MORRISSEY: White Sox kidding themselves — it’s #BaseballFirst

SHARE MORRISSEY: White Sox kidding themselves — it’s #BaseballFirst
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Adam LaRoche and son Drake head to the clubhouse during spring training last year. LaRoche abruptly retired after White Sox vice president Ken Williams asked him to scale back his son’s time with the team. File photo by John Locher, AP.

White Sox players are fighting for a mirage. Adam LaRoche’s son might look real to them, but he’s an ideal that’s unattainable in professional baseball.

#FamilyFirst, the hashtag the Sox’ designated hitter attached to a tweet about his decision to retire, is a fallacy in the sport. A grueling 162-game schedule and the enormous demands that go with the job guarantee that it’s #BaseballFirst — by a mile.

A player’s heart might be with his family, but his time, effort and presence are somewhere far, far away. Kudos to LaRoche for trying to change the rotation of the earth, but it can’t work, not in baseball. #FamilyFirst is what these guys want to believe, but it’s a slogan without much truth behind it. Having your kid on your lap during a press conference, as some athletes like to do, is not parenting.

As the entire country seems to know by now, LaRoche had brought his 14-year-old son, Drake, with him to work every day since joining the Sox last season. As in, every … single … day. Drake had a locker next to his dad’s both at the Sox’ spring-training complex in Glendale, Ariz., and at The Cell. He wore a Sox uniform at camp and often went through drills with the team.

Sox vice president Ken Williams, who said he hadn’t been aware Drake spent so much time at the team’s workplace, correctly asked LaRoche to dial back his son’s presence in the clubhouse. LaRoche instead announced he would retire, and furious Sox players threatened to boycott a spring-training game in protest. On Friday, pitcher Chris Sale ripped Williams, saying, “We got bald-faced lied to by someone we were supposed to trust.”

Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf called it an “internal issue’’ in a statement and instructed team personnel not to discuss it publicly. LaRoche said in his own statement that, before signing with the Sox, he and the team had agreed Drake could be in the clubhouse. When that changed, he said, he chose family over the Sox.

Again, a noble decision. As for the reaction of teammates and other players throughout the game, I think this is more about repressed guilt than it is about anger.

Major-league baseball is a total, everyday sacrifice for seven months, counting spring training. Ballplayers are on the road for long stretches during the season and, when they are in town for home games, they’re at the ballpark most of the time. Many of these players are rumors to their own kids, at least relative to most other parents’ time investment in their children. I’m sure there’s a lot of regret involved, but it’s the life they chose.

Many of them probably see themselves in LaRoche and want desperately to believe that some semblance of a normal home life is possible. They’re kidding themselves.

LaRoche wanted it both ways, and he actually had it for a while. But having your kids around all the time is a virtual impossibility in most clubhouses, a sacred place in baseball that has no room for outsiders on a steady basis. How Williams didn’t know this was going on with LaRoche last season is beyond a mystery. But Sale and LaRoche are mistaken if they think Williams is the problem here. Baseball is the problem.

If the Sox initially agreed to allow LaRoche’s son to be in their clubhouse without restriction, then they were wrong to do so. No player should be given that promise. But their bad decision, if there was one, doesn’t change the fundamental problem of having a young teenager where he shouldn’t be.

Several years ago, a former White Sox player received a letter from a woman with whom he had spent several nights and then coldly ignored. She was upset that he wouldn’t answer her calls. She felt she had been used.

How do I know some of the contents of her anguished letter? Because the player laughingly pinned it to a board in the Sox’ spring-training clubhouse for everyone to see.

In 2008, an unidentified Sox player put two nude blow-up dolls in the clubhouse, placed bats around them and added a sign that read, “You’ve Got to Push,’’ supposedly a reference to a Sox’ hitting slump. Sure it was.

A clubhouse is no place for a kid.

The LaRoches home-school Drake, and I don’t know their reasons for doing so. But parents who do teach their children at home often want to shield them from the influences of other kids. If that’s why LaRoche and his wife home-school their son, I’m not sure what they possibly could have been thinking by letting him to go to work with Dad. Exposing him to a major-league clubhouse filled with testosterone-filled men who often act like frat boys is not the kind of schooling and sheltering that concerned parents normally have in mind for their children.

Whether LaRoche meant to or not, he has put his 14-year-old in the national spotlight, and that stinks. By doing so, he has made everything fair game, including his parenting and his son, who, by all accounts, is a great kid.

I don’t believe the decision to limit Drake’s clubhouse presence was Williams’ idea alone. There had to be players or coaches who didn’t like that they had to change their behavior because a 14-year-old was in their workplace. But no player is going to admit publicly that he didn’t want the boy around. You might as well say, “I hate the whole idea of family.’’

And family is everything in baseball — well, at least in word.


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