Read an Excerpt
The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzie Guillen
By Brett Ballantini
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2006 Brett Ballantini
All rights reserved.
Ozzie the Player
Ozzie Guillen was born in Venezuela, the wellspring of great defensive shortstops. In fact, Guillen was tutored by Ernesto Aparicio, uncle of White Sox Hall of Fame player Luis Aparicio — himself mentored by the first great Latin major leaguer, White Sox shortstop Chico Carrasquel.
In spite of such a lineage working for him, Guillen joined the White Sox in a most controversial manner. On December 6, 1984, the White Sox traded La Marr Hoyt, a hero of Chicago's recent playoff team and 1983 American League Cy Young Award winner, for the largely unknown Guillen. At the time, Guillen had been a success at the minor league level but had yet to play a major league game.
Chicago general manager Roland Hemond was skewered over the deal; the 29-year-old Hoyt was seen as having hundreds of great innings left in his arm, an ace who couldn't be shuttled away for a kid, no matter how promising. Even the legendary baseball writer Jerome Holtzman speculated that the trade was little more than a dump of Hoyt's $900,000 annual salary.
Today, the deal is considered one of the best in White Sox history.
Jerry Krause — later to achieve fame as the architect of the Chicago Bulls' six titles in the 1990s — was the source of Hemond's confidence in the trade. Krause's roots were as a baseball scout, and he had watched Guillen play in a dozen or so games in Triple A.
Hemond: There's a lot of satisfaction for me. Even though it's nearly 21 years later, it's nice to know one of your contributions to this current team results from that trade.
Krause: I wrote, "He's as smart a young player as I've ever seen."
Hemond: There was a lot of criticism here. Luckily, I was quickly vindicated when people saw Ozzie play.
Krause: There was a question about his arm. But I always noticed that he threw out the fast guys by a step, and the slow guys by a step. He wasn't going to waste that arm. He was just so bright.
Krause was sold on Guillen once he noticed that at every game, the first player out of the dugout was the skinny shortstop from Venezuela, who would study his opponents as they took batting practice.
While it is well known that Krause brought out the antagonistic side of many of his Bulls players, Guillen always accorded him with respect and appreciation, because it was Krause who was responsible for his opportunity with the White Sox. There was a special request, in fact, from Guillen on the day he was hired as White Sox manager.
Krause: Reinsdorf told me, "You have an invitation to a press conference on Monday. The new manager of the White Sox asks that you be there." Ozzie never forgot to this day.
Hemond: I remember being told [at the time of the trade] that he was a manager on the field, but [his 2005 success] goes beyond my wildest expectations. It's just so thrilling to see.
Ozzie made the deal a steal for the White Sox right away; the 21-year-old won the American League Rookie of the Year handily, while Hoyt would win a mere 24 games in the rest of his career. Guillen's 12 errors led all AL shortstops in fielding, and his bat, considered to be merely a bonus, cut up pitchers to the tune of .273.
Guillen's range and acrobatics on defense earned comparisons to countryman forebears Luis Aparicio and Dave Concepcion, as well as his premier defensive contemporary and fellow Ozzie, Ozzie Smith.
The young shortstop's best asset of many was his feistiness, and beyond that he immediately won over fans with his skill, smile, and hustle. In an August 2, 1985, game, Guillen scored from second on an infield hit in the eleventh, giving the White Sox a 6–5 win vs. the New York Yankees.
He played in All-Star Games in 1988, 1990, and 1991, and won a Gold Glove in 1990. On April 21, 1992, Guillen was lost for the season after a violent collision in short left field with Tim Raines (now Guillen's first-base coach). While he bounced back and recorded the two best batting averages of his career in the next two seasons, .280 and .288, his speed was largely eroded by the injury.
Guillen was a notorious free swinger, liable to take a cut at a ball on the ground and over his head in the course of the same at-bat. He set a major league record in 1996 with only 10 walks in 150 games, and his on-base percentage ranged from .265 to .325 over the course of his career. He never drew more than 26 walks in a single season.
On the plus side, Guillen consistently finished in the AL top 10 in triples, sacrifices, and fewest strikeouts per at-bat. And the very free-swinging nature that could be exasperating at times also contributed to Guillen becoming a very dangerous clutch hitter.
Of course, as the White Sox have discovered in his managerial abilities, it was Ozzie's intangibles that made him so valuable. As a player, he chattered even more than he does as a manager. Rickey Henderson was Guillen's favorite player to watch — and to distract with his constant chatter. Finally, New York had to call a team meeting, in which Willie Randolph stood up and admonished Henderson for letting Guillen get in his head.
