White Sox might regret hiring Guillen

Ozzie Guillen played 13 unspectacular seasons with the White Sox. He now gets his chance in the manager's seat.

Originally Published: November 5, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

Will Ozzie Guillen manage the White Sox better than he hit for them? Only time will tell, but a reader has his doubts ...

    Rob,

    As a Brewers fan (a whole other issue) living in the Chicagoland area, I have an outsider's view of the hiring of Ozzie Guillen. During his press conference, Guillen said he knows how to play baseball "the right way:" good defense, solid pitching, getting the runner over -- small ball. He said he knows what it takes to win and either his players will do it his way, or they won't play. If there is a runner on base, and the batter doesn't move him over, they will absolutely be bunting the next time up in that situation, even if it's Magglio Ordonez or Frank Thomas.

    Ozzie Guillen
    AP PhotoOzzie Guillen, right, played 13 of his 16 seasons in the majors for the White Sox.

    I checked Guillen's stats, and it might make sense for him to bunt in that situation, but Magglio or Frank? Does Ozzie really know what it takes to win? He may not have been good enough to do anything other than move the runner along, but others do have the ability to actually hit the ball hard.

    I realize that you can be a bad player and a good manager, but does Guillen understand what it takes to win?

    Joel
    Woodstock, Ill.

    P.S. As for playing the game "the right way," Guillen had double-digit grounded-into-douple-plays five times in his career, along with a stole-base success rate of 61 percent, and career high of 26 walks in a season.

Uh, right. I think we can safely guess that Guillen won't be passing around the paperback edition of Moneyball to his coaching staff next spring.

Does that mean he can't manage in the major leagues?

Well, it's true that Guillen wasn't a great percentage player.

In fairness, his stolen-base success rate wasn't really awful. He stole 169 bases and was caught trying 108 times; if you turn just one of those caughts into a swipe for each of Guillen's 16 seasons, he's sitting at 67 percent, which is roughly the break-even point.

And the GiDP's can't really be held against him; that's just the kind of hitter he was. When you don't strike out and you slap the ball around, you're going to ground into some double plays.

Those 26 walks should raise a red flag, though. Players -- like the rest of us, I suppose -- tend to overrate the value of their own skills, and I suspect that Guillen believes, to this day, that he was a positive force in the White Sox lineup.

He wasn't. Oh, he was a fine defensive player before an injury in 1992 cost him his range. But as a hitter, Guillen was just this side of worthless. He ran fairly well before he got hurt, but singles-hitters who eschew the walk -- remember, 26 walks was the "best" he ever did -- will kill your lineup.

All of which is to say, yes, if Guillen values the qualities that he himself possessed, the White Sox have a problem.

On the other hand, we can make too much of this. Tony Pena wasn't a great "percentage player" and he loves bunting and running and all that other silly stuff, but he seems to have done all right for himself as a manager. Basically, I think the signs a manager flashes in the dugout are significantly less important than the messages he sends in the locker room. And for all we know, Guillen might be masterful at motivating the troops.

There's a more interesting question here, I think ... Is it good organizational policy to hire "legacies" for key jobs? When you see Guillen hired to manage the White Sox, or Alan Trammell to manage the Tigers, don't you wonder if maybe he got the job because of who he was rather than who he is is?

The cover of the 2003 Detroit Tigers Information Guide features a stylized portrait of Trammell, their new manager. The first page is headlined,

ALAN TRAMMELL
RESTORING THE ROAR

The first paragraph of the article about Trammell's hiring is titled "Reaching to the Past."

Are these really the things on which to hang the organizational hat? Yes, I understand that a lot of this is created by the marketing department, but it wasn't the marketing department that hired Trammell. It was the general manager, who hadn't spent a lot of time with Trammell before last October.

The hiring of Guillen isn't quite the same. White Sox GM Kenny Williams and Guillen were teammates with the White Sox from 1986 through '88, so Williams presumably knows what he's getting. If we assume that information is good, then Williams' relationship with Guillen might actually be a good thing ... but only if that relationship doesn't get in the way of Williams' objectivity.

It's a tricky thing, hiring a manager. But if I were doing the hiring, I think I'd steer clear of the legacies. The stakes are too high to let sentiment muck things up.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.

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