Although three days of paternity leave has been a part of Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement since 2011, it continues to be hotly debated. When the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the 2014 season to attend his son's birth, radio host Boomer Esiason complained that Murphy should have encouraged his wife to schedule a C-section to avoid missing opening day. Public outrage of Esiason's comments were swift and overwhelming, signaling cultural changes in what is means to be a good man. When the Kansas City Royals reached the playoffs last season, speculation mounted about what the team would do if their star second baseman, Ben Zobrist, left the team to witness the birth of his child. The reporting centered around how the team would handle the absence, not whether or not Zobrist should leave to be with his family (although Zobrist's wife joked that he better at least hit a home run if he missed the birth, implying there was still a choice to be made). Getting new fathers, baseball players or not, to make use of paternity leave is challenging even when the time away is paid.
While this family imagery is seductive, it presents an incomplete narrative. One headline declared: "Adam LaRoche retires from baseball, saves co-workers from child." These kinds of critiques center around LaRoche's perceived right to bring his child to work (story still developing -- it may have been in his contract). It's unlikely most mothers would even ask for this workplace accommodation. Unlike the fatherhood premium (where men experience an increase in pay and admiration when they are active parents), simply being a mother is associated with gender bias in the workplace. Thus, mothers often go to great lengths to obscure their role as parents and asking to bring their child to work seems unimaginable. When mothers do bring their children to work, they are often met with hostility and accusations of being unprofessional.
“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,” Williams said. “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?”
Besides this gendered double standard and concern about irritating one's coworkers by forcing them to interact with your children, a number of other considerations emerge. Mostly ignored in the coverage is the fact that LaRoche also has a daughter. She, however, is not granted the privilege of following her dad around all day because she's not allowed in the team locker room. The principled stance about spending as much time with your child as possible seems a little less principled when it doesn't apply equally to all children. Also concerning is the commitment to the children's education. The entire family travels with LaRoche, made possible by his wife, Jenn. Apparently the family has an agreement with a school in Kansas to take homework with them when traveling. The school sees no problem with this, so long as the children can continue to pass standardized tests. Realistically, it probably won't matter if his kids don't get a quality education -- rich kids usually stay rich. But is this policy sustainable? Can all major league players with young children bring their child to the ballpark with them everyday? Not likely in baseball, and certainly unlikely for working parents elsewhere.
LaRoche argued that leaving baseball came down to a decision about what is best for his children. Research suggests the expected increases in child well-being from time spent with mothers (and probably fathers) seems to matter less than social status factors. Thus, earning that $13 million might have been the better way to go.
What might help parents spend quality time with their children while also being able to earn a livable wage? Quality, affordable childcare. In LaRoache's case (and maybe MLB in general), the childcare doesn't necessarily need to be affordable (hello?! $13 million!), but provided onsite.