Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Adam LaRoche, Ken Williams and an ugly situation

16 comments

LaRoche in happier times. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

LaRoche in happier times. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

By now I think we’ve all seen the Adam LaRoche story.  Short version: Chicago president Kenny Williams asked LaRoche to not have his kid at the clubhouse every day and LaRoche retired instead of agreeing to Williams’ terms.

Is there more to this story?  Oooh yeah.  Read this deadspin.com piece, which has a ton of tweets from MLB reporters Jeff Passan and Ken Rosenthal (basically two of the most respected and connected guys covering the game today, in case you doubt a story at deadspin).  My take-aways:

  • LaRoche had it IN HIS CONTRACT that he could bring his kid to the ballpark every day.
  • The kid had his own frigging locker and (as he did in Washington) did “clubhouse attendant” stuff to earn his keep.
  • The players supported LaRoche, except for some apparent unnamed anonymous players who allegedly complained to Williams as reported in this link.
  • Except that those un-named players apparently were too afraid to voice their opinion as the team threatened to boycott games the next day.
  • The players, the GM and the Manager all disagreed with the decision.
  • As is noted in the deadspin piece, reports from the meeting the players had with the President were perhaps the most angry I’ve ever read of a team being with its management.  Its not every day where a player like Chris Sale tells his boss’ boss’ boss  to “get the f*ck out of the clubhouse and don’t come back.”

My take?

I think Williams continued a sh*tty tradition of tone-deaf management out of the Chicago White Sox, whose owner Jerry Reinsdorf was the leading voice in pushing for limiting amateur bonuses in the last CBA in order to save a buck.  LaRoche hit .217 last year and was owed $13M this year: if LaRoche hit .290 with 30 homers last year do you still think Williams would have done what he did?

You may say (as others like noted “get off my lawn” dinosaur Bob Nightengale) something like “who else gets to take their kid to work every day?”  And you’d be right … except that nobody reading this works for a major league baseball club.  How often have you heard players say that “its different” being in a clubhouse than being in an office?  Do you agree?  I do; this isn’t a normal work place. MLB teams already HAVE kids around every day; they’re called bat boys.  So what’s the real difference here?   Its ok for a bat boy to be with the team for 6 straight months but not ok for a player’s son?  These aren’t “workers” as much as they’re “entertainers” and the concept of a “workplace” isn’t exactly the same.  The Nats built a day care center so their wives and kids could come to the games, and that’s good business.

Furthermore, there’s this: these guys constantly talk about being “a family” when talking about the team chemistry.  That’s because they basically spend 10-12 hours a day for 7 straight months together.  Working together, living together, showering together, traveling together and eating together.   Is it that big of a stretch to hear about people’s kids being at the games?  How many times have you read about kids being at ball parks in your life?  A hundred?  More?

The timing of this is also ridiculous; leave out for a moment that LaRoche’s contract stated he could bring his kid to the clubhouse (the kid had his OWN LOCKER!) and leaving out the point that LaRoche is a union guy (can you say player grievance coming?).  Why would Williams choose to have this fight 4 weeks into spring training?  If it was really that big of a deal, why not address it in the off-season?  I mean, can you imagine being a White Sox fan right now?  How does this situation make the White Sox better, in any conceivable way, for the season that starts in two weeks?  Now you have a near player mutiny, a popular veteran quitting out of principle, and you probably have more than a few players demanding to be traded.  Great way to prepare for the season!

If I’m the owner of the White Sox I fire Williams today and beg LaRoche to come back; its the only way he has a shot of salvaging the 2016 season.  I mean, the goal of the game is to win, and for me the only way to “fix” the massive clubhouse issue they’ve needlessly introduced is to get rid of the guy who caused it.   Of course, maybe he doesn’t give a sh*t;  his season tickets are sold and he’s raking in Chicago RSN money irrespective of whether his team wins 90 games or loses 90.  Welcome to modern baseball ownership, where tanking is a-OK, nobody has to show their books and billionaire owners keep making more and more money every year.

Good times ahead on the South Side!

Written by Todd Boss

March 18th, 2016 at 9:47 am

16 Responses to 'Adam LaRoche, Ken Williams and an ugly situation'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Adam LaRoche, Ken Williams and an ugly situation'.

  1. (cut-n-pasted Wally’s comment from previous thread since its more about this post):

    How about the Laroche thing? Pretty weird, I’d say. It has the feel to there being more to the story. I wonder if Adam was already thinking of packing it in, and this just gave him the out. But my guess is that there were some players who weren’t happy about the kid around, and didn’t want to do it publicly so they went to Williams. And if that’s right, then Williams is being a standup guy and taking the heat on himself, rather than sell out the players.

