Commentary

Ozzie Guillen is crazy ... crazy good

Crazy people don't have a World Series ring or last this long ... good managers do

Originally Published: March 10, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Ozzie GuillenRon Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesOzzie Guillen wants to manage long enough to have a shot at getting into the Hall of Fame.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So I stopped by Ozzie Guillen's office the other day, and we talked about the usual spring training stuff: bullfighting, tweeting, death, Charles Barkley, jail, free meals and F-bombs.

My gawd, the man can talk. In the 45 minutes or so I was there, Guillen did an interview with two female Japanese journalists who fluttered about his office with video cameras and laptops. Guillen didn't care. When they asked him to come to Japan and appear on their TV show, Guillen asked, "Can I curse?"

Then he did an interview with a reporter from a Spanish-affiliated outlet. Then me. Then he walked out into the hallway and started goofing around with pitcher Mark Buehrle's young son, Braden.

So that's three languages in less than an hour, not counting Ozzie-ese. The danger, though, is to leave his office thinking Guillen is a comedy club act, a notebook filler and nothing else.

But have you noticed that only two American League managers -- Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels and Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins -- have more continuous time with the same club than Guillen, who is beginning his seventh season with the Chicago White Sox? And how about this little stunner: Guillen says he wants to manage long enough to have a chance at the Hall of Fame.

"That's the only way I'm going to be there," Guillen, 46, says. "I want to. Am I going to? It's up to my players."

Guillen talks, sometimes too much for his own good. But he can manage, a fact that often gets tsunami'd by wave after wave of Ozzie stream of unconsciousness.

Remember 2005? None of the 19 ESPN baseball analysts, writers and contributors picked Guillen's White Sox to reach the World Series that season. Only one expert (that's you, Rob Neyer) picked the White Sox to win the AL Central. Seven months later Guillen and the Commissioner's Trophy were soaked in champagne.

This is where Guillen throws a changeup. Managing an '05 team that wins the division, the ALCS and the World Series is easy. "You just go there, close your eyes and shake people's hands right after the game," says Guillen.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen & Ken Williams
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesOzzie Guillen and Ken Williams are close, even if the GM sometimes acts as if he's tired of Ozzie being Ozzie.

No, according to Guillen, his best season as a manager was last season, when the White Sox finished 79-83, in third place and 7½ games behind the Twins.

"Last year was hard because I had a lot of injuries, a lot of kids playing," Guillen says. "I've got seven guys in the lineup that are kids. Pretty scary lineup. It's easy managing when you win 99 games. It's hard to manage when you lose 99 games."

The respected Baseball Prospectus calls Guillen "an iconoclast … he's pretty much untouchable." BP is right: Guillen is mostly bulletproof because Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has his back and because GM Kenny Williams, for all his eye-rolling and Guillen-related exasperation, knows that Reinsdorf has his manager's back.

Plus, don't discount the loyalty factor. Reinsdorf's first love is baseball, and Guillen helped bring the Sox and the city its first World Series championship since 1917. And Guillen loves gigging Wrigley Field, the North Side Cubs and Cubs fans. Reinsdorf loves it too.

"A lot of people think it was a marketing move," says Guillen of Reinsdorf's decision to hire him in 2004. "A lot of people thought, 'They're going to bring Ozzie because he's Jerry's boy.' You know why I'm here this long? Because Kenny and Jerry and the major league department gives me a good ballclub to compete."

That was 973 games and 512 wins ago. He's lasted this long -- and might last long enough to make his Hall of Fame run -- because he's a Reinsdorf favorite, because Williams and Reinsdorf have given him good ballclubs, and because Guillen is an intuitive, smart manager. In another market, with another owner, with another general manager, Guillen and his trail of controversies might not have survived.

"His personality is always the same," longtime White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper says. "But everybody gets better with more time. I think he's more and more comfortable, like anybody should be. But he's always the same guy."

"The more you're around him, the more you understand him," Sox closer Bobby Jenks says. "I would say he's about the same manager; he's just a smarter manager."

He's also an emotional manager. Guillen has gone to the mattresses with local columnists, radio show hosts, umpires, former Cubs pitchers, opposing pitching coaches, his own team, former White Sox players (Magglio Ordonez, in particular) and critics of his Twitter account. He will say anything about anyone at any time.

He will say that if he hadn't become a ballplayer, he would have become a bullfighter. Either that or, "I might be in jail or dead, with the way I grew up."

He will say that his two mentors were Bobby Cox and Jeff Torborg, but that he loves watching the Twins' Ron Gardenhire and the Cubs' Lou Piniella manage a game.

[+] EnlargeGuillen
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsOzzie Guillen loves managing in Chicago, and loves that he shares the city with Lou Piniella. "Lou is my hero as a manager," Guillen says.

"They're aggressive," he says. "They don't worry about what people are going to say. … Lou is my hero as a manager. I love Lou Piniella as a manager."

He will say that he regrets one (and only one) comment: when he publicly called out Alex Rodriguez for A-Rod's indecision regarding his choice of teams -- USA, Dominican Republic or none at all -- in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

Otherwise, everyone can kiss his 5 o'clock shadow. Even though he loves managing, loves the idea of possibly having a career like that of Cox or Tony La Russa, Joe Torre or Piniella, and loves "the heat," as he puts it, Guillen says he'll walk away if he has to change who he is.

"I want this job," Guillen says, "but I don't need it."

In 2006, as Guillen and his family were on their way to the All-Star Game news conference to announce the AL lineup, a father and his 10-year-old son stepped into the same elevator. The father said to his kid, "Hey, this is the crazy guy."

Even now, the incident still rankles Guillen. Crazy managers don't win World Series, don't outlast most of their AL peers and don't survive in a town like Chicago without some baseball chops.

Guillen is the Sir Charles of baseball, but unlike Barkley, he has a championship ring. He says what others don't have the nerve to say.

"Charles gets away with more [stuff] than I do," Guillen says. "I love it. I'd love to meet him."

Let's call it a tie between Barkley and Guillen. Only Guillen would motion toward the Los Angeles Dodgers' workout at the shared Camelback Ranch facility and say, "That's why those guys are better than us. They're still practicing in full uniform."

He was kidding. At least, I'm pretty sure he was.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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