Thursday, July 20, 2006

Managing his mouth off

From my notebook to today's Philadelphia Inquirer...

NEW YORK - Ozzie Guillen, holed up in his South Florida home, was as angry as he'd ever been, so much so that the man who aspired to manage in the majors was about to quit baseball. For good.
The year was 2003 and Guillen, then the Florida Marlins' third-base coach, was fuming because the team had just fired its manager and his mentor, Jeff Torborg.
Guillen, going so far as to order the clubhouse staff to pack his belongings and ship them home, was through - that is, until the man who had managed him as a player and given him his first coaching job telephoned to ask one burning question:
"What are you doing?' " Torborg demanded. "You can't quit, Oz. You're going to manage one day!"
How right he was.
Guillen, who didn't quit, not only is one of baseball's most successful managers - he led the Chicago White Sox to a World Series crown a year ago in just his second season. The former shortstop from Venezuela also is one of the game's most provocative.
Unapologetically outspoken and combative, at times both profane and politically incorrect - that's Ozzie Guillen on a quiet day.
Mix the always-ready-to-tap emotions with situations in which he simply cannot resist shouting the unvarnished truth, and Guillen, 42, becomes one of the biggest characters and outspoken quote machines in the game.
If you think this "can't miss" entertainment from the 2005 AL manager of the year is something on nightly television highlight reels, imagine the view from the dugout.
As White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome wryly told reporters at the All-Star Game last week in Pittsburgh: "It's a lot of fun on his bench."
Sometimes the fire that is Guillen singes. That's OK, he says.
"I don't expect anybody to like me," Guillen said before his team played at Yankee Stadium Saturday. "I expect them to respect me and play for me."
The Sox, who had been without a World Series title since 1917, certainly have played for him: The 2005 world championship was won with an 11-1 run through the postseason. Much the same cast owns baseball's second-highest winning percentage despite suspect pitching this season.
As for liking him...
"He's different than what the media make him out to be," A.J. Pierzynski said. "I'm not going to say there haven't been run-ins, but the players like coming here every day and like playing for him."
The reason is simple, the all-star catcher said: "He treats his players as something special. He knows how to deal with everyone, communicate with everyone."
Just not always with a velvet touch, right?
"Well, he's not even-keel," Pierzynski said with a smile. "He does get emotional. But he doesn't change. He brings the same energy every day, win or lose.
"When he gets upset, he tells you, puts it behind him, and moves on. Sure, sometimes it's told in the newspapers, but often, when it is, you've already ironed it out and gotten it out of the way, and that's great."
Such a clearing of the air may have been in order before the White Sox ended their three-game weekend series here against the Yankees. Guillen, just off his stint as manager of the American League all-stars, was asked Saturday why he had chosen to use Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to save the AL comeback victory last week in Pittsburgh instead of his own bulldog closer, Bobby Jenks.
Rivera "is the best in the history of baseball," Guillen said Saturday, the day before Rivera nailed down career save No. 400 at Chicago's expense.
And if Jenks wasn't quite OK with that?
"I don't care if he's OK with it," Guillen said, defiance ringing in his voice. "I'm the manager. I'm the one that makes the moves. If he don't like it, play for someone else."
Guillen then laughed, as did the reporters he was addressing, a reminder that the package is complete only when the rapier wit is revealed.
That doesn't mean that serious missteps don't occur. They often do when a personality is in perpetual overdrive.
Earlier this season, Guillen, in full rant, used a homophobic phrase to describe a Chicago-based columnist to reporters. For that he was reprimanded by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and ordered to undergo sensitivity training.
A day after slurring the writer, Guillen said: "The word I used, I should have used something different. A lot of people's feelings were hurt, and I didn't mean it that way." Then, choosing different words, he unleashed another profanity-spiced opinion of the writer.
On Saturday, Guillen suggested that the incident was nothing personal, and was blown a bit out of proportion because of who he is. Still, he said, "that story was not the media's fault. It was my fault."
Torborg had predicted there would be such moments during a 2003 telephone conversation with Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox team owner for whom he had once managed. And that was during a call he made to recommend his former star shortstop and White Sox team captain as a manager.
"I told Jerry, there's no question about his work ethic, his knowledge, his enthusiasm, his love for the game, or his ability to communicate," Torborg said. "But I said, 'You will have to possibly be making some apologies for some of the things he says!' "
Reinsdorf laughed and so did Torborg. But the conversation did not end.
"I told Jerry that Ozzie is so honest; that's why he is so good with the players," Torborg said. "They know where he's coming from.
"And he won't put up with not playing hard or playing the right way. He'll get in their faces, no matter where - on the field, in the dugout, in the middle of the clubhouse. Then, the next thing you know, he's got his arm around the guy, taking him out to dinner... unbelievable!"
And absolute.
"I'm never going to change," Guillen vowed Saturday. "One thing about me - I'm always going to say the truth."

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