    But my strongest reaction is this: as a father myself, I think ALR’s decision on what to do should primarily be motivated by what puts his boy in the best spot, and I am not sure that your dad resigning from a well paid, highly public job, and being criticized to boot, is the best for the kid. I mean, on the one hand it’s great for a boy to see his dad stand up for him. But the flip side is that he probably thinks it’s fault that all of this is happening. Kids have a large capacity to blame themselves for stuff, despite what adults tell them.

    Todd Boss

    18 Mar 16 at 9:51 am

  2. For the record, I’m no relation to the KW running the show in Chicago!

    I can see both sides to the debate about whether Drake should be in the clubhouse all the time. That said, I’m in complete agreement that the middle of spring training of ALR’s second year with the team is NOT the time to address the issue. It’s an atomic bomb to team-management relations. And it’s over something that was well known ahead of time.

    As for a grievance, it sounded like Adam was in talks for a buyout, which you would think would take a grievance possibility off the table.

    ALR was a big part of the Nat glory years, despite his roller-coaster years, so I wish him well. And no, I don’t think Rizzo will be calling him up as Zim insurance. (Zim is hitting well but still not getting any time in the field, which is concerning.)

    KW

    18 Mar 16 at 10:19 am

  3. Wally; good points that I didn’t really go into in my piece. My thoughts:
    – Would LaRoche have packed it in if he had hit .290 with 30 bombs last year or would he have fought it? Did he have one foot out the door? I dunno; $13M is a LOOOOT of money to walk away from, even if he has $70M in career earnings. That’s walking away from 25% of his career earnings. By way of comparison, lets say that you earned $100k for 40 years; that’d give you $4M of career earnings; would you walk away from $1M?
    – I’m wondering/doubting about the “players” who complained to Williams. Its reaaaaaaly easy as Williams to float that nugget to a beat reporter to make yourself look good. Don’t give any names, just say “well a bunch of players came to me complaining.” I call BS, especially given what happened next (the quotes from the deadspin article and the threatened mutiny). Why would players bypass their manager AND their GM to go straight to the president with those complaints? That’d be like Bryce Harper going over Baker’s head, over Rizzo’s head and going to Alan Gottlieb (who is listed as the COO of Lerner Sports and even that might not be equivalent to who Kenny Williams is in the White Sox org since he’s a former GM bounced up the chain in a title inflation move) to complain about something in his own clubhouse. Do you buy that?

    – Great points about the impact this has on the kid. Maybe it doesn’t mean sh(t. Maybe LaRoche is just angling to get out of his contract/force a trade to go to a place where he’s wanted and where he can continue to bring the kid. Maybe LaRoche can take his $70M in career earnings, start a baseball school and have his kid hang around all day anyway. It seems to me there’s options out there; LaRoche’s family ties run deep in this game and he’s got connections around the sport. Maybe he surfaces as a complex batting instructor and continues to have his kid hang around until he’s in HS. Maybe this was all going to end in a year anyway when his kid hits 15 and kinda needs to go to high school, especially if he’s gonna play ball going forward. All speculation though.

    Its hard to put yourself in the shoes of a pro athlete who likely has more money than he’ll ever need already.

    Todd Boss

    18 Mar 16 at 10:25 am

  4. Buster Olney posted an insider piece with a ton of viewpoints; good collection of stances.

    Todd Boss

    18 Mar 16 at 1:08 pm

  5. its getting worse: http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/15005486/chris-sale-chicago-white-sox-were-lied-exec-williams

    Basically the White Sox’ best player is on a massive rampage.

    Todd Boss

    18 Mar 16 at 1:10 pm

  6. Maybe it was handled clumsily, but the White Sox made a very reasonable request.
    How about the kid spending time with people his own age? If they’re home schooling him as I read, he’s already not developing social skills needed for the real world.
    But, if Dad made $70 million, maybe the real world need never intrude.

    Mark L

    18 Mar 16 at 2:29 pm

  7. Todd, I usually agree with you, but completely disagree this time.

    First, ALR batted .207 with a -5.2 UZR/150 last year. The team was bad and ALR was a big reason why. Had the team done well last year and had ALR played to his contract, there would be no issues. But he didn’t and it’s reasonable for management to suggest that ALR remove a potential distraction from the clubhouse.

