Friday, March 18, 2016

Clubhouse Chaos: Why I Don't Believe in the 2016 White Sox


Danville, Kentucky -- The year was 1998. NAFTA had all but emptied the heartland of good-paying union jobs, and I was left on the outside looking in at the benefits of globalization. I was between jobs, and working at a Dave and Busters in the metro Cincinnati area. Dave and Busters was a lone beacon of hope in a sea of despair, lay-offs, and unemployment. The burgers were plump, juicy, and generously adorned with high-quality condiments. The beer was golden like the locks of an ambrosial blonde German lass, foamy like the oceans across which my job had been outsourced, and affordable to boot.



Best of all, it was the perfect place to take your kid. The claw machines weren't rigged, like the type you might find at a lesser sports-bar/arcade complex. You could take your child to Dave and Busters without fearing that they'd sink $20 into an unwinnable arcade game, laboring for tickets and prizes in a Sisyphean manner. There wasn't a better way to provide affordable food and family-friendly entertainment.

But like all good things, my job at Dave and Busters was not meant to last. With my own kids having recently left the nest to pursue college degrees, I took my employment at this fine establishment as an opportunity to bond with one of the last children left in my life: my nephew. My nephew loved Dave and Busters. Who doesn't?

My boss first approached me about the inordinate amount of time my nephew spent around my workplace in June of '98. I paid him no heed, until I was dismissed from D&B in August of '98. Did I occasionally give my nephew free appetizers? Yes. Did the 9-year old kid make a habit out of patrolling the restaurant for half-empty beers to finish? Yes. Did my nephew get so skilled at several of the arcade game that it hurt D&B's bottom line? Perhaps. Did my facilitation of these behaviors warrant firing me? Probably. But I'd rather lose my job than lose the respect and love of my nephew. I put family first that day, and lost my job because of it.

If Dave and Busters is a great place to raise a kid, an MLB clubhouse is even better.
Folks, it's not everyday that a wise old slugger like Adam spits truth like that. An MLB clubhouse is a veritable treasure trove of wisdom and veteran experience. It's why Little Victor Martinez spends so much time around the Detroit Tigers clubhouse.


It's why young Prince Fielder spent so much time around the Detroit clubhouse when his father, Cecil Fielder, was on the team.


You don't learn how to be a good person or how to succeed at life in a classroom. There are some lessons that only the world can teach you. The world is not in your textbooks -- it's out there. God bless Adam LaRoche for trying to be the best father he could. None of us are in any position to criticize his parenting. He knows what is best for his child.

If only the White Sox front office knew what was best for the team. Most franchises would kill to have guys like Adam LaRoche -- high-character guys, father figures, mentor figures -- in their clubhouse. Yet the White Sox have driven him into retirement by heavy-handedly banning his son, Drake, from the clubhouse.

Why I Can't Buy Into the White Sox

I don't care to engage in the he-said/she-said about these events. We still don't know alot of the details. Did another player complain to a higher-up about Drake's excessive presence? Did the GM or owner unilaterally ban Drake without being bidden to do so by a player? This Danville man doesn't pretend to know.

But let me say this: when representatives of the liberal mainstream media report that White Sox players complained to higher-ups about Drake, and home-run derby hero Todd Frazier says "no players asked Sox to remove Drake LaRoche," I'll believe the Todd-father nine times out of ten.

We may never know what exactly happened. What I do know is that the White Sox have done a bad job of managing their clubhouse. For a couple of years now, the White Sox have made flashy off-season acquisitions: Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, etc. Yet, they have perennially under-performed. This may sound quaint in an era of fangraphs and analytics, but I think it's because of clubhouse chemistry. How can you be a contender when the clubhouse is such a dramatic mess? At the very least it's a huge distraction, over-shadowing the hard work that needs to be done on-the-field.

Hear me out: the White Sox have made a habit out of neglecting clubhouse chemistry. They've let too many players with character problems onto their team. We all heard the rumors about the dubious deeds of Avisail Garcia in his Detroit Tiger days. Reports that he slept with Prince Fielder's wife and scrapped with 2-time MVP Miguel Cabrera should've been a red flag. In 2015, Rant Sports documented the 15 biggest jerks in the MLB. Three of them are current or former White Sox: Brett Lawrie, Jeff Samardzija, and A.J. Pierzynski.

We all saw Brett Lawrie's dirty slide at Alcides Escobar.



We all saw Chris Sale instigate a benches clearing incident vs. the Tigers in 2014, and we all heard about him storming the Royals' clubhouse spoiling for a fight after being ejected in 2015.

There are too many examples to ignore. The White Sox front office has systematically failed to bring high-character players into the organization. When your clubhouse is in a constant state of chaos -- because your players are starting brawls, getting ejected, having attitude problems -- it's hard for your team to stay mentally focused and win.

Conclusion

Don't get me wrong -- I have great respect for the White Sox franchise. Hawk Harrelson is the greatest living baseball announcer, except for Vin Scully. RBI-machine Frank Thomas is one of my favorite players of all time. I love many current White Sox players: Tyler Saladino is one of the grittiest guys in the league. I just wish the White Sox would do a better job identifying hard-working, decent men like Tyler. They appear to have found one such man in LaRoche, only to drive him from the game.

The White Sox have their work cut out for them. Upgrading the roster with flashy signings and trades doesn't matter if the pieces don't gel inter-personally. The White Sox need to attend to the human element of roster construction. Landing Todd Frazier is a good first step: as a Cincinnati Reds fan, I assure you, Todd is an excellent player and an excellent person: just a humble kid from Jersey trying to make a name for himself. It's a good sign that the White Sox players, despite all their character flaws, are circling the wagons by rebelling against the front office for the unfair treatment of Adam LaRoche.

With LaRoche retired, the White Sox need a designated hitter. I think it's time to give Paulie Konerko a call. Paul Konerko was a premier slugger, and a classy man. He led the team to a World Series title in 2005. At 40 years old, he's only slightly older than LaRoche was. He's family. In the game of baseball, like Dave and Busters, family should come first.