Nothing gets past Guillen

Originally Published: September 30, 2005
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

Ozzie Guillen is, as always, talking. He is talking loudly and rapidly and sometimes incoherently, all the while changing direction so frequently, he's like the "scan" button on your radio. He says whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants. Some of it is funny, some is pointed, some is outrageous and some makes you wonder, "Is he nuts?"

He's not. He may be more Ozzy Osbourne than Ozzie Nelson, and he's nothing like Joe Torre, but Ozzie Guillen is very smart; he's alert, fearless and a really good manager. His White Sox have collapsed down the stretch -- they are the only team in history to have a 15-game lead drop below three games -- but they still won the American League Central on Thursday.

Despite the recent losing, and despite some odd statements from Guillen, he has the right mentality for a manager in Chicago in a pennant race.

"There has been a lot of pressure, but every day, I've come to the ballpark with the same enthusiasm, the same face, the same attitude," Guillen said before Tuesday night's game in Detroit. "If I don't, the players will look and me and say, 'Uh-oh, what's happening here?'"

Guillen has made it clear to his players that one loss is not a disaster. That doesn't play well in Chicago, where the White Sox haven't won the World Series -- or a playoff series -- since 1917. This is a town that expects bad things to happen to its baseball teams, but Guillen isn't letting it happen.

Ozzie Guillen
Ozzie Guillen is in his second season as the White Sox's manager.
"If you win 94, 96 games, and someone beats you, then you go home knowing that you didn't lose, someone beat you," Guillen said. "You can't let it get to you. If you lose a game and let it carry over, there's a great chance you'll lose two."

Guillen was a fearless player who fielded ground balls on the run and swung at pitches over his head.

"He's one of the smartest players I've ever been around," said John Kruk, a former teammate. "When we were in A-ball together, he taught us all how to play."

Guillen manages the same way: without fear. Who else would put a rookie (Bobby Jenks) in the closer role the last couple weeks of the season? For all their struggles, the White Sox haven't played scared, and they haven't lost their composure.

"If you're afraid to be in a pennant race, you'll never be in a pennant race," Guillen said. "If you're afraid, you won't face the media, you don't play cards, you don't have a couple of beers after the game. There was a lot of controversy the other day when I said that our team stinks. We had lost two in a row. If you play good, I'll let you know. If you play bad, I will let you know."

That's Ozzie Guillen. He's politically incorrect. He doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks about him. He reads his e-mail sent by fans; what other manager gets or reads e-mails from fans? He's the same guy whether or not the cameras are on, and not all managers can say that. He's a lot of things, but mostly, he's in charge. That's why the White Sox hired him after the 2003 season to replace Jerry Manuel, who wasn't always in charge.

When Guillen took the job, he hinted that Frank Thomas had been selfish and needed to be more of a team player. In spring training this year, Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, who played eight seasons for the White Sox before signing last winter with the Tigers, had a heated battle of words in the Chicago papers; f-bombs were flying from Guillen.

Guillen recently ripped reliever Damaso Marte, sending him home for a day for being late to the ballpark (after Marte apologized to the team, he was back in a key set-up role). During this collapse by the White Sox, Guillen was critical of the Chicago fans for not showing up (school was back in); when they showed, they booed. He said he would consider retiring if the White Sox win the World Series, to which White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said, "If we win the World Series, I might retire, too." Guillen was criticized for putting a personal matter above the team, but it deflected attention from Jenks' two blown saves.

Ozzie Guillen knows exactly what he's doing. He has great vision and awareness; he might be talking to a large media gathering on the bench, but he sees what's going on at the end of the bench with one of his players. He sees a lot of things, and he's willing to talk about what he sees.

"With all the negative stuff going on around here, the crazy Ozzie has won [96] games and has 30-or-something one-run wins," Guillen said. "How many other managers can do that?"

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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