PHOENIX — Ken Williams doesn’t have a problem with players’ kids being in the clubhouse. The White Sox have always been open to it. But the club’s vice president said Drake LaRoche’s presence was a little much.
“He had a locker,” Williams said.
Williams, and most if not all of the Sox players, like LaRoche’s son, a polite, quiet and well-mannered 14-year-old who had a Sox uniform with his name and number on it. He was often seen sitting in a circle swapping stories with players – many of them parents who made sure they kept the conversations at G- and PG-rated levels.
“Drake would clean cleats, he would help out in drills, he’d help pick up baseballs,’’ Sox outfielder Adam Eaton said. “He didn’t say boo to anybody. Was never a trouble in the clubhouse.’’
Williams acknowledged that LaRoche’s son was well-liked by players and management. Eaton said the players backed LaRoche on the issue “in every respect.” But Williams thought he was around too much and so last week he asked Adam LaRoche to “dial it back,” a request that ultimately led to LaRoche deciding to retire from baseball and leave $13 million left on his contract on the table in 2016.
LaRoche said Tuesday he was leaving the game for personal reasons and would expand on his decision in a day or two. He hashtagged a tweet with “family first” later in the day.
“In management sometimes you’ve got to make some unpopular decisions,’’ Williams said, “and sometimes they center around things that you don’t necessarily want to but in order to maintain consistency, in order to have an answer for the next person that comes along that wants to have his child on the field 100 percent of the time … even 50 percent is probably too much.’’
LaRoche’s decision was a stunner.
It was widely believed that, after struggling through a free-agent bust season in 2014 and working through a back injury this spring, he was walking away to spend more time with his family, and that turned out to be partially true. It wasn’t revealed until reports surfaced Wednesday that LaRoche left because of the Sox’ position on his son.
The irony is that the Sox have a history of being open to a family atmosphere in the clubhouse, going back to when Adam LaRoche and his brother, Andy, tagged along with their father Dave, a White Sox bullpen coach.
Williams said Reinsdorf, unhappy about three straight losing seasons, backed him on this.
“He’s of the same mind-set,’’ Williams said. “His comment was ‘we owe it to the fans at this point to put a team on the field that they can hope and dream about. Because we haven’t done that.’’
Williams said offseason discussions with GM Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura was ‘let’s check all the columns with regards to our preparation, our focus, to everything, and give ourselves the best chance to win.’’
Adam LaRoche was a kid in the Sox clubhouse at old Comiskey Park tagging along with his father, Dave LaRoche. Williams said he used to bring kids out of the stands at U.S. Cellular Field and bring them in the clubhouse.
“We have a long history of this being a kid friendly environment … I think it’s great. I just don’t think it’s great every day,’’ Williams said
Drake LaRoche, who is home schooled, has been around since spring training last season. While not in the clubhouse 100 percent time, he was there most of the time. It wasn’t an issue that LaRoche had put into his contract. He asked manager Robin Ventura if it was OK and Ventura gave his blessing.
“It’s incredible,’’ Adam LaRoche said last year of being able to have his son with him. “It’s something I remember doing as a kid with my dad, being a part of spring training and coming during the regular season. It’s great that they allow it because there’s not many jobs out there you can bring your son to work every day. It works out great, he’s got his own locker, uniform. Just another one of the guys in here.’’
And that was OK with Sox management, but only to an extent, it turns out.
“As we always tell players who come in with kids who can defend themselves out on the field, your kids are welcome to go out and shag and hang out and everything,’’ Williams said.
“Where do you stop it? It really puts us in a difficult position moving forward. I’ve played catch with some of these kids over the years. This is not about that. I hope I’ve made that clear to our players and whoever else.’’