOTA, FLA. — Adam LaRoche's decision to abruptly retire — and turn his back on his $13 million salary for this season as a show of principle rather than allow the Chicago White Sox to reduce the amount of time he spent with his teenage son — wasn't lost inside the Orioles clubhouse.
In most workplaces, employees aren't usually allowed to bring their children to work regularly. However, Major League Baseball clubhouses exist with their own sets of rules — many of them unwritten. Still, such a dramatic philosophical difference between a player and his team is rare.
LaRoche, a designated hitter/first baseman who averaged 21 homers in his 12-year career, chose to walk away from the game in the second year of a $26 million deal he signed before last season. The decision came after White Sox team president Kenny Williams told LaRoche of his wishes that LaRoche's 14-year-old son, Drake, be around the club less frequently.
Drake LaRoche was with the White Sox on a daily basis — he is home-schooled and traveled with his father throughout the season — and was publicly embraced by LaRoche's teammates. He even had a locker inside the clubhouse. In a sign of their support for the father and son, White Sox players reportedly considered boycotting their spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. A grievance might be filed on LaRoche's behalf by the players union.
Inside the Orioles clubhouse, players tried to sort through mixed emotions.
"It was obviously shocking to hear something like that put on blast," said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, whose daughter, Ella, will turn 2 in May. "I still have mixed emotions about it. LaRoche is a player I have a lot of respect for, not only as a player, but as a man. I'm proud of him standing up for what he believed in. How is there not some common ground to be found right there? … A guy that means that much to an organization. How are you not able to find some common ground? It's a little head-scratching to me, but hopefully they'll make the best of it."
For players who have games practically every day from the start of the Grapefruit League in March to the end of the regular season in October, and spend more than half of that time on the road, finding time for family is difficult.
Kids are commonplace inside major league clubhouses. For a team like the Orioles, which has several fathers of young children, a toddler can be seen in and around the clubhouse regularly, but usually only after games. Most children of Orioles players are too young to participate in pregame activities, as Drake LaRoche did. One exception was Nelson Cruz's son, who was often around his father when Cruz played for the Orioles in 2014 and was well received.
"A lot of it has to be the timing of when he's here," Davis said. "I think we have a pretty good understanding as a ballclub and really as an organization; we enjoy having our family around. We enjoy seeing other guys' families and seeing their kids in the clubhouse, but there's also a line that has been drawn, and we understand that once you go out on the field. It's a sad situation. Baseball is really a father-and-son game, so when something like this happens, you have to really take a step back and see what's the underlying problem."
The situation also brings attention to the major league culture of players policing their own clubhouse rather than being told how to handle situations by management. That's the case inside the Orioles clubhouse, where manager Buck Showalter allows his veteran leaders to resolve situations before he intervenes.
Somewhere along the way, that process failed with the White Sox. And while the situation with LaRoche and his son was likely the most extreme situation, because he was with the club every day, it obviously came to an ugly end.
"There's a lot of different variables with each one," Showalter said. "I think his son was home-schooled and I think everybody approaches it a little differently. For the most part, they're very respectful. I've got my own private thoughts about it. … I've never had many issues with it. Usually the players, if there's a problem in their locker room, they handle it."
Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo's 10-year-old son, Yovani Jr., has been a frequent visitor to the Orioles clubhouse over the past week. Gallardo said he's brought his son around since his son was 2 or 3 years old and saw it as an opportunity for them to spend valued time together. So he was shocked to hear the news regarding LaRoche.
"I've never heard of anything like that, just being around a bunch of guys that have kids as old as my son or a little bit older, they bring them around the clubhouse," Gallardo said. "For Adam, I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision. It was pretty surprising. Being a dad, it's a tough situation. For sure, you have a job to do. I completely understand it's your job, but yet again, you also want to spend time with your family and with your kids, and it's one of those things that's tough to do when you're an athlete and you're in the middle of your playing career."
Gallardo said he picks his spots when to bring his son into the clubhouse to ensure he's respecting the team dynamic. He said spring training is often the best time, but he also does it intermittently during the regular season.
"There have never been any issues," Gallardo said. "There were certain times when you don't want to bring him into the clubhouse, and he knows. He understands. He's done it enough to know. If you lose a ballgame, it's obviously not the right time to be around because the kids want to be running around and jumping. I've never had that issue. That's why it was one of those things that caught me a little more off guard in a certain aspect."
Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, who has a 2-year-old son named Walker, said sharing his experiences as a major league ballplayer with his son has always been something he's wanted to do, but he saw both sides of the argument.
"This is tough," Joseph said. "I totally see both sides. I just know that the day [my son] was born, that was a day I was looking forward to and still am and being able to share — hopefully I'm still playing long enough — we'll be able to share moments in the same uniform with the same last name and the same number and just be able to walk out there and have memories so that he can one day go out and tell his buddies he was able to experience certain things."
Joseph said he knows that family is important to LaRoche. He said he spoke to him during the offseason, so given the situation he wasn't entirely surprised.
"I get it. I see it," Joseph said. "He's the type of guy, he don't care. He'll walk away from it. I think I read something, seeing something that maybe the rule should be up to the players versus maybe the ownership. It's tough. I really don't know."