NOW OR NEVER
WATCHING A WAVE OF OLD-SCHOOL MANAGERS GET A SECOND CHANCE, OZZIE GUILLEN WANTS ONE MORE SHOT BEFORE TIME PASSES HIM BY
The tongue is still sharp at age 56.
But it’s now more selective about when and whom to sting. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe a second grandchild has centered a person many inaccurately perceived to be un-centerable. Maybe Ozzie Guillen is just tired.
Tired of checking his cellphone for that message. Tired of major-league managerial jobs being handed out to unqualified candidates. Tired of defending his legacy.
Going on eight seasons now, baseball is lying to itself.
The sport preaches numbers. It hires the brightest and smartest out of Harvard to come up with new formulas to figure out wind vs. spin rate on a baseball when a team is wearing its home whites on Wednesdays. Yet, it wants to diminish the numbers Guillen put up when he sat in the manager’s seat.
A World Series title, a .524 winning percentage with the White Sox and a 12-4 postseason record. In Guillen’s eight seasons as skipper on the South Side, the team he grew up with and bled for as a player finished .500 or better five times and made the playoffs twice. Since his departure at the end of the 2011 season, the Sox have finished above .500 once, and they haven’t sniffed the playoffs.
“Yes, it bothers me,” Guillen told the SunTimes this week. “Gardy [Ron Gardenhire] is back in the game, Dusty [Baker] is back in the game, Joe [Maddon] is still managing, so my hope is that wave [of old-school managers] is coming back and they ask me to come back.
“Do I miss the game? Yes. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and say, ‘Thank God I don’t manage.’ But there are more times I wake up in the morning and I’m sad, upset, pissed. ‘How come this guy is here and not me?’ ”
A simple question with no simple answers, and the longer it remains unanswered, the more likely the sands in Guillen’s managerial hourglass will run out.
EIGHT MEN IN
Eight people in a meeting room at the start of spring training.
That’s the number Guillen has in his head to make sure everyone in an organization is on the same page. Far too often these days, it doesn’t appear some organizations are.
Sabermetrics, “the numbers guys,” they are not the enemy to Guillen, but they have been allowed to cheapen the managerial position.
One of the criticisms of Guillen is that he is a “feel” manager, often ignoring scouting reports and numbers. The idea that front-office types could control his lineups day-to-day like they seemingly do with many unproven puppets moonlighting as managers is laughable.
That doesn’t mean Guillen doesn’t believe in numbers to help dictate matchups. They’re just not his bible.
“I have no idea if baseball is getting better because to me, you have to combine the analytics with a high baseball IQ [as manager],” Guillen said. “You have to have good players, or you’re not going to win. That’s obvious. But you need to be able to get together with the front office, numbers people, and say this is what we all want, and as manager this is what I like to do. You put all those ingredients together? That’s a pretty good threat to go out and do special things.
“You have maybe eight people in a room in spring training, and when that meeting leaves the room, everybody has to be on the same page. You’re going to tell me that managers in the league like being told, ‘This is the lineup?’ No, no, bro. They just say, ‘Yes, sir,’ to keep their job. You think you can tell the media, ‘Hey, it’s not my fault, the people upstairs make the lineup for me.’ You’ll get fired. That’s my point of having that meeting and getting everything out on the table.”
What he has learned from being out of the
game is that the numbers can be an important tool. However, the tool works best in the hands of a craftsman. Baseball seemingly has forgotten that.
“If you have a team . . . White Sox, Baltimore, Pirates, the Marlins, and say to me, ‘Listen, this is the product we have, this is what you have to play,’ I would do it. Just don’t get in my way,” Guillen said. “People say, ‘You need to read the scouting reports.’ I don’t need no [bleepin’] scouting reports. My IQ with baseball, I know what I’m supposed to do. I read the scouting reports to see who is hot and also for a new player. But the scouting report in my head is, I have to compete against the manager.
“That’s why managing against me was hard. Managing against Jim Leyland harder. Managing against Joe Maddon? Geez, harder. You know why? Those guys pull [bleep] out of their ass because they don’t give a [bleep] what the numbers say. It’s feel for them, and they do whatever they want. ‘Oh, first inning squeeze? What the [bleep].’ You’re always on your toes. That is the problem now. Everything is predictable.
“I watch everything in a ballpark from that dugout. How the [bleep] did more managers not know that every time there’s banging from [the Astros’] dugout, a certain pitch was coming? What the [bleep] were you guys watching? The goddamn [analytics] book they gave you, the tablet, the iPad? Then anyone can manage. Right now, a lot of players do whatever they want to do because the coaches are a bunch of kids with no credentials. I had [a coaching staff with] Harold Baines, Tim Raines, Joey Cora, Greg Walker, [Don] Cooper — I don’t think he’s the best pitching coach, but he made you believe you were the best [pitcher] that night. Now, you have players that are like, ‘Who the [bleep] are you? I’m going to call my high school coach or my dad. They’re better.’ Then what are we even doing here?”
HE SAID WHAT?
Guillen can’t escape the Fidel Castro comment. And more than eight years later, he has all but given up trying.
If only the portrayal of what he said was accurate.
In an April 2012 article for Time, Guillen was quoted as saying, “I love Fidel Castro.” But that wasn’t the story.
