Although designated hitter Adam LaRoche walked away this week from his Chicago White Sox contract worth $13 million after being asked by team president Ken Williams to decrease the time his 14-year-old son Drake spent with him and the team during workouts and in the clubhouse, the conflict seems to still be brewing. Drake reportedly was with the team almost every day in 2015. Terry Mattingly of Get Religion floated the concept that "the driving force in this conflict appears to be LaRoche's conservative Christian faith and how - in his heart and mind - it affects his priorities as a father."
In a statement, LaRoche cited a "fundamental disagreement" with Williams led to his departure from the team.
Also in his statement, LaRoche said that before he signed his two-year, $25 million contract with the Chicago White Sox last year, "my first question to the club concerned my [son Drake's] ability to be a part of the team. After some due diligence on the club's part, we reached an agreement" and there were no problems with his son's presence in the clubhouse in 2015.
LaRoche, 36, announced his retirement Tuesday, hinting at the reason behind his decision with the hashtag #FamilyFirst in a tweet posted that day. LaRoche's actual tweet was: "Thank u Lord for the game of baseball and for giving me way more than I ever deserved! #FamilyFirst"
When news of the reason became public Wednesday, Williams addressed the issue with reporters and said that kids are still permitted in the White Sox clubhouse, but they shouldn't be there every day, saying no job would allow that.
"Sometimes you have to make decisions in this world that are unpopular," he said.
The White Sox always encouraged players to bring their kids into the clubhouse and onto the field, according to Williams. But he said he thought Drake LaRoche was there too much, reported ESPN.
"On our side of things, I think everyone would say we enjoyed Drake LaRoche and everything he brought to the clubhouse," White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton said to ESPN. "He helped out and wasn't a burden by any stretch of the imagination. He wasn't a big problem last year, either.
"Adam and Drake are probably the most respected people in baseball I ever played with. Drake would clean cleats, he would help out in drills, pick up baseballs when we needed. He didn't say boo to anybody and was never a trouble in the clubhouse."
Said Williams: "I want to be very clear on something. It's not because the young man was a distraction, not because he wasn't well-received or well-liked by players, management and everyone else."
Ace left-hander Chris Sale said Friday that he and his teammates were lied to by Williams, who the pitcher alleges has told three different stories on why the decision was made to limit 14-year-old Drake LaRoche's access to the clubhouse.
White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton told reporters Friday that he has talked to the Major League Baseball Players Association about potentially filing a grievance on LaRoche's behalf.
Mattingly pointed toward LaRoche's additional religious priorities, per the player's leading role in Faith Day at the ballpark, as reported by The Chicago Tribune, involving LaRoche addressing the crowd to introduce the new Faith Day venture; the Christian group Vertical Church Band playing before the game; and players, along with "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson, LaRoche's friend, sharing their stories of faith after the game. LaRoche said he has participated in similar programs with the Braves, Pirates and Nationals.
LaRoche said, "As a believer, it is and should be the most important thing in our lives, so to be able to get up briefly and share that is an honor. And the fact that the White Sox allow it is great because some teams try to shy away from things like that and any type of (potential) controversy."
Mattingly also referenced a piece in The Washington Post that indicated LaRoche "led Bible studies and took teammates on exquisite hunting trips. He could raise a little hell and give the best advice on how to blend family and baseball. Given the general demographic of ballplayers, LaRoche was viewed inside clubhouses as both the coolest and the sagest guy around. His kid helped out around the clubhouse and made them laugh. The other players loved Drake."
LaRoche's direct statement, as shared by ESPN, explaining his reason also contained a religious reference: "I understand that many people will not understand my decision. I respect that, and all I ask is for that same level of respect in return. I live by certain values that are rooted in my faith, and I am grateful to my parents for that. I have tried to set a good example on and off the field and live a life that represents these values. As fathers, we have an opportunity to help mold our kids into men and women of character, with morals and values that can't be shaken by the world around them. Of one thing I am certain: we will regret NOT spending enough time with our kids, not the other way around."
One person on social media, Mallory Betzold, stated she thought this story is fascinating. "I'm amazed by the amount of support LaRoche is getting. Walking away from 13 million dollars because your son can't be with you 24/7 makes you clinically insane. He wasn't forced to pick family or baseball. His son wasn't 'banned' from the clubhouse. LaRoche was asked to dial it down. Why isn't his son in school and hanging out with kids his own age? Odd. I'm sure the .207 batting average had nothing to do with this decision either."