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January 24th, 2017

Society

Irked ballplayer LaRoche takes his son and goes home

Mitch Albom

By Mitch Albom

Published March 29, 2016

Did you ever accompany your father on a Take Your Child to Work Day? It was probably fun, and you were glad when it was over. After all, there is a difference between childhood and adulthood. If not, we'd have briefcases in our cribs.

But a Chicago baseball player recently tested the boundaries of workspace and family space. He wanted his teenage son to be with him nearly all the time, and when the team asked him to scale it back, he quit.

In the aftermath, many have lauded the player, Adam LaRoche, and hashtagged his "FamilyFirst" principles. They have also vilified his team, the White Sox, as being insensitive, duplicitous, grown-up grouches.

That's wrong. You'd be hard-pressed to name any company that allows a 14-year-old to accompany Dad to work every day, let alone one that actually gave the kid his own locker, his own jersey and dubbed him "the 26th man."

This was the White Sox's mistake. They began this practice at LaRoche's request when he was acquired as a free agent last year. They continued it through last season and began this year's spring training the same way.

But for some reason, a few weeks ago -- and this is where it gets murky -- they asked LaRoche to cut back his son Drake's appearances, which had included being on the field and in the dugout.

At which point, with one year and $13 million left on his contract, the 36-year-old LaRoche quit. And several teammates blasted management and even threatened to sit out a game.

"I understand that many people will not understand my decision," LaRoche wrote in a Twitter post. "I respect that, and all I ask is for that same level of respect in return."

Had he stopped there, it would have been perfect. But LaRoche continued: "I live by certain values that are rooted in my faith. ... 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."

That kicked the issue into the hot zone. By citing "my faith," LaRoche ignited voices in the religious community. In citing morals and values by the outside world, he suggested forces around him were corruptive. And by putting in the part about regrets, he suggested, even inadvertently, that people who leave their teens when they work are somehow sacrificing critical parenting hours.

We should remind LaRoche that long before baseball players earned so much money they could walk away from $13 million, fathers were going to work without their children -- and that most people in the world still have to. (Obviously not LaRoche, who has earned over $70 million for playing a sport.)

You might also argue that bringing a kid into a major league locker room is hardly responsible parenting, given what I've witnessed in clubhouses the last 30 years. On what planet -- beside the "I want my kid to be a pro athlete" world -- is a room full of indulged millionaires a great environment for growing up? I'll spare you details of adult language, foul jokes, chewing tobacco and sexual references. Use your imagination.

Oh. And what about school? Three years ago, when his then-11-year-old son was hanging around the Washington Nationals, LaRoche told the Washington Post, "We're not big on school. I told my wife, 'He's going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in classroom.' "

Really?

Now, none of this is about the kid himself. The fact that Drake LaRoche is well-liked is good but no more pertinent than if he were a holy terror.

This is about policy -- which workplaces are entitled to set. Otherwise, what stops all 25 White Sox players from bringing their kids in? Don't you think cops, firemen and soldiers want to be with their kids, too? Part of really putting family first is the sacrifice it takes to feed and clothe them, which usually means being away.

Adam LaRoche could have said, "I'm blessed to have played a game that pays me so well, I can leave $13 million on the table and go home to be with my children." That would have made a great exit.

Instead, LaRoche left as if falling on a sword, his son autographed a farewell jersey, and White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton told Chicago's 670 The Score, "We lost a leader in Drake."

A 14-year-old is leading them? That actually explains a lot. Quitting isn't childish. Finger-pointing is.


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