GLENDALE, Ariz. – Adam LaRoche’s decision to walk away from baseball and $13 million this season was a stunner.
On the other hand, knowing the 36-year-old’s convictions, family values and an apparent weariness from spending an increasing amount of time in the trainer’s room, it wasn’t a complete shock.
During a lengthy team meeting at the club’s spring training facility Tuesday morning, LaRoche told the White Sox his intentions to call it quits.
“I’ve decided to step away from baseball,” LaRoche quietly told two Chicago newspaper reporters afterward, citing personal reasons. “I’ll have more in a day or two.’’
LaRoche said he wanted another day to sleep on it, but rest assured, this is it.
“I wanted to make sure it was the right move and make an emotional decision,’’ he said. “I’m confident it is.’’
LaRoche hasn’t played in 10 days after leaving his second game with a low back spasm. He said the back completely locked up on him like never before, and to see him in obvious discomfort, face down in a confined visitors clubhouse trainer’s room, made you wonder how much he had left. After all, he had come to camp in seemingly good shape and then he homered in his first game of the spring.
And then a setback.
An accomplished hitter over the course of his career, LaRoche batted .207 with only 12 homers and 44 RBI last season after signing a two-year, $25 million contract to bat cleanup and protect Jose Abreu in the lineup. He failed, endured minor but nagging injuries and felt sincerely bad about earning his paycheck.
To know LaRoche personally was to know a candidate, if there ever was one, who would give his earnings back. In a sense, he’s doing that in 2016 by taking the Sox off the hook for $13 million.
“We’ve always known this was a high-character guy,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “If this is the end, this was a guy who obviously had a very solid, extensive big-league career, and in the end was playing this game for the right reasons, not for strictly economic ones.”
For LaRoche, who has earned $72 million during his career and has other business interests, spending more time with his family may well be worth the $13 million.
If LaRoche was due for a repeat performance, he’s doing his team a favor. If he was due for rebound year, he’s letting it down. LaRoche might return to camp Wednesday to provide more insight into his decision.
“He was very certain of the course of action he wanted to take,” Hahn said. “He is obviously a man of great convictions so I don’t necessarily think we’ll see a change of heart from him.
“In the end, we respect his choice.”
LaRoche, who is married with two children, including young teenage son Drake who often traveled with him during the season and has been an in-uniform fixture in the Sox clubhouse during spring training, posted this on his Twitter account: “Thank u Lord for the game of baseball and for giving me way more than I ever deserved! #FamilyFirst”
And this tweet from his brother Andy, a former major leaguer:
Therein his reasoning may lie.
LaRoche was beat up mentally last season, embarrassed that he didn’t produce. He felt like he let his new teammates down.
“A lot. A lot,” he said this Feb. 21 in his first talk with reporters upon arriving at camp. “I mean, I’m over it now but going through it, you guys know and probably saw it was tough, it was a grind. It’s just a different feeling coming to the field when you’re feeling good and playing good and winning games. … So yeah, it was draining. I really don’t want to go through that again.”
“He’s been around for a while, obviously battling some injuries,’’ said Jimmy Rollins, a 37-year-old former NL East foe of LaRoche. “All those things weigh in.’’
Rollins knew it was over when he came in and saw LaRoche shaking hands with everyone.
“When you get the whole speech it’s like, ‘wow this is really happening.’
“He was going to come and give himself a chance. And he’s dealing with back issues again, so you start weighing those things out.
“And he has a family that he cares about. And he spends a lot of time away from his family. Now he gets to enjoy his Fourth of July and travel around the country and do the things he wants to do in his retirement.’’
Ventura suggested LaRoche’s decision was based “on a number of different factors.”
“Anytime something happens like that, especially during spring, I think it takes everybody back a little bit,’’ Ventura said. “I was surprised. I was hoping he’d stick it through and continue on with us. He’s just a man of principles, and he made his mind up, and you respect him for that.’’