JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- In the current stretch of spring, where every muscle tweak and three-inning performance is headline worthy, the Chicago White Sox’s infighting has dominated the baseball news cycle.
Adam LaRoche, the team’s veteran first baseman, walked away from the team and a $13 million salary after team president Kenny Williams told him to limit the amount of time LaRoche’s son Drake spent in the clubhouse. Media sources said Drake was in the clubhouse nearly all the time and Williams reportedly asked LaRoche to dial it back to somewhere between 50 percent and 100 percent.
This led to blowback from members of the team, most notably pitching ace Chris Sale, and reports of some players considering a walkout in support of LaRoche.
The 36-year-old announced his retirement Tuesday and by Friday the issue had erupted into a public spectacle. Sale hung LaRoche’s jersey at his locker as a tribute, and also took very public shots at Williams in interviews with the media, saying he believed the president lied to the players about the situation and has no business enforcing clubhouse rules since he’s not present inside it.
Reports have surfaced that some players had complained about LaRoche’s son being present too often, and other reports followed with players categorically denying anyone having complained. It’s an embarrassing situation for the White Sox, especially since it’s by far the most interesting thing happening in the sport at the moment.
Seeing the children of major-leaguers in the clubhouse isn’t unusual. Several Cardinal players have their kids present both in spring and throughout the season, and the team has worked out guidelines for how often their presence is appropriate.
“We constantly go through those things with our leadership core, we set parameters with the league, through the front office and then we let the players have a say in what we think looks right. Because it’s their space,” said Mike Matheny.
The Cardinal manager is dedicated to his players both on and off the field. He stresses often the importance of balance, of valuing the sport but not allowing it to consume a player to such a degree they exclude the other parts of their lives.
“We can’t sit here and say our family is our priority and then deny them the opportunity. But there’s a way it should look,” he said.
And that’s really what L’affaire LaRoche comes down to. Not every player has kids, and for some, children in the workplace is an unwelcome intrusion. There must be cooperation in a shared space, and the Cardinals have built their clubhouse policy with significant input from those it affects.
“I give a voice, and I think that’s how it should be. These guys should have a voice in how things look around here. It’s not the final voice, but we give them an opportunity to say what they need to and then have some accountability,” Matheny said. “You set the rules, or you help set the rules, you have the accountability of helping to enforce them. That’s really how this works best.”
Baseball players spend the better part of nine months away from their family. They work nearly every day, travel for weeks at a time, and miss nearly every family dinner, recital, and Little League game along the way. While players without children may not feel the same pain, everyone in the organization understands the toll taken when parenting is limited to brief phone calls or choppy video chats.
“It’s the relationship. Being able to spend time with them. A lot of times during an eight and a half month season, we have to try and find time for them,” Matheny said. “I was very fortunate that every place I played was very accommodating. But I always wanted to make sure I was very respectful. I wanted to err on the side of caution.”
The most notable advantage for the Cardinals in crafting a cohesive policy, and perhaps something that is absent for the White Sox, is having a core group of veteran players who have seen various clubhouse situations and knows what works best.
“Fortunately we have some veterans around here who understand what that looks like. Some of them have seen it done in a way that might have pushed things too far, so those conversations are always good to have. To get it out in the open, get it clear, then everyone follows along,” Matheny said.