According to Guillen, he talked with the author about many topics in that interview. Bullfighting — one of Guillen’s passions — came up, along with the topic of survivability. Then politics. With survivability still on his mind, Guillen jumped to the Cuban dictator and said, “I love Fidel Castro.” English being a second language, he quickly backtracked and said, “I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for 60 years, but that mother[bleeper] is still here.”
Even the reporter in the article said Guillen wanted a do-over after the word “love” was used. This was more than an E6, however.
Guillen’s managerial career was all but over. The Marlins suspended him, eventually firing him at the end of the 2012 season. He seemingly has been blackballed since. Cancel culture before cancel culture was a thing.
“I should sue everybody in Miami,” Guillen said. “Get all the money I have right now and sue everybody that says I love Fidel. It’s like nobody read the article. No one sees I called him a ‘mother[bleeper]’ and people have tried to kill him.
“I was sorry because I upset some very good people, but I never said what people think I said.”
It wasn’t the only slip-up Guillen had with the media, but considering the Cuban population in Miami, this was the most damning.
If teams have been concerned that Guillen is a loose cannon, his track record since has shown otherwise. He has done television for ESPN and Fox, he has broadcast the World Series, he has been on hundreds of radio shows and now he works for NBC Sports Chicago. Not one slip-up.
“OK, do they look at me like, ‘This guy is very vocal.’ OK, but most managers in the game were very vocal,” Guillen said. “You listen to Jim Leyland interview or Lou Piniella, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ Now it’s not. I understand that. You have to learn, you have to do what they ask. I’m not saying I’m going to change the way I am, but there is a way to express yourself to let people know what is going on.
“What my problem was, I was honest. I was honest with the media, I was honest with the fans, I was honest with [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], [then-general manager] Kenny [Williams]. I think my biggest enemy, something they taught me to be, was I was honest. Well, honesty doesn’t get you nowhere. Just be honest with your players, that’s it.”
Can Guillen save baseball? Who knows? But he can’t hurt it.
Ratings and attendance have dwindled for seven consecutive seasons as front-office execs want to be the front men for the rock band.
All Guillen wants is an opportunity, and while old-school managers are starting to be recycled once again, a phone call to see where Guillen’s at would be nice.
After all, this is a guy who came from Venezuela without a word of English in his vocabulary, became a defensive wizard at shortstop at the highest level and then, in 2005, took a team with players from six countries and brought a World Series trophy back to a city that forgot what it looked like.
The only color he cared about was on the
uniform, and as divided as things seem in this country right now, it would be the perfect time to welcome Guillen back into the game.
Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry sure thinks so. In fact, Hendry, now a special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, was rumored to be pursuing Guillen for the Cubs in 2012.
Hendry hopes Guillen stops being a rumor and becomes a hire.
“I thought Ozzie was a really good manager, and obviously certain things probably happened on the inside when he left Chicago and Florida, but what he did in his time with the White Sox and winning it in all, I always thought he was on top of the strategy of the game,” Hendry said. “I just remember late in that ’05 season, there was that time in September where it started to slip a little bit and I thought the guy on that top step [Guillen] did a great job pulling them together for a dominant stretch run. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
“I’d certainly love to see him get another shot. I think — like we all would — he would do certain things different if he got that other shot. As a baseball guy and a guy that gave his life to the game, you certainly would like to see him be given that chance.”
Guillen would be in favor of that. After all, ’05 might have been 15 years ago, but the lessons from it ring even more loudly now.
“Everybody on that  team had to respect each other as human beings,” Guillen said. “There was no color. And we had some monster [personalities]. I always told the players that when we got to the ballpark, I didn’t care who was blue, Black, white, Japanese, Venezuelan, different religion. Uniform on? We’re all one people.
“Maybe there’s a lesson there for us outside baseball that’s missing.”
Indeed. And maybe it’s time for baseball to realize what it’s missing. Closer to home, the Sox.
“The White Sox know me better than anyone,” Guillen said. “They know I’ve changed, they know I’ve grown up. I would love if they would say, ‘Ozzie, we need you doing this or helping here,’ because I know baseball. This is just from me, but I would like to do it, but maybe Jerry says, ‘No, if we have Ozzie working in the minor-league system, fans and media will be saying, ‘Why is our best manager working down there?’ They don’t want to deal with that.
“Does the rest of the league know me? I don’t know. Don’t presume about me. If you don’t talk to me, then you don’t know me. When you talk to me, after the conversation, you can judge me how you want. But before that, because of what you read or someone else told you something, then you’re going to have doubts who Ozzie Guillen is.
“Don’t doubt me. That’s not too much to ask, is it?” ✶
Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen throws out a ceremonial pitch with granddaughter Adela in July 2019.
Ozzie Guillen holds grandson Ozzie Joseph Guillen, his second grandchild.
Protesters watch as Ozzie Guillen speaks about comments he made about Fidel Castro.
Ozzie Guillen (with Joey Cora at Wrigley Field in 2012) lasted just one season as the Marlins’ manager.
Ozzie Guillen talks with outfielder Jermaine Dye during spring training in 2005.
Ozzie Guillen is introduced before Game 1 of the 2005 World Series, in which the White Sox swept the Astros. Guillen hoists the trophy after Game 4 in Houston.