WASHINGTON -- With much of the team absent and their colorful and quotable manager on a family vacation, the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox paid a visit Monday to the White House to be honored by President Bush.
Bush, a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers, showered the team with praise, thanked owner Jerry Reinsdorf for helping him get into baseball ownership years ago and saluted manager Ozzie Guillen for his skill and becoming a U.S. citizen.
He also kidded some of Illinois' politicians, including Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate and a frequent critic of the Bush administration.
"Were you White Sox fans at the beginning of the season?" he asked, smiling.
Bush, with 17 current or former White Sox players and the World Series trophy behind him, recalled to the packed East Room audience that Woodrow Wilson was president in 1917, the last year the White Sox had won the Series.
"After 88 years of waiting, the White Sox have earned the right to be called world champs," he said to loud applause from a crowd that included Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Illinois senators Durbin and Barack Obama, and several congressmen.
And even though Daley had days earlier questioned Guillen's decision not to join the Sox at the White House, Bush stressed that he had no problem with the Venezuela native, who had been to the White House as a coach with the Series-winning Florida Marlins.
"I understand Ozzie is on vacation, which I fully understand," said Bush, who also congratulated Guillen for being named American League manager of the year.
After the ceremony, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, who had been singled out by the president for the way he put the team together, told reporters it was not a "big deal" that Guillen was not present.
"I think he needed the vacation," Williams said. "It's been a long winter for him."
Williams denied reports that he himself had second thoughts about showing up because of differences with Bush over the war in Iraq. But he said he had been concerned his family would not be at the White House with him.
"In terms of any political differences or anything, you got to check all that at the door -- no matter who's sitting in this [White House] chair," he said. "Sometimes, whoever is sitting in my chair, you are going to have differences of opinion, and that's what makes this country great."
White Sox players presented Bush with a leather World Series jacket and a baseball jersey with "Bush" and the numeral one.
First baseman Paul Konerko, who re-signed with the White Sox in a $60 million, five-year deal, said it was worth the trip from Phoenix for a day at the White House.
"I mean, the way I look at it ... it's kind of like the last piece of he puzzle," he said. "Spring training starts this week. We've got the whole thing now. We've won and we've done all the stuff that went with it."
Reinsdorf, who, as an owner of the Chicago Bulls, has often been to the White House with championship teams, said Monday's gathering was "sort of special" because he was looking at the president as someone he'd known before -- when Reinsdorf helped Bush get into baseball.
There was a time, Reinsdorf said, when he used to chat with Bush "about the problems of baseball, and, to think now, those things must seem inconsequential to him today."
Bush noted Reinsdorf had helped him find partners in the late 1980s when the Texas Rangers were for sale. His initial investment of $600,000 paid $15 million when he sold the team before being elected governor of Texas in 1994.