Between the ages of 7 and 10, I grew up hanging around the clubhouse and dugout and ballfields where my dad, a former big-leaguer, played, and I wonder just what the hell the 14-year-old son of Chicago White Sox first baseman, Adam LaRoche, is doing hanging around the clubhouse 24/7 when he should be out playing ball with and against his peers in Babe Ruth League or American Legion. The situation seems odd and abnormal, and the fact that his father allows it is even odder and more abnormal.
My father played for Detroit before WWII and later, from 1949 until retirement in 1953, in the old Pacific Coast League for the Hollywood Stars, San Diego Padres, and LA Angels. While with the Stars, I hung out in the clubhouse with him and ventured onto the ballfield during batting practice and learned how to handle a bat and glove while playing pepper against the centerfield fence with dad’s fellow infielders, Gene Handley, Eddie Baxes, Lou Stringer, and Johnny O’Neill. These guys literally groomed me to be a ball player, and I took to it like a Lab retriever pursuing a tennis ball hurled into the ocean. All of these players had endured tough times from the Great Depression, some had been hardened by war, and they were not the types to baby me if I was going to hang out with them. Many of the ball player’s sons my age wanted no part of the clubhouse.
“You a lover or a fighter, Meat?” they’d ask me.
“Naw, we heard you were a lover boy.”
The kidding was harsh. If I wanted to hang here, I learned to take it and witnessed these men absolutely relishing the banter of tough love with each other, and realized early on that this was their way of accepting you as a tough kid addicted to the game they considered sacrosanct. To make myself useful, I polished their spikes and boned their bats and accepted having a towel snapped at my ass and my head roughed.
Later, after dad retired, I could not fathom as a teenager being in this same situation.
At this point I was making my own way, and felt I did not deserve to be rubbing elbows with these men, who had paid their dues and hard knocks to arrive at such an exalted level. I would have felt squeamish, undeserving, an intruder. Even as a little kid I realized some of these men, crude and downright profane, did not WANT a child hanging around and holding them back from the kind of obscene behavior and pranks that was part of their culture.
What is truly embarrassing and insane in this year, 2016, are Chicago White Sox players supporting Adam LaRoche, who quit baseball when the GM and owner of the White Sox wanted his 14-year-old kid to cease being a nonstop presence in the clubhouse and field, perhaps feeling he was starting to be a distraction, or perhaps certain players felt they could not be themselves around an adolescent.
The fact that these players staged a boycott of a spring training game and their manager supported them yet eventually talked them into playing is as bush and downright stupid as anything we’ve seen in baseball ever.
Try and imagine something like this happening in the past, when there was no player’s union, no agents, no multi-million dollar contracts, no big leaguers raising their kids in gated communities, but instead one owner who would flat out release you to go sell cars or insurance or dig ditches if you acted in such a childish, outrageous way.
When my dad was traded from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1953, the ownership, unlike the Stars and Padres, did not allow kids like me to be in the clubhouse, dugout or on the ballfield, possibly for insurance reasons. So be it. Those were the rules. By this time I was starting to feel somewhat guilty about the advantages I’d already experienced by being a ballplayer’s son at such a high level, where I was privileged to be taught by professionals and to sit and soak up the game like osmosis, so that my instincts and know-how was already on a 19-year-old’s level.
Evidently, LaRoche possesses what the pundits are calling “fuck you” money, so that he doesn’t need $13 million in paychecks, which indicates his lack of passion for the game. That he stunk last year on a lifeless, spiritless team going through the motions, playing for a rather sedate manager, says it all—his teammates have their heads so far up their asses they threw tantrums after this 14-year-old, who even had his own locker beside his dad, was told he had to cut down on time spent with a ball club the GM and ownership actually wanted to see start winning a few ball games and be in contention.
These ball players are showing themselves to be petulant, entitled brats with no clue as to what a fan goes through and pays to watch them wallow in mediocrity. Poor things, they had their 14-year-old mascot taken away! Boo-hoo! Life is so unfair. Every single one of those players protesting, even discussing a boycott, ought to be suspended or sent down and replaced by hungry minor leaguers who wouldn’t mind the banishment of a 14-year-old who ought to be out competing against his peers instead of being one of the boys.
Word is, the players’ union will have something to say about it. Go ahead and quit, LaRoche, and take your kid to watch a high school game—maybe he’ll learn a little something about life. §
Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur, and whose head spins over the entitlements and pampering and whimpering of today’s professional athletes. For more of Dell’s insights and commentary on sports, politics and culture, visit dellfranklin.com, where this article was first published.