2003 … The White Sox are in the midst of a successful run … the 1990s were a great decade, and the 2000s were shaping up well enough. But they were faltering, and Jerry Manuel’s time had passed. When the White Sox announced that firey fan favorite Ozzie Guillen was being hired, I called “Bullshit”. I saw this as an old tactic: hire a fan favorite to cover up problems and a potential collapse of the team. Yeah, sure, he had ties to the great Bobby Cox, and had recently been a coach for the World Series Champion Marlins … but he had never managed before. His bench staff included Joey Cora and Harold Baines … too many former Sox from an era that wasn’t really successful.
2004 … the White Sox are back … they finish second, and there is talk that they might make a run at the playoffs. They were in the playoffs in 2000 … to make it back into the playoffs in only five years would be sweet.
Saturday, October 22, 2005 … I am watching the World Series. It is being played by the White Sox in their home park. I was negative 12 the last time this happened. I can hardly believe it. Like many World Series, it has its share of twists and turns and drama. There were heroes a plenty. I remember with vivid clarity watching on October 26, 2005. The bottom of the ninth Al Pilch has called and is on the phone as this 88 year journey reaches its climax … Bobby Jenks pitches to Orlando Palmiero … high chopper that Juan Uribe snags cutting across the infield, fires to Konerko … its a close play, the umpire calls the out. I lived to witness this event … an event that my grandfather never lived to see. And there is Ozzie … the man so often accused of grabbing the headlines is in the dugout hugging his coaches. After a few moments, he heads out and turns to the stands. It is Houston, but there is a real Chicago presence. He points up into the stands at his family. He allows the players to maintain the center of attention. In doing this, in the enormous history of Latinos in baseball, he became the first Latino manager to guide his team to the World Series title.
The era of Ozzie Guillen will be an overwhelming positive one. His controversial nature was largely media manufactured. the media used Ozzie to sell papers, but Ozzie also used the media. When the team had tough times, he could raised ruckus and make sure the interviewers and talking heads focused on him and not the players. When things were good, you rarely heard from him as the players got the attention.
That’s not to say there weren’t exceptions. In 2006, he, like every sane sports fan in the civilized world, was sick and tired of Jay Mariotti’s antics. Ozzie called him a homosexual slur. He shouldn’t have done it. He later, appropriately, apologized for using the slur, but not for the attack on Jay. This was part of the end for Jay at the Sun-Times … eventually he left, and the rest of his co-workers, most notably Roger Ebert, told him to not allow the door to hit him in his ego on the way out. Ozzie could be ahead of his time in this way.
One of Ozzie’s issues was his loyalty. The good part of this is that Ozzie would let a player continue to try and improve. Sometimes this worked. Other times, it didn’t, and could hurt the team. For several years, people left and right were calling for Hitting Coach Greg Walker’s head as the team never was particularly strong as a hitting team. Ozzie defended him. I don’t think that Ozzie was particularly wrong … at least some of the hitting problems the team had weren’t Greg Walker’s fault. He was loyal to immigrants … he was quick to lash out at Arizona lawmakers when they passed legislation requiring proof of citizenship in public. He also accused Major League Baseball of unfairly targeting Latino players in the massive steroid investigations in the decade. I disagreed with Guillen on that … sadly there was a disproportionate number of Latinos involved in this because some of the countries they hail from made it far to easy to get steroids. Even way back ins his later playing days, he drew the ire of fans when he went off on a few of them for throwing money at Frank Thomas and Chris Sabo after returning to play after the disastrous strike that cost the Sox a shot at the World Series.
Ozzie is about to become bigger than ever. In Miami, he will only have LeBron’s flying circus to compete with. With the large anti Castro/anti-Chavez population there, he will become a huge hit! I wish him further success. I hope the day will come when his #13 joins the numbers of other White Sox immortals on the outfield wall, and permanently retired. He has certainly earned it.
I part with some of my favorite Ozzie quotes:
I swear to God, you can put me in Harvard, you can put me in any college in (the) United States, and you ask me a question, I will answer. But you put Bill Gates in Caracas, Venezuela, and he will shit his pants …
— Ozzie on education, and the people who lack one
I have nothing against the gay community and I accept the commissioner’s punishment. I don’t regret having treated that journalist that way, but I’m a ilttle concerned that I mistreated the gay community in that way.
–Ozzie on Jay “The Weasel” Mariotti, “journalist”
We won [the Series] a couple years ago, and we’re horseshit. The Cubs haven’t won in one hundred years, and they’re the fucking best. Fuck it, we’re good. Fuck everybody. We’re horseshit, and we’re going to be horseshit the rest of our lives, no matter how many World Series we win.
–Ozzie saying what is in the heart of all Sox fans, on the relationship between the White Sox, Cubs, and media
When you win, the beer tastes better.
–Ozzie on winning (after a September 21, 2005 win over Cleveland)
Make a new one.
–Ozzie to future Hall of Fame hitter Frank Thomas, after Thomas complained that Guillen’s new batting practice time would interfere in his pre-game routine.
I might come back as a coach or a scout. Or maybe I’ll come back as a manager.
–Ozzie Guillen, in one of his last interviews as a White Sox player (1997)