Two years ago, Adam LaRoche retired from baseball. What is his legacy with the White Sox?
By White Sox Joe –
On November 25, 2014, Adam LaRoche signed a 2-year contract worth $25 million. At the time, reactions to the signing were mostly negative in our fan base. Criticisms included fear that he would be like Adam Dunn, another tall, aging, red-headed left-handed former Washington National who would play 1B/DH for the Sox. Four years earlier, Dunn signed an awful 4-year contract worth $56 million. After a historically bad 2011 season, he was serviceable in 2012-14 but still failed to reach positive wins above replacement in his time with the White Sox according to both Fangraphs (-0.2 WAR) and Baseball Reference (-1.2 WAR). Despite the similarities between the two players, I was more optimistic about LaRoche. I was not expecting all-star numbers by any means, but after all, LaRoche was coming off a solid year. I was thinking, “He’s entering his 35 season, but how much could his production drop in one year?” Hoo boy.
So LaRoche comes to Chicago and basically craps his pants. It does not matter what statistics you look at. Advanced statistics said he was garbage. Standard statistics said he was garbage. The eye test said he was garbage. By June, I hated seeing him in the batters’ box. Most of these numbers speak for themselves, but there are a couple of ideas that should be noted. One of these is that the league averages for OPS+ and wRC+ are always right around 100, so LaRoche was well below league average in those categories in 2015 despite being a first baseman and designated hitter, two positions where one should expect above average offense. Another key statistic is his decline in plate appearances. Time missed due to injury does not explain this discrepancy; his playing time down the stretch was intentionally limited. Had Ventura been stupid enough to continue starting him against lefties and give him the 586 plate appearances he had the previous year, his WAR would have likely gone even further in the red.
The fear that many fans had when LaRoche signed with the Sox that he would fall off the skill cliff came to reality. Once players do this, it is rare for them to recover, and retirement is normally pretty close. Still, most of us accepted the fact that LaRoche was on the books for one more year and that he would be stealing another $13 million from the team.
I have never ridiculed a member of the White Sox more than I ridiculed LaRoche. He became a meme for me. Whenever I was thinking about trolling my close friends, “Photoshop LaRoche’s face on his face” was usually one of the first ideas that came to mind. This was my way of coping with how bad he was. I wanted him to turn it around, but at least if he kept sucking, I could continue making jokes.
Fast forward to March 15, 2016. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and I was ready to vote in the primary election. After finishing lunch, I checked my phone. I could not believe what I saw next. One of my close friends posted the news that LaRoche had decided to retire in our GroupMe. This man, who earned $12 million to be worse than replacement level the previous year and was scheduled to make $13 million to probably do the same, was gone.
The drama was just getting started, however. What we would soon find out was the unusual reason behind his retirement. When news got out that LaRoche was retiring because his son wasn’t welcome to join him every day, White Sox players were pissed. Backlash against Kenny Williams and the rest of the front office lasted days. Chris Sale, who would later help us land guys you may have heard of named Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, went as far as to say that this incident could realistically scare free agents away from signing with the White Sox. When the dust cleared, tension remained in the clubhouse for quite some time. Even when LaRoche was off the team, he was still causing problems.
Most people were skeptical of the White Sox’ decision to sign him in the first place. LaRoche proved the skeptics right and was about as bad as he could have been. His way out, however, stands out even more than the bad beginning and middle of his time with the White Sox. Outside of serious Hall of Fame candidates, how many retirement decisions become national headlines? Not many. LaRoche’s career was decent but not legendary by any stretch of the imagination, yet his retirement was major news.
And that is the story of Adam LaRoche, who stunk up the joint from start to finish in a White Sox uniform to become one of the least valuable players in franchise history.