That's not to say Ozzie was always the one causing the commotion. He's believed to be the one player in baseball history most victimized by the hidden-ball trick; he was nabbed by Greg Brock of the Milwaukee Brewers and Dave Bergman of the Detroit Tigers in 1989, and Boston Red Sox second baseman (and former White Sox teammate) Steve Lyons in 1991.
Ozzie would play 1,743 games in 13 seasons with the White Sox and record 1,608 hits during that time. When his White Sox playing career ended in 1997 after the team bought out his $4 million 1998 salary, Guillen was decidedly introspective.
"If I hadn't prepared myself for this, I would be crying right now. This is not a broken heart, but I am unhappy. I am sad, but life still goes on. If this is the biggest problem a person is going to have, then shoot, he's a lucky person."
Ozzie caught on with the Baltimore Orioles and would play three more seasons with Baltimore, the Atlanta Braves (appearing in the 1999 World Series), and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, before retiring in 2000. He was a .264 career hitter, .273 in the postseason.
The end came for Guillen when the Devil Rays waived him before the start of the 2001 season. He was philosophical about the setback, and, as usual, retained his sense of humor.
"It's been great. I don't regret anything. Maybe my kids want me to keep playing, but it's time to move on. My country [Venezuela] has got three million people without a job — now they've got three million and one."
He was also confident that an end to his active career wouldn't mean an end to his life in baseball.
"I can do whatever I want in baseball. I can pick my job. I can't say that I'm not [going to play], because you never know what's going to happen. But I don't want to go through this again. If some team calls me and wants me to play, I'd think about it twice. If they're going to use me for one year and then release me ... I have to move all my stuff and meet all new people ... it's worth it, but it's not."
As for whether he would be able to take a call during the 2001 season to play for the Devil Rays or some other team, Guillen had no worries.
"I want to play as long as I can help a team win games. But I'm not going to kiss anybody's [behind] to stay in the game.
[Tampa Bay] said if something happened they might call me. They told me to stay in shape. I told them it's no problem. I stay in shape because I want to look good with clothes on. I don't stay in shape for baseball. I can play baseball getting out of bed."CHAPTER 2
The New Hire
Ozzie Guillen was named the 37 manager in White Sox history on November 3, 2003. In the process he became the first Venezuelan manager in baseball history.
Guillen was a bit of a surprise candidate. However, he was already held in high regard by White Sox fans, and his profile had only been raised by being the third-base coach on the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins.
His interview with GM Kenny Williams was spicy from the start. Williams told Guillen that former Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was the frontrunner for the job, which irritated Guillen, who felt that he might be wasting his time if Williams' mind was already made up.
But the argument that ensued actually sold Williams on Guillen, and the rest is White Sox history. He was charged with taking over an underachieving, unemotional team. Williams predicted that Guillen would deliver a "jolt" to players, and boy, was he right.
Guillen: I am excited and thrilled to be returning to Chicago to manage the White Sox. I have always been a White Sox at heart, nomatter where baseball has taken me, and this is the job I always wanted. I wore this uniform 13 years. My heart always was here.
Williams: [Ozzie] bleeds White Sox baseball and he is going to provide something here that we desperately need. A jolt, if you will.
Guillen: Twenty-three years in baseball have helped prepare me for this day. I can't thank Jack McKeon and the Florida Marlins enough for the opportunity to coach third base and be part of a very special World Series-winning season.
It was always my goal, my dream. It would be tougher for me to manage another team besides the White Sox because I wouldn't know the fans. I wouldn't know the people in the front office, the organization. Coming to the White Sox, I knew everything. All my life I've known baseball, the White Sox. I grew up here. I breathed, ate, talked baseball here. Everything here is around baseball.
One thing that didn't seem to bother Guillen from the start was the idea that from here on, every single decision he made would be analyzed and scrutinized.
"If you're worried about people second-guessing you, you better go and find something else to do for a living. Baseball is the easiest sport to second-guess in. People are always doing that. But people always enjoy second-guessing me more because I talk so much [stuff].
The truth is, I don't even know what I'm going to do once I'm out on the field, so don't bother trying to figure it out."
Guillen didn't waste much time in trying to shake things up with the White Sox. He even saw fit to attack his office desk.
"They had this huge [bleeping] desk in here. You know what? You got a big [bleeping] desk, they just put a lot of [bleep] on it. They come in here with all this paper. I tell them, get that [bleep] out of here. I don't need that."CHAPTER 3
A Rocky Rookie Year
Ozzie soon found some controversy — and revealed a bit of naïveté — in his new role as manager. He came under criticism during spring training in 2004 for telling his players to "go get drunk or something" to forget about a loss.