    Next, it’s perfectly reasonable for other players to talk with management “behind closed doors” and for Williams to take the heat. There are a bunch of new guys on the team and I can’t say id want someone’s kid around the clubhouse ALL the time. ALR did not get that same access for Drake with the Nats – I read that the clubhouse was players only before games for instance. It’s fine to have a kid around a lot, but this is a little much and perhaps more than Williams expected last year.

    Finally, this isn’t a normal situation – the bat boys (who you mentioned) aren’t with the team all the time, just at games for the most part. If ALR wanted bat boy-level treatment for Drake, it sounds like Williams would have been very amenable to this.

    I side with Williams 100% here. His stance was very reasonable and Drake should be in an environment with his peers not with a bunch of grown men.

    Andrew R

    18 Mar 16 at 4:45 pm

  8. I am a little late to this, since we left early for spring break to Fla. I don’t really side with Williams, certainly, and to me it isn’t about whether the request is reasonable or not, nor Laroche’s walking away from the money. If he made $70m, he cleared more than $30m after taxes and fees. Thats more than enough for him and his family, yet $13m is an absurd amount of money to just walk away from, too. If I am Drake, I’d say ‘hey Dad, it’s all good. Go play this year without me and we’ll just split the cash’ :-)

    To me, the interesting part is WHY Williams chose to do this now. And I think there are only two plausible theories: (1) some players complained and he felt it serious enough to act, and is covering for them (and while we have heard from two of their stars, hasn’t Abreu been conspicuously silent?), or (2) he wanted to goad ALR into quitting and save the money. Todd, you didn’t definitively say this, but I think this is where you lean. Nothing else seems credible for why he would do this now, after no complaints last year.

    My money is on the first one. ALR’s decision was very surprising and seems hard to expect, so the downside in player reaction would have far outweighed the probable outcome. Plus, if it were ever found out to be true, it’s not only a firing offense but possible league sanctions. That’s also why I doubt it’s actually in his contract, but instead was a verbal agreement.

    Wally

    18 Mar 16 at 7:46 pm

  9. I was disturbed to read ALR’s quote about how his son was going to learn far more “life experience” in the clubhouse than he ever would in school. Really? What kind of lessons are we learning here–macho posturing BS, blatant homophobia and probably not a little bit of misogyny?

    Yeah, you make plenty of valid points, and if I were (still) a White Sox fan I’d be pissed, but I would have pissed at them already for greatly overpaying for another one dimensional slugger who was already in decline after finally having gotten rid of the corpses of Dunn and Kornerko. My reaction was that White Sox found the most despicable way possible of ridding themselves of a bad contract and Williams is (as usual) just the front man for Reinsdorf (who I swear was already 76 years old when he bought the team in the late 70s).

    I guess what I’m really saying is that much as I hate Reinsdof and wish him ill, ALR and his $70 million in the bank and disdainful attitude towards formal education isn’t the type of “hero” I prefer to stand up for either.

    Karl Kolchack

    18 Mar 16 at 7:54 pm

  10. One other quick thought–maybe this is Reinsdorf’s way of forcing a legal confrontation with the union over what for him is relative chump change to see given the ever-increasing anti-union bias in the country if he can score a small victory in anticipation of much bigger attacks on the baseball union down the line. Who knows with this (ahem) jerko?

    Karl Kolchack

    18 Mar 16 at 8:00 pm

  11. Back in the real world, Giolito was brilliant today against the Met regulars, while Colon got bombed and looks like he may be closer to 70 than 40. Some shaky stuff from guys we’re counting on in the Nat bullpen, though, including Rivero and Gott.

    KW

    18 Mar 16 at 10:02 pm

  12. KK, couldn’t possibly agree more. You were right on.
    If LaRouche really said that about school, he is one stupid human being. Your classic idiot savant!

    Mark L

    18 Mar 16 at 10:48 pm

  13. Well, back to prospect land, Sickels came out with his sleeper list for 2016, and 4 Nats are on it: Telmito Augutin (never heard of him), Hearn, Watson, and Andrew Lee. Somehow I feel KW will be happy :-)

    The new Fangraphs guy is taking forever to finish his lists and get to the Nats. Gotta say, I found McDaniel a much easier read. This one is getting to be too much work.

