Commentary

Guillen ready to 'make things happen'

White Sox manager says there are no question marks heading into spring training

Updated: January 22, 2010, 12:00 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

If Chicago White Sox fans spent time this offseason worrying about Gordon Beckham's move from third to second, Alex Rios' bat, the bullpen, the designated hitter or any number of other things, rest assured that Ozzie Guillen did not.

Actually, that's how Guillen had his rest assured, according to his two oldest sons, Ozzie Jr., 25, and Oney, 23. The White Sox manager avoided the business of baseball by playing golf, relaxing on his boat, sitting around in his pajamas, watching YouTube videos -- Cedric the Entertainer is a favorite -- and squeezing in his annual trip to visit family in Venezuela and a family cruise to Mexico, the first that included the boys' girlfriends.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen
Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty ImagesOzzie Guillen is 512-461 as manager of the White Sox.

"That kind of felt weird," Guillen said in an interview Thursday, "but I always love to be around my kids. If one of my kids had 20 kids and they asked me to take all of them along, just to be around them, I would do it. I don't mind that."

Baseball these past several months has been limited to watching youngest son, 18-year-old Ozney, a high school senior back home in South Florida and a big league prospect, and winter ball games on satellite from Venezuela.

"Not watching who got traded or signed but just watching baseball," Oney said. "He loves that."

After doing his first network analyst work at the World Series for Fox, which Guillen said was "a great experience," he officially checked out.

"I'm done," he said. "The pressure we have, you try to deny it but you can't. It's a lot of pressure every day. You can win three games in a row and all of a sudden you lose one and there are a lot of question marks."

And so he kicked back, relaxed and almost managed to avoid business altogether until being forced to take notice of Mark McGwire's confession last week that he took performance-enhancing drugs in his playing days.

"That bothered me," Guillen said. "First of all, we competed against [McGwire's Oakland teams] in the '90s, and when I saw that, I was like, wow, I could have been in more playoffs, maybe I'd have had the chance to be in the World Series because we had a pretty good ballclub.

"When people say, 'I don't know what happened,' we're lying to ourselves. I didn't see anyone doing it, but I know something happened. I saw these people growing bigger. The only time I felt betrayed is when Mark said, 'I did it, then Jose did it,' and we competed against them. Besides that, I don't even care. But I think Jerry Reinsdorf should have more division championship [banners] hanging around this ballpark than we have because we competed against them pretty good, and when you see the two best hitters they have that were on the juice, you feel betrayed."

Guillen said that although he credits McGwire for at least coming out and admitting he used performance enhancers, he agreed with the contention that McGwire was not being completely honest when he stopped short of saying he took the drugs to boost his performance.

"Personally, I hope he's right and I'm wrong, but I don't believe that didn't help him to hit the 60, 70 home runs," Guillen said. "I know God gave him a lot of talent because I saw the guy hit 50 his first year in the big leagues and that didn't come from [steroids]. But you can hit 50 home runs 390 feet and [that's different than hitting] 70 home runs 700 feet.

"But people can think whatever they want to think. Only he knows what's going on."

Talking about his team will be far more pleasant at this weekend's SoxFest. It's the first time in his six seasons as club manager, Guillen said, that he doesn't have any question marks.

"I like this ballclub because now I have to manage," Guillen said. "Now I have to do something to get blamed. Before, I was blamed and I was like, 'What do you want me to do? I can't go out and manage home runs.' But I can squeeze, I can hit and run. This time, you're going to be sitting up in the press box and go, 'What the hell is Ozzie doing?' People are going to say 'He's crazy' when it doesn't work. But I'm going to try to use all my talent to make things happen. It sometimes is going to work and sometimes not, but I'm going to take that chance."

Guillen said he has a better pitching staff and better defense, with the biggest question remaining the identity of his Opening Day starter.

"What you should do is go [in a] different [direction], but [Mark] Buehrle has had that honor since I've been here," Guillen said. "That's a tough decision we have to make in spring training … I have [John] Danks and [Gavin] Floyd. They have good enough stuff to do it. But [at least] our pitching staff is set. I'm very happy I don't have the headache at 8 in the morning to figure out who's going to be our fourth or fifth starter."

Guillen is also happy to have a designated hitter by committee -- players such as Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones, but also Carlos Quentin, Paul Konerko and Omar Vizquel, which will give him more flexibility with his lineup.

Guillen said he anticipates no problems with Bobby Jenks after the reliever took exception this past fall to Guillen's remarks that he needed to improve his conditioning. And the Sox skipper said he is hopeful that Rios will come back stronger than last season, although he is not quite ready to go so far as hitting coach Greg Walker, who told the Sun-Times that he could tell Rios had found his old form after only five swings.

"You put a lot of pressure on yourself when you say that, but Walk, I can see him saying that," Guillen said. "When you see something and you click and you grab it and you keep it, that's the key. But when you go 0-for-4 and you change again, that's hard to do."

Rios' success, Guillen said, is predicated on an improved comfort level.

"Rios is going to be better because he knows how we work, he doesn't have to be the White Sox's savior, the guy making that much money. He's starting spring training with us, he's going to know what kind of ballclub we have, what kind of guys we have, what kind of media.

"People think Rios is a bad guy, but no, he's just shy. He's not Ozzie Guillen. He doesn't dislike being around people or the media. He says 'hi' to his teammates, he laughs a little bit, that's the way he is. He's not going to go any farther."

Although Guillen said he does not envision a scenario in which Jim Thome is back in a Sox uniform, he wishes only the best for former players such as Thome, Jermaine Dye and Jose Contreras, even if the latter two were to end up in Chicago Cubs uniforms.

"One thing I would tell Lou Piniella is 'You're going to have the two best guys you've ever managed,'" Guillen said. "They're loyal, tremendous gamers. I would say that's two headaches they're not going to have. I feel proud to have managed them."

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.