GLENDALE, Ariz. – Months from now, the White Sox may look back on Adam LaRoche’s tumultuous retirement week as the turning point.
If they crash and burn, March 15 will be marked as the day a warm, fuzzy spring training got hot and prickly quickly when LaRoche called it quits because son Drake’s clubhouse access was about to be cut by vice president Ken Williams.
If the Sox get rolling and contend in the American League Central, this could be viewed as the uproar that not only made national headlines but bonded a team – while at odds with the VP — together.
How tense did things get between the players and Williams Tuesday morning? Ace of the pitching staff Chris Sale “went after Kenny and let him know what’s going on,’’ outfielder Adam Eaton said. “And some new guys in the clubhouse stepped up and took charge as well.’’
LaRoche had a handshake agreement with manager Robin Ventura and general manager Rick Hahn that Drake, who had a locker and uniform, could be part of the clubhouse life. Williams said it was a bit much, more than he expected, and asked LaRoche a week or so ago to “dial it back.”
“It was not in his contract,” Williams said.
The players didn’t care. After LaRoche told them of his decision they rallied in support at the meeting Tuesday and “decided not to go out and work,” as Eaton put it. They waited in the clubhouse for Williams to come down from his office.
“Kenny came in and said his piece and some guys said their piece,’’ Eaton said.
One thing was clear. The players, none more vocal and salty than Sale, stood up to Williams on LaRoche’s behalf.
“We’re like family and Drake is part of it,’’ Eaton said. “Chris is a very passionate person and he cares about his family and teammates. I can’t comment on what he said exactly, but he got his point across. There was a lot of passion in that room.”
Meanwhile, Ventura was preparing to face perhaps his toughest challenge in five seasons as Sox manager. In support of LaRoche, who batted only .207 with 12 homers last season, the players were prepared to boycott Wednesday’s game against the Brewers in Phoenix. And word of a possible boycott of Friday’s home game against the Cubs in Glendale made its way to Cubs management.
It was a drastic measure, to be sure, but because of Ventura, it lost traction.
“We needed to stand up for how we feel and support our teammate,’’ Eaton said. “Whether it’s right or wrong, we felt we needed to make a stand.’’
On Wednesday, Ventura told the team “whatever you decide I support you.”
But when the players realized what burden that would put on their manager, they backed off.
“Robin, we respect him, he’s our manager, he holds us together,’’ Eaton said, “and we decided it was in his best interests that we go out and play.
“We’ve never been stronger as a unit as a team because of this whole ordeal. This didn’t divide us. The exact opposite. It brought us together.
LaRoche’s retirement papers are signed, and the Sox were letting him sleep on the decision before they turned them in, but those who heard him in the clubhouse Tuesday are sure he’ll forfeit his $13 million in salary.
LaRoche said Tuesday he would have more to say about his decision in “a day or two.” Three days later, Friday is a possibility, a Sox spokesman said.
It’s an odd dynamic, having a kid in the workplace. But Eaton, whose locker stood next to the LaRoche’s, said he’ll miss the perspective having a kid around provided.
“I have not heard one rumbling [complaint] about him from another player,’’ Eaton said. “I have never heard one negative thing about that kid. The only negative thing is he says ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ too much and it gets on our nerves. We’re like, ‘Drake quit saying sir. We’re your friend.’ ’’