    Wally

    19 Mar 16 at 8:39 am

  14. Some post-week’s worth of thoughts
    – I admit ahead of time that i’m already biased towards LaRoche (as a former player and someone who i’ve never read an ill word about)
    – And, i’m biased against the management of the Chicago White Sox, who have proven time and again to be anti player, anti union
    – Perhaps this is a classic “arguing about there b/c there’s nothing else to argue about” moment deep into spring training.
    – I’m in an argumentative mood this week; between work, politics and ongoing issues with staff at my small business, i’m conflicted-out and may very well be taking this out in print :-)
    – I’m not really even considering the “father of the year” aspects here, or the “rightfulness or wrongness” of home schooling a teenager so that he can hang around the ballpark. Which a lot of you have focused on. If that’s the basis of your argument/stance, I totally get it and cannot argue otherwise. Isolating that aspect of this situation, I agree with you; I am troubled against those who home school their kids, and i’m equally troubled by LaRoche’s comments that you guys are isolating on.

    For me, I look at the contractural aspects of this, the handling of the situation from a management perspective and a clubhouse chemistry aspect, and the timing. All of which fall squarely into the side that makes it look really, really bad for the management there. Ask yourself some general questions:
    – We’ve all seen these player-management arguments; have you EVER in your life seen teammmates react the way the White Sox teammmates and Chris Sale are reacting? I havn’t. Normally you just see a bunch of non-committal quotes and basically ignoring the situation. Have you ever seen a team threaten munity?
    – Have you ever seen a case where the manager and the GM were ON RECORD disagreeing with their superior the day the event happened like this? Not me; normally club management falls in line all the way to the top.
    – Do you REALLY believe the quotes you’re reading about how this has been going on for most of last year? Because if you do, then how do you possibly explain the timing? If this was a problem in 2015, then management sits LaRoche down at the end of the year (they all do end-of-season interviews of every player and discuss their performance, just as we all have job reviews) and handle it. The timing itself is a huge factor into this; i feel like its a purposeful anti-player stance to take with the clear intent of antagonizing LaRoche.
    – I don’t really care what LaRoche hit last year; he had a CONTRACT to play this year, and he had an agreement (handshake or otherwise) that the kid could be there. That’s an important piece to me: you’re antagonizing the player over something YOU ALREADY AGREED TO. If you don’t like it … tough sh*t. You signed the contract. If you want to alter the contract, call his agent, call the union. Don’t go to the player in the middle of spring training and drop a bomb on him out of nowhere.
    – The reaction of Chris Sale is pertinent. Again, when was the last time you saw such a vehement, open reaction to a management decision on a player?
    – Lastly, the apparent changing story from Williams directly tells me that this is some knee jerk directive from some tone-deaf member of their management structure. If it was *really* players complaining, then that would have been the story. But as Sale noted, he said players complained, then staff, then that it was a decision from ownership. Why the changing story? If it was ownership, then just say it was ownership. If it was players, then stick to that initial story that it was players. Why the changing story? Not to get pendantic, but if this was a court of law, a lawyer would pounce on these inconsistencies as evidence of deception. And that’s what’s going on here.

    Oh, btw, if you want to read an absolute classic shill anti-player article, look no further than Bob Nightengale’s hatchet job in the USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/bob-nightengale/2016/03/18/adam-laroche-drake-laroche-kenny-williams/81993428/ . He quotes “multiple baseball officials” with “knowledge” of the situation, names no names but refers to “multiple players and staff” anonymously and 100% supports CWS management. I love it when I read crap stories like this based ENTIRELY on anonymous sources. You know why? Because they’re sh*t stories. You want to denigrate a player; go on the record. Dpn’t be a pussy and hide behind some dinosaur baseball reporter who probably got a free dinner from Williams for his “support.” This is why I don’t read comments on stories on the internet and don’t read twitter. If you don’t have the balls to say something to someone else’s face, then don’t write it on the internet.

    Todd Boss

    19 Mar 16 at 9:04 am

  15. Todd is right that regardless of what one thinks about the LaRoche family situation, the TIMING of this, and the ham-handed way the team has handled it, are devastating for the team. I’ve not particularly agreed with the degree of the Drake stuff for years, including Adam’s comments when he was with the Nats that they weren’t big on that school stuff, but it seems like old news since it’s been going on for years.

    Moving on . . . now Arroyo’s shoulder is back from the dead? The 4-to-6-week rehab deal actually sounds like the best case for Arroyo having a chance to help the Nats. There’s now no pressure to make a decision on him before the end of the spring, or to add him to the rotation. Plus there’s no rush for him to come back. Just as long as no one gets the “Wang” idea about him and tries to insert him into an already-functioning rotation.

    KW

    19 Mar 16 at 8:13 pm

  16. Last comment on this: Murray Chass of all frigging people writes analysis that entirely gibes with my feelings: http://www.murraychass.com/?p=9887

    Todd Boss

    20 Mar 16 at 9:29 am

Leave a Reply