"I don't care what people think, if they second-guess or misunderstand what I say. Yes, I said it. I didn't think it would make it back home. I was talking with my team, and that's the way I'm going to communicate with them."
It's safe to say that right away, the White Sox realized that with Ozzie in the manager's chair, things would be very different. First off, contrary to the trends governing baseball for the past four decades or so, Guillen expected his starting pitchers to actually pitch.
"I talked to [pitching coach Don] Cooper, and I want these guys ready to throw nine innings right from the get-go. I don't expect that to happen all of the time, but that'swhat I want. We have a young pitching staff, and I'm going to let them go as far as they can. We have one month to go, and if they can't get ready in one month, they better get another job.
I won't hurt my pitchers, and I'm going to protect them. But I'm going to give the kids a chance for me not to baby-sit them."
Guillen also encountered what he might have considered a kindred spirit in Japanese baseball veteran, 35-year-old major league "rookie" reliever, Shingo Takatsu. Stunned by Takatsu's poise in a new country and league — as well as his tantalizing "Frisbee" pitch — Guillen took to the pitcher.
"He was consistently hitting his spots and throwing strikes. His delivery is smooth and relaxed. I don't want to tell everyone what he has because I want them to be surprised. But he was changing speeds and had great location."
As for the language barrier between Takatsu, who did not speak English, and Guillen, the manager expressed no worries.
"I want Shingo to be a part of this team. When you are Japanese, don't speak English, and come from somewhere else, there's a chance you could feel left out or not a part of what's going on. But we communicate well. He's a funny guy."
Guillen has always been self-deprecating about his "mastery" of English, which is a line of joking he used for two straight years with his Japanese players. But he shared another joke when discussing the battle between closers Billy Koch and Takatsu at the beginning of 2004, this time in the pages of Venezuela's El Universal, where Guillen wrote a weekly column.
"When the media asked me yesterday who was finally going to be the team's closer, my answer was that the closer will be the one who closes! Not even Yogi Berra would have responded better."
As the season neared, Guillen didn't pull any punches about what he perceived as a lack of heart on the team he inherited.
"They lost last year because their play was poor, not because of [former manager] Jerry Manuel. They had great talent. They didn't need a manager last year with the talent they had on the field. That's an excuse. They have to do better than that. I told them the first day in the meetings, "The talent Kenny Williams put on the field for you guys? You should have won that thing ... you want to win? Play better and don't make the manager make any moves."
I don't care if I shocked them or not. I said, "How many managers can win a game for their team?" If you want to win, don't give me a chance to [bleep] it up. Go throw a shutout, and I'll just sit here and look smart. Don't give me a chance to [bleep] it up."
Ozzie also lifted a shot across the bow, warning his players that there would be no acceptable excuse for losing. This concept would play a big role in how the team was eventually reshaped in 2005.
"If we lose, what excuse are they going to make now? [Jon] Garland can't pitch because Jerry won't let him pitch past the fourth inning? Well, now we're going to see. Now I have [Garland] going longer. Now he has no more excuses.
Jose [Valentin] was hitting second or seventh, playing center field or left field or shortstop. Well, now he's the shortstop and we'll see what he can do.
Frank [Thomas] was hitting third, this guy wants to hit fourth. Okay, here's where everybody's going to hit. Now, what are you guys going to do?"
Paul Konerko, one of the streakiest hitters in recent White Sox memory, knew something was different in the clubhouse when his own manager started taunting him for his spring-training hitting woes.
Konerko: He would just laugh and say, you're terrible. Get over it. With Ozzie, from day one, it has been great. It has been a party.
The confidence Guillen instills in his players was evident from the very first game of 2004.
"My players make a difference. They don't play good because of Ozzie. They play good because they start believing in themselves."
The season was hard, with season-ending injuries to Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez taking the longball-dependent White Sox out of the Central Division race before September.
Guillen also learned that while it might be nice to expect his pitchers to go deep into games and/or pitch efficiently, his crew in 2004 simply wasn't up to snuff.
Late in the year, one of the hidden biases against Latin managers reared its head. Many GMs secretly were licking their chops at the prospect of Guillen as a manager, one going so far as to say that he "hoped we'd play that team [Guillen manages] 100 times a year." The supposition was that a Latin manager was not as bright as a Caucasian one.
In September, Texas Rangers manager Buck Showalter smugly called Guillen's knowledge of baseball rules and protocol into question. Afterward, when it was known that the rookie manager was correct to question his Rangers counterpart, Ozzie let Showalter have it.
Excerpted from The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzie Guillen by Brett Ballantini. Copyright © 2006 Brett Ballantini. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.