White Sox, Ozzie Guillen a perfect match
All is right on the South side as entertaining manager gets one-year extension
CHICAGO -- Newly 47 years old, Ozzie Guillen, as usual, looks good.
Well-coiffed, well-manicured and well-dressed, Guillen continues his reign as the sharpest tack on the South Side.
If Guillen is the face of the Chicago White Sox, and he is, don't be mistaken, it's a good representation.
Guillen also feels good because he just got some new paper. He is relieved, if not totally contented.
Call him Linus, because Guillen got a security blanket Friday as the White Sox kicked off SoxFest, their annual gathering of diehard fans, with an impromptu announcement that they picked up his contract extension for 2012. Like Cubs Convention, this weekend attracts a special breed of fan that can't live without a Mark Teahen autographed jersey.
After a 2010 season that saw him at odds with his general manager Ken Williams, both professionally and personally, and missing the playoffs for the fifth time in his seven-year tenure, Guillen was fed up, tired, crabby. His middle son, Oney, had become notorious for his critical, sometimes nasty, sometimes amusing (to me, at least) Twitter posts. Guillen said he hated coming to work every day.
But any thought of the team hanging him out to dry in what would've been the final year of his contract (like the Cubs did to Dusty Baker in 2006) was squashed in December when the Sox inked Adam Dunn to a deal, along with re-signing A.J. Pierzynski. Then came Paul Konerko and pitcher Jesse Crain.
The extra contract year for Guillen reduces the tension going into the season. Now his hair can continue to stay "naturally" black for a little while longer.
Regardless of the soap opera nature of last season, forgetting it to get ready for the spring is the most common rite of January.
"I want to put everything behind," Guillen said after the deal was announced during his panel discussion with Williams in front of an intimate crowd at the Palmer House Hilton. "It's not easy. I told Jerry [Reinsdorf], managing in the big leagues is different than managing the White Sox or the Cubs. It's different. Different cities. I'm a new man because I went through hell all summer. And I wanted to get that thing behind and move on and enjoy the game [the way] I always enjoy the game. Go about my business the way I always do. We know it was a tough season last year. We just put everything behind and everything goes well."
This deal was about erasing any distractions from a club poised to win the division. And for the record, Williams said for about the 50th time that he's done talking about Oney and his Twitter account. Ozzie too.
"All you guys make a big deal about Oney's tweeting," Guillen said. "You guys make this kid very famous. Oney is making a lot of money because you guys help him."
Fan conventions and the start of spring training are famous for these kinds of pronouncements. Everything will change this year. The past is the past. You want to believe it. You want to be optimistic.
Needless to say I won't be surprised when the siren sounds at 35th and Shields and a new fire needs to be put out. It's always something, but that's part of the fun too.
Guillen and Williams are one of the more entertaining duos in baseball, and while people pay money to see Adam Dunn and John Danks and Paul Konerko on the field, it doesn't hurt the club that its front office is so newsworthy. I wouldn't create a reality show around them (whoops), but they can still sell newspapers.
Personally, I hope the Sox reward Guillen with a long-term deal sooner rather than later, because I can't imagine this team without him. I'm biased, of course. Part of my job is listening to him speak, and business is always good.
The White Sox without Ozzie Guillen is like a Soxfest without some guy wandering around in an Esteban Loaiza jersey. It just wouldn't be as much fun.
"I've never doubted the man's managerial ability and the ability to pull people together," Williams said. "Listen, we can all get off track a little bit and we got off track a little bit last year. All I want us to do is to get back on track and focus on the baseball team and the fans. They're hand in hand. Everything else, I want out of the equation."
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After a month-and-a-half in Venezuela, Guillen is back in Chicago until spring training next month. For years, he's lived in a West Loop condo, but he and his wife, Ibis, have been thinking about buying a house in the city. Guillen said he's holding off on any expensive purchases for a bit.
"They're picking up my contract and I'm going to be here for two years," he said. "But they can fire me anytime they want. They still have the power to fire me. They picked [up] the contract to show me how much they believe in myself and the coaching staff."
Both Guillen and Williams took questions from fans, the 100 or so who showed up to the early Q&A session on a bitterly cold Friday, two days before the biggest sporting event in recent Chicago history. And when someone asked about the turmoil of last season, Guillen blamed himself. He and Williams played the chummy couple to a tee, with Williams starting the crowd on a rendition of "Happy Birthday."
Call me crazy, but everything seems at peace right now in White Sox Land.
With his vacation almost over, Guillen said he is looking forward to February and Glendale, Ariz., and the return of pitchers and catchers. They all say that, but he means it.
"You talk to anyone in January, you can't wait for the season to start," he said. "Ask me in July to see how I'm going to respond. You always want to start the season. I have more fun in the game than the offseason. In the offseason, I have to hang around my wife every day. I have to hang around my family. All the stuff. I like baseball because that's what I love, what I like the most. I like to have fun. And I always want a season to start."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.