Former Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam LaRoche, who decided to retire after the team told him to limit the amount of time his 14-year-old son spent in the clubhouse this spring, has opened up about his reasons to walk away from the game.
In a lengthy interview with ESPN the Magazine, LaRoche revealed he didn't retire just because of the dispute during spring training about his son Drake being in the clubhouse.
The 36-year-old LaRoche, who earned roughly $70 million in his career, stood to make $13 million more this season.
LaRoche's final decision came on March 15 around 9:30 a.m. when White Sox manager Robin Ventura finished his daily spring training meeting in the team's clubhouse in Glendale, Ariz., and LaRoche asked if he could have the floor.
The veteran first baseman had edged toward this moment for more than a week, since White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams told LaRoche to "dial back," then eliminate altogether, the time his teenage son spent at the field and in the clubhouse.
According to the ESPN interview, Ventura yielded the floor that morning to LaRoche, who stood before his teammates.
"I am choosing my son over you guys," LaRoche said. "I cannot tell you how much I hate that I'm even having to make this decision, and how much it crushes me to feel like I could be leaving you guys hanging."
LaRoche's teammates stayed for nearly two hours after his announcement, debating whether to take the field. LaRoche said some urged him to change his mind but he walked out that day, choosing family over baseball.
LaRoche, over a nearly four-hour conversation with ESPN the Magazine, has this message: He gets it, even if nobody else thinks he does.
"I never took it for granted," he said. "One, I get to play a game. Two, I get paid an absurd amount of money to play a game. Three, I can have my son with me while I'm doing it. I was pinching myself all the time, wondering, 'What did I do to deserve this?' And I always knew it could get shut down at any point. You could have a manager who just flat doesn't like it. You can have players complain -- 'Hey, we're tired of having a kid around.' There's a chance we could have other guys see Drake and think, 'I'll bring my kid too.' Obviously we can't turn this into a day care. I get it."
Drake began to accompany his father to the field at the start of spring training in 2011, LaRoche's first year with the Washington Nationals. By the second day, LaRoche said, then-9-year-old Drake was shining shoes and picking up baseballs after drills and feeding tees. LaRoche said it got to the point where teammates would wonder what happened when Drake wasn't there.
"I would go to those managers every year," he said. "I would tell them, 'Listen, if there's ever an issue, specifically if a player comes up to you, you've got to let me know.'"
Some reports indicated that White Sox players voiced concerns of Drake's time in the clubhouse, prompting Williams to act. During a session with reporters, Williams asked, "You tell me: Where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?"
"I'm not saying this is the way everybody should raise their kid," LaRoche told the magazine. "I'm saying I was given the privilege to raise my kid this way by some awesome teams and managers and GMs. Can every parent do it? No. But can we spend more time with our kids? Sure. I feel like I've spent as much time with Drake as you can, and if he were to die tomorrow, I guarantee you I'd be looking back and saying I wish I spent more time with him."
LaRoche was asked if Drake gets it.
"Honestly, I think he sees it as more time to hunt and fish," LaRoche said of his son.
ESPN's feature on LaRoche took some criticism as a "puff piece," notably from Deadspin.
LaRoche has no plans to file a grievance to recoup his $13 million 2016 salary.
"I did it," LaRoche said. "I made the final decision. And I can understand how people look at the $13 million. One, how stupid does somebody have to be? Or how selfish? Suck it up for six months, right?"
LaRoche batted just .207 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs last season while earning $12 million. He hit 255 career homers and belted 20 or more in nine different seasons. He hit a career-high 33 for the Nationals in 2012.
In addition to the Nationals (2011-14) and White Sox (2015), LaRoche also played for the Atlanta Braves (2004-06, 2009), Pittsburgh Pirates (2007-09), Boston Red Sox (2009) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2010).