GLENDALE, Ariz. — What began as a quirky story about a boy and baseball has exploded into an ugly rift in the Chicago White Sox organization punctuated by ace Chris Sale's saying the players were “bold-faced lied to” by club vice president Kenny Williams and demanding a meeting with owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
Reinsdorf, Williams and first baseman Adam LaRoche all issued statements by noon Friday amid the shattering of spring training calm by an angry clubhouse that appears on the verge of mutiny.
That open warfare has broken out over the constant presence of a 14-year-old boy—Adam’s son, Drake—ranks as one of the most bizarre spring training stories in memory.
That some White Sox players have requested the meeting with Reinsdorf and are openly hostile toward Williams leads to significant questions regarding the organization’s direction.
The only thing missing here Friday was the boy at the center of the storm, and his apparently now-retired father.
When I was here one day last week, Drake LaRoche was plopped down at the middle of a table in the clubhouse after the morning workout, in full uniform, shoveling forkfuls of salad into his mouth.
He couldn’t have looked more like a player had he been spitting tobacco juice.
On Friday, his little uniform, No. 25, was hanging in Sale’s locker in tribute.
That a boy should be a constant presence in his father’s workplace, in clubhouses and on team charter flights, is questionable on its own merit. This isn’t a daycare facility; the White Sox ranked as one of the game’s most disappointing teams last season, and they’re trying to prepare for a critical season now.
To allow the child of a player, or children of players, carte blanche around a club is absolutely preposterous.
Were promises broken?
LaRoche says that the Sox agreed when he signed a two-year, $26 million deal with them before the 2015 season that his son could hang around with him in the clubhouse. LaRoche went on to bat .207 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI over 127 games for the White Sox last year.
Williams told USA Today earlier this week that he simply asked LaRoche to “dial it back,” that Drake was still welcome but not 100 percent of the time.
LaRoche disputed that in a statement released on his Twitter account Friday morning, noting, “White Sox VP Ken Williams recently advised me to significantly scale back the time that my son spent in the clubhouse. Later, I was told not to bring him to the ballpark at all.”
So, where is the truth?
And this is what White Sox players pick a fight over?
As one player told Bleacher Report on Friday, you bet it is, because when the front office lies to players and those lies land in the clubhouse and divide it, that is a fight you must pick.
However, other sources told B/R that Williams did not act unilaterally, that some members of the organization privately complained about the constant presence of LaRoche’s son.
This answers the most obvious question: Why would Williams suddenly decide to set new rules for LaRoche now instead of at the beginning of camp? Other White Sox players in other years have complained about Williams’ penchant toward clubhouse meddling, but for him to suddenly, in mid-March, decide to interrupt the spring flow of the team makes zero sense.
In a statement issued Friday in response to Sale accusing him of lying, Williams said, “While I disagree with Chris’ assertions today, I certainly have always appreciated his passion.”
Williams did not make himself available to reporters.
LaRoche, after saying that Williams told him flat-out not to bring his son to the ballpark, said this in his statement: “Obviously, I expressed my displeasure toward this decision to alter the agreement we had reached before I signed with the White Sox.”
Meantime, as the internal White Sox wheels spun furiously, key figures from Reinsdorf to manager Robin Ventura conducted meetings attempting to keep things together and tamp down the flames.
“This is an internal issue,” Reinsdorf said in a statement. “And we are in the process of holding a number of discussions with players, staff and the front office…. I have instructed members of the organization not to talk about this issue and get our focus back on the field and winning baseball games.”
Ventura said he has spoken with LaRoche “quite a few times” in the past couple of days and admitted that the whole situation is “shocking.”
Everybody involved, from players to executives, speaks highly of Drake LaRoche—who, incidentally, also had his own locker in the clubhouse and flew on the team’s charters.
“He’s a great kid. Heck, he’s probably more mature than most of the guys in there,” Ventura quipped.
Sale, who is well-known by those around the Sox to have a heated temper and a quick trigger, unloaded to a group of reporters on Friday morning in the clubhouse.
“Even the story that everyone is reading isn’t the issue,” Sale said. “We have a much bigger problem on our hands than Kenny coming in here and kicking out a kid.”
That issue is trust between the players and the suits upstairs, the ace said. Williams was contradictory, Sale said, coming to the players and blaming the coaches for complaining, then going to the coaches and blaming the players for complaining, and then finally telling the players that it was the owner who thought LaRoche’s son was hanging around too much.
“So we’re not exactly [sure] who it’s coming from, where it originated from,” Sale said.
He added: “There was no problem in here. We were rolling. We had a team coming together and new guys getting acquainted and playing well, no hiccups, nothing.
“We’re a steam engine going full steam ahead and he…derailed it.”
If the White Sox can be derailed by a disagreement over a teammate’s 14-year-old son, how in the name of Charles Comiskey can they be tough enough to handle the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers in the AL Central?
Cool as it surely is to hang out with major leaguers, wouldn’t it be healthy for Drake LaRoche to spend some time hanging out with kids his own age, too?
“Prior to signing with the White Sox, my first question to the club concerned my son’s ability to be a part of the team,” Adam LaRoche said in the statement. “After some due diligence on the club’s part, we reached an agreement.”
I’m sorry, but that is twisted. He’s barely a teenager. And he’s a part of a major league team? For LaRoche to negotiate that is not grounded in reality, and whatever terms the White Sox agreed to there—if, in fact, they did—are even more bizarre.
This is craziness.
What both sides need is a healthy dose of graham crackers and milk, and a good, long nap.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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