Williams not one to shy away from 'unpopular' decision
LaRoche decides to retire rather than spend less time with son
By Barry M. Bloom
PHOENIX -- White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams was trying to cut back on distractions that might affect his club putting together a winning season when he asked first baseman Adam LaRoche to "dial back" the amount of time his 14-year-old son spends in the clubhouse.
Inadvertently, Williams created a surprising stir.
"Well, you guys wouldn't be in here talking to me if it weren't," said Williams while seated in his box at Maryvale Baseball Park just before Chicago lost, 5-2, to the Brewers on Wednesday. "Sometimes you have to make decisions in this world that are unpopular. I've been unpopular before."
Williams met with LaRoche twice in the past week about the issue, the last time on Sunday, two days before LaRoche abruptly retired.
LaRoche's ball-playing kid, Drake, had a locker, a uniform and took fly balls during batting practice. He was around a lot. Too much, Williams decided with the blessings of White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
"That's kind of where we were," Williams said. "[Drake] was [around] 100 percent of the time, every day, and so I asked [LaRoche] just to dial it back. Even 50 percent is probably too much. But there's a wide range between zero and 50 percent, so I was a little surprised at the stance he took.
"It's unfortunate. But talk about a quality decision, a quality life decision, a family decision. He talks about being there for his family and family first, and he put it front and center, so I respect and admire that."
The request seemed reasonable enough. It's not as if the White Sox banned LaRoche's son -- or any of the other players' kids -- from the clubhouse or field.
"I made it perfectly clear that that the young man [was welcome]," Williams said. "We have a long history of this being a kid-friendly environment. I got reprimanded years ago by the Commissioner's Office for taking kids out of the stands at U.S. Cellular and taking them into the clubhouse when the players were out on the field for batting practice. I think it's great. I just don't think it's great every day."
Williams said that LaRoche just listened to him and walked out of the last meeting. Two days later, he quit, forsaking the $13 million remaining on his contract for this season. LaRoche told his teammates about the decision during a team meeting on Tuesday. They tried to get him to take some time and rethink the drastic position, allowing cooler heads to prevail.
"Obviously we're all friends here. We're a close-knit group," said Austin Jackson, who just signed as a free agent on March 6. "He's a grown man and he's going to make his own decisions. You have to respect that. But you don't want to see anybody leave the game when they can still help you out."
LaRoche had back problems and last season, his first with the White Sox, was one of the worst of his 12-year career. He batted .207 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs in only 127 games. This year, he was probably coming back as a bit player, White Sox manager Robin Ventura said on Wednesday. LaRoche knew the score.
"We didn't necessarily get into all that," Ventura said. "He knew where he was at. He knew what the role was. I think there's just more to it. It's where his heart was."
Accordingly, Williams and Ventura said they are still waiting for LaRoche to come back with a formal decision. Neither of them expect LaRoche to change his mind.
"That's what it sounds like," Ventura said. "I haven't talked to him today, but I know I will be talking to him pretty soon. I think where he's at that's probably what he's doing."
"He seemed pretty convicted in his decision," Williams said. "There was no conversation. He didn't come back to talk to me about it before making the decision. I thought there was enough flexibility built in [to the request]."
Williams said this had nothing to do with LaRoche or his kid. The White Sox had a hugely disappointing 2015 season when they finished 76-86, 19 games behind the World Series-winning Royals in the American League Central.
Between Reinsdorf, Williams and general manager Rick Hahn, Williams said they spent part of the offseason trying to eliminate some distractions to make the clubhouse environment better. To be clear, Williams said Drake was not a distraction.
"It's not that he wasn't well-received and well-liked by the players, management and everyone else," Williams said.
No, Williams said this was about drawing the line.
"One thing we talked about the most [during the offseason] was, 'Let's check all the columns with regards to our preparation, with regards to our focus, with regards to everything and give ourselves the best chance to win,'" Williams said. "When I talked to Jerry about it, he said, 'We owe it to the fans at this point to put a team on the field that they can hope and dream about because we haven't done that.'
"We went into last year with some hopes and dreams, and didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. But certainly this year, he keeps saying, 'We owe it to the fans to have a team that's representative of Chicago on that field.'"
After this week's tumult, they'll almost definitely have to do it without LaRoche.