You read that right: Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam LaRoche has walked away from his $13 million paycheck.
LaRoche is in the second year of a two-year, $25 million contract. Unlike contracts in professional football, baseball contracts are guaranteed so players stand to earn all the money their teams have committed to them, no matter how they perform and even if they are cut from the team.
Yet as reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, LaRoche decided to retire on Tuesday after White Sox vice president Ken Williams told him he couldn't bring his 14-year-old son Drake into the clubhouse as often.
According to Rosenthal, in discussing the situation Williams said:
There has been no policy change with regards to allowance of kids in the clubhouse, on the field, the back fields during spring training. This young man that we're talking about, Drake, everyone loves this young man. In no way do I want this to be about him.
I asked Adam, said, "Listen, our focus, our interest, our desire this year is to make sure we give ourselves every opportunity to focus on a daily basis on getting better. All I'm asking you to do with regard to bringing your kid to the ballpark is dial it back."
I don't think he should be here 100 percent of the time -- and he has been here 100 percent, every day, in the clubhouse. I said that I don't even think he should be here 50 percent of the time. Figure it out, somewhere in between.
We all think his kid is a great young man. I just felt it should not be every day, that's all. You tell me, where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?
Of course that might not be the only factor in LaRoche's decision.
A career .260 hitter, LaRoche hit .259 with 26 home runs and 92 RBIs for the Washington Nationals in 2014 but struggled last year, batting .207 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs. (If you're not a baseball fan, just know that's a significant performance decline.) Plus, back problems have kept LaRoche off the field since earlier this month.
While professional athletes are often the last to admit their skills have declined, LaRoche may be channeling his inner Gil Meche, the Kansas City Royals pitcher whose retirement in 2011 left $12 million on the table.
"When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it," Meche said at the time. "Once I started to realize I wasn't earning my money, I felt bad. ... I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn't feel like I deserved it."
Either way, LaRoche is taking a position I don't think most of us -- and by "most of us" I mean "me" -- would take. (Even LaRoche might change his mind: The White Sox say he will take a few days before finalizing his decision.)
But there's also a larger issue involved.
Maybe you think the White Sox should offer greater workplace flexibility and be more sensitive to LaRoche's personal and family needs; after all, isn't that what some of the most respected employers do? Or maybe you think the White Sox would never have raised the issue if LaRoche was an All-Star caliber player since the rules aren't always the same for superstars. Or maybe you think LaRoche should be more flexible regarding workplace guidelines.
Unlike many disputes between employers and employees, in this case there is no clear right or wrong.
As an employer, the White Sox have the right to set policies, procedures, and guidelines as they see fit. Those policies may be extremely flexible or they may be strict and unforgiving. That's their choice, just like it's your choice as a business owner. The culture you create will either attract and retain the employees you most want to attract and retain or it will not -- but ultimately you get to decide the kind of culture you want to build. (That's one of the reasons you became an entrepreneur.)
If you decide every employee must work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you may turn away a rock star coder who who is a die-hard night owl, but that's your choice. If you decide to offer on-site child care you may better attract a rock star engineer who is a single mom or dad, again, that's your choice.
As an employer you get to set the rules, knowing those rules have consequences not just for your employees but also for your business.
Employees also get to set rules. Employers are not responsible for ensuring that every facet of a job "works" for each individual employee; the employee is responsible for deciding whether a company's rules, guidelines, and culture works for her. If it's a great fit, awesome; if not, she has the right to find a job that better meets her professional and personal needs.
Or, as in LaRoche's case, to retire.
I know. It's easy -- and popular -- to take a side say, "Bad employer." (For example, check out Justin Bariso's great post about the Yelp employee who wrote an open letter to the CEO and got fired.) In some cases that might even be true.
But not this one. The White Sox asked LaRoche to "dial back" his child's presence in the locker room. Whether you think that policy is reasonable or unreasonable, the team has the right to set and enforce that policy. Whether you think LaRoche's response is reasonable or unreasonable, he has the right to decide if that policy works for him.
Just as you have the right to decide -- you owe it to yourself to decide -- what works best for you, whether in business or in life.
Update: LaRoche has now said that he discussed "his son's ability to be part of the team" with the White Sox before signing with the team in 2015. "After some due diligence on the club's part, we reached an agreement," LaRoche said. This year the White Sox decided they felt differently. While that does change the situation somewhat, still -- employers have the right to decide they wish to change policies, and employees have the right to decide whether those policies work for them.