Ozzie owns Chicago, and maybe Houston, too

Updated: October 25, 2005, 10:22 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- The most compelling personality in this World Series, in the entire I-Live-For-This postseason, isn't on either 25-man roster. He has the beginnings of a second chin, speaks 1½ languages, and has threatened to quit if the Chicago White Sox win it all.

Tape recorders ask for a governor's pardon when he speaks. Smile muscles call in sick. He could chat up a C.S.I. corpse.

Ozzie Guillen is the best thing to hit October since leaf blowers, hot chocolate and -- if you were at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday evening -- Gore-Tex mittens. He is certainly the best thing for the White Sox, who won 7-6, in a game where you could see your breath and, if you looked hard, see the Houston Astros doing the World Series math in their heads.

Guillen's wonderfully oblivious White Sox now own a 2-0 World Series lead. You don't have to be a NASA scientist to know the Astros, who are capable of such things, need to win four of the next five games to prevent a Chicago victory parade.

"Clearly, everything is going their way," said Astros manager Phil Garner after closer Brad Lidge failed to close again. "They can't do anything wrong."

The Astros aren't toast yet, but the Krups is plugged in and set on high brown. They need a medium-sized baseball miracle, and they need it starting Tuesday, when the Series resumes at the Juice Box.

"We'll bounce back," said Garner. "We'll make a series out of it."

No doubt. The Astros are as resilient as Martha Stewart. But the White Sox have that two-game head start, a 9-1 mark in the playoffs, and that Ozzie Factor.

I think Ozzie's got one of the brightest minds in baseball. The guy's only played the game since he's been able to walk.
Former White Sox teammate Bo Jackson

The Ozzie Factor is visible everywhere. When Sox rookie closer Bobby Jenks blew a two-run ninth-inning lead Sunday evening, first baseman Paul Konerko met Guillen and the reliever near the mound.

"Don't worry about it," Konerko told Jenks. "We'll pick you up."

That's an Ozzie thing.

"One of my first rules," said Guillen. And the rule? "Nobody points fingers at anybody," he said.

The White Sox picked Jenks up, and slammed the Astros down. Scott Podsednik, who couldn't reach the seats in 507 regular season at-bats, hit the game-winning dinger in the bottom of the ninth off Lidge.

"We've got 25 guys pulling on the same rope," said Podsednik. "I got to credit Ozzie Guillen for that."

Nothing against Konerko, who held his newborn on Tuesday and hit a grand slam on Sunday, or Podsednik and his walk-off homer, or the nation's discovery of Joe Crede and Jenks in Game 1, or the A.J. Pierzynski Immaculate Non-Reception in the American League Championship Series, or the Tony Graffanino Act of God error in the AL Division Series, but Guillen remains the centerpiece of October.

Fox's 11,000 cameras are showing America what Chicago has known since Guillen convinced friend and Sox GM Kenny Williams to give him the managerial job two years ago: The man has a personality as big as an upper deck.

Actually, most anyone who follows baseball in this town knows Guillen was an honors student of the game during his 12-year playing career here. What they didn't know is that he planned on pursuing a series of dugout graduate degrees.

"I think Ozzie's got one of the brightest minds in baseball," says former Sox teammate Bo Jackson. "The guy's only played the game since he's been able to walk."

In fact, Jackson says Guillen was good enough to manage a big-league team as early as 1993. And another former Sox teammate, Robin Ventura, says Guillen was training himself to think like a manager for years.

"He's always done stuff to manage," says Ventura. "I think every pitching move that was made, he was giving his two cents' worth. Plus, he's a great multi-tasker. ... He's aware of everything."

The Astros' Garner is a pleasant, quotable, accomplished baseball man. But compared to Guillen, Garner is as interesting as a National Geographic series on the larval stages of moths.

It isn't simply what Guillen says, but how he says it. The same goes for his managing, which seems to be the perfect combination of intuitiveness and careful study.

Guillen goes by the book, but only if the book has perforated pages for easy removal. During the regular season he never used the same lineup more than three consecutive times. During the postseason he hasn't once used a different lineup.

"We've been winning with the same lineup. Why change it?" he said.

Good question.

The White Sox play relaxed because Guillen manages relaxed. Does a tight team go 38-20 in one-run games (19-8 at home)? Does a tight team go 52-29 on the road (4-0 during the playoffs -- bad news for the Astros)? Does a tight team recover from a late-season freefall?

Did you see Guillen on Sunday night? Aaron Rowand returned to the White Sox dugout after a questionable decision on the basepaths during a second-inning rally, and Guillen calmly listened to the explanation before saying, "Hey, that's all you can do."

The truth is, Rowand should have been on third, maybe at home plate after Pierzynski's high drive caromed off the wall and bounced back toward third base. But Guillen listened to Rowand's reasoning, accepted the premise, and backed his guy.

Guillen hangs out with his players. Plays golf with them. That way, he joked before Sunday's game, "you make sure they don't talk about you. ... The only guy who can talk about me is [Tadahito] Iguchi."

That's because Guillen doesn't speak Japanese. At times, he barely speaks English. And yet, everybody seems to understand him.

This is Guillen's team, his city, and unless the Astros win a game soon, his World Series. You can second-guess some of his managerial moves. And you can second-guess some of his off-the-cuff remarks (undoubtedly offensive to those not familiar with the Ozzie dialect).

But you can't question his impact. Without Guillen, the White Sox aren't up 2-0. Chances are, they're not even here.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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