Commentary

Not ready for some football

White Sox's Guillen isn't going into the offseason quietly

Originally Published: September 28, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

In the home clubhouse of U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday morning, generic country music blared on the speakers and a baseball game was on the big TV, the one with 10 football helmets lined up atop it. The other TVs were dark.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesOzzie Guillen doesn't want his young players learning the wrong lesson.

It could have been 1985, the good ol' days of baseball, when men talked about hitting with two strikes and drank workingman's Pabst Blue Ribbon together hours after a game ended. Fantasy football? Even if it existed outside the fringes of fandom, it wasn't for real men who wore Brut cologne and cultivated fine mustaches. The kind of guys Ozzie Guillen grew up with and modeled himself after.

The previous night, Guillen railed and ranted -- a classic Ozzie bleepfest -- after a particularly desultory, though hardly meaningful to his team, 12-5 loss to Detroit. As he walked through the clubhouse after that game, college football was on TV and Guillen, who thinks himself one of the last bastions of manly baseball done right, had enough.

"[Do] they think the season's over for them? Yes," Guillen said in Saturday's postgame news conference. "If they think the season's over for me, no. And I'm going to make it clear. It's a bunch of [bleeps] out there watching football games like a piece of [bleep] with no pride the way they [bleep] play, and that's embarrassing."

According to reporters at the game, the Sox cut the feed on the scoreboard, where they usually show Guillen's postgame pressers, and MLB.com didn't post the bleeps on the team's site.

In every clubhouse in every park in the month of September, football talk is the main digression, from big-money fantasy football leagues to the relative merits of one's alma mater. During the pennant race in 2005, Aaron Rowand would don a Bears jersey until practically game time. A.J. Pierzynski has an unyielding, and to some, annoying, passion for University of Florida football, and would probably take a week's respite to massage Tim Tebow's ailing head.

"It's not just this clubhouse," Guillen said. "Every clubhouse in baseball, all they care about once the game is over is, who win in college? Who gives a [hoot]?"

Guillen is one of those guys who wishes baseball players would talk about baseball. After 20-plus years in America, he still doesn't care to learn about football, and why should he? While he's usually loath to criticize veterans on minutiae like this, he thinks it sets a bad example for his younger players. Pierzynski joked with reporters before the game, admitting in mock dramatics, "It was me!"

"I got seven or eight kids [on the team]," Guillen said. "The problem we have in baseball is the people who run this thing let players do whatever they want to do, and that's why they do whatever they want to do. My job is to teach those kids that's not the way to do it. I never told my players what to do, how to prepare yourself, but when you lose a game and all of a sudden you look around and they're watching [football], that means you're teaching the kids, 'Don't worry about it, this is the big leagues. We lose a game and who cares, because we're out of the pennant race.'"

So, to make it clear: Guillen is swearing for the kids.

I really believe he feels that responsibility, but that's not why he exploded. Guillen flipped out because he was mad and embarrassed, and he's tired of watching an underachieving, easily distracted assortment of individuals call themselves a team.

Guillen might not act like your typical manager, and he might not look like Bobby Cox, but he's a self-described old-school skipper and he doesn't believe in coddling his players. Which is why you hear the same complaints day after day and why he's popularized the phrase "thrown under the bus" so much over the past five years, the team ought to give the saying its own day and two diamond watches. (In a related rant, Guillen said he thinks the season went downhill after Mark Buehrle's perfect game and the resulting two months of celebrating it. The Sox were in first when he threw it, and Buehrle has pitched like Boone Logan ever since.)

While he's ripping his players for mailing it in, before an 8-4 win over Detroit, Guillen is obviously ready to go home. First, in a scheduling quirk that defines poetic justice, the team has to spend the next week in Cleveland and Detroit, before it can bag 2009. I get the feeling Guillen might catch a flight from Detroit and parachute right onto his boat in Miami, where the ocean has no memories of bad situational hitting and worse defense.

"I think Chicago people should be disappointed in this season, both sides," he said. "I don't talk about just us. These two ballclubs, we thought we were going to play better. It's always, OK, we'll get them next year. But you don't know."

Guillen said he's frustrated, confused and constantly second-guessing himself. The Sox would need to sweep their last two series to finish .500. This is a team that acquired two big-money players with the prospect of winning the division and making noise in the playoffs. The Tigers certainly gave the Sox enough openings this month to make a run.

"I think the club Kenny built, deep in our heart, we thought was going to be better," Guillen said. "We thought when we acquired a few guys, we thought it was going to be the fuel we needed."

It wasn't, of course. Thanks to a freak injury, Jake Peavy didn't make his debut until Sept. 25 and Alex Rios is hitting a robust .172 in 35 games. Jermaine Dye nose-dived the second half of the season and Jim Thome is taking phantom swings in the Dodgers' dugout.

The Sox, from the front office to the guys in uniform, constantly complain about the double standard in Chicago, how everything is magnified for the Cubs. They should feel lucky it's like that right now, because while the Cubs have dealt with the barbs for employing Milton Bradley and letting St. Louis run away with the division, the Sox have had a much worse second half of the season in an easily winnable division. In a fair world, the Chicago White Sox would be pilloried for their inattention to defense, lack of clutch hitting and uneven pitching. But their fans are focused on Jay Cutler now. No one cares about baseball, the game on the field, in this town right now.

If I were Ozzie Guillen, I would swear, too.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.