The Good News From the Adam LaRoche Situation

The Adam LaRoche situation stirred controversy. However, it also validated involved fatherhood
The Adam LaRoche situation stirred controversy. However, it also validated involved fatherhood (Wikimedia/creative commons)

The Adam LaRoche situation, even with its controversy, validates how far we’ve come in recognizing the importance of involved fatherhood.

Baseball and fatherhood are my two favorite topics, so when the curious case of Adam LaRoche and his fatherhood-related exit from the Chicago White Sox broke last week, some asked me for my thoughts.

After all, the last time fatherhood and baseball crashed together like this was when Daniel Murphy was criticized for taking paternity leave two years ago. As that story was blowing up, I made sure to jump on it quickly, and got my first national TV interview, an article in the Wall Street Journal, and lots of other inquiries from journalists looking for some commentary.

This time around, though, I hesitated to jump in with my analysis. And I’m glad I did, as the details are murkier and the issue is not as black and white.

A quick recap of what we do and do not know about the Adam LaRoche situation and his sudden departure from the White Sox:

  • For the bulk of LaRoche’s career, his now 14-year old son, Drake, has been a constant presence in Spring Training, in the clubhouse and on the road. Apparently both the Washington Nationals and the Chicago White Sox gave the LaRoches a lot of leeway, more so than most other players and their families.
  • In fact, it was reported that LaRoche had a handshake agreement for Drake’s access when he signed with the White Sox before last season.
  • Both Adam and Drake LaRoche are very popular and well-liked by the vast majority of team-mates and those inside baseball.
  • Last week, White Sox executive Kenny Williams apparently confronted LaRoche about Drake, and asked him to greatly reduce the time Drake spent with the team from near 100% to somewhere below 50%.
  • Rather than being parted from his son, LaRoche abruptly retired, walking away from the $12 million he would have earned this season.

That’s what we know. However, there’s a lot we don’t know, but there have been speculative reports. Here’s some additional context.

  • While many teammates lent full-throated support to the LaRoches, and even threatened to skip an exhibition game in protest, it is widely believed that other players complained to management about the constant presence of a 14-year old on the field, in the locker room, on team planes and busses, etc.
  • A baseball clubhouse is a unique environment, and kids are far more present in this workplace than in virtually any other. This being said, Drake’s access was considerably more than most baseball people have ever heard of.
  • Adam LaRoche and Kenny Williams disagree about the tone and emotionality of their conversation, and about how negotiable things were given the handshake agreement the year before.
  • LaRoche had once been a productive player, but was terrible last year and was likely to be sub-par this season, all while earning a very high salary. Some have guessed that ownership and some in management are thrilled he has retired. It is also likely that had LaRoche continued to be a productive player, he would have been given more leeway with his son.

This all leaves me torn. I’m obviously pro-kid and pro-dad. And I have long worked with companies on becoming more family-supportive.

Baseball and fatherhood. The perfect combination.
Baseball and fatherhood. The perfect combination.

However, I’m not sure how appropriate it is to have a child in a professional workplace of any sort for 60+ hours a week, let alone one that involves the nudity, strong language and tomfoolery that is typical in MLB clubhouses. (The HRM professor in me also cringes at the workplace safety and liability potential, but let’s leave that aside).

Regardless, many whom I respect are 100% in LaRoche’s corner, and others I respect are 100% supportive of the White Sox’ decision. I don’t have enough information to have a clear strong opinion either way- in my mind, both sides have some good arguments.

However, I think one REALLY POSITIVE thing has come out of the Adam LaRoche fiasco. Every article, blog post, sports radio host and commentator I’ve seen has supported a father’s desire to maximize his time with his children. Most have lauded LaRoche’s “family first” decision. Even those who side with the White Sox acknowledge the importance of teams/employers being generally supportive of dads and kids. White Sox executives are on the record as lauding the notion of involved fatherhood and respecting LaRoche’s priorities.

Unlike the Daniel Murphy  situation, in which national media figures disparaged the “manliness” of involved fatherhood, I have not seen any such denigration this time around. The Adam LaRoche situation, even with its controversy, validates how far we’ve come in recognizing the importance of involved fatherhood.

This is a good thing. Progress takes time, and sometimes it takes a media-fueled dust-up to mark that progress.

What do you think of the Adam LaRoche situation? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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