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Ozzie's Gaffes or Guts?

At least it moved the Cute and Cuddlies to the back burner for a few days!  Kenny Williams’ appointment of Ozzie Guillen as the new Sox manager and the resulting debate in the media actually put the Sox on the front page of the sports sections and into the lead story on TV and radio sportscasts. 

To listen to some of the callers to the radio sportstalk programs, you would have thought Williams had appointed a combination of Osama bin Laden and Mortimer Snerd to the managerial post.  Guillen was portrayed either as the man who would destroy the franchise by sabotaging Frank Thomas and Ozzie Guillen, or his head was just as hollow as that of the aforementioned ventriloquists dummy with Kenny Williams pulling the strings to make him speak. 

The source of much of the controversy came in Guillen’s response to a question by WMVP’s Les Grobstein.  Grobstein pointed out that the 2003 Sox seemed to rely on the homerun and asked if Guillen would emphasize “small ball,” being more aggressive on the bases and relying more on the bunt. 

Guillen responded, “I’ll tell you what.  I don’t know about bunt.  The game dictates what you’re gonna do, but if you not hit seventy-three or seventy-four home runs, you’re not a home run hitter.  You hit thirty home runs, you’re not even in the paper.  Thirty, forty home runs are not gonna  take you anywhere.  I think to us, to me, its more important to play defense, pitch right, play the game right, and do the little things to win games.” 

“We don’t want to sit around and wait…for my players to hit three run homers every day….We’re going to play a National League game.  I can do that.  It’s a different type of game, but we will do that, and I told Kenny, I said, ‘One of my players don’t do the job, we’ve got men on first and second with no outs, he don’t move the guy over, well, next time II don’t care if it’s Frank or Magglio, or whoever’s there, we will bunt.” 

Listening is a skill, and apparently it a skill beyond the abilities of many of those who called radio stations and of the hosts who took those calls.  The outcry was, “Ozzie’s going to make Frank and Maggs bunt!  The man’s out of his mind!”  My advise is to read the quote above carefully. 

Guillen was making a statement about his players in general.  Instead of six or seven guys in the lineup swinging for the fences every time men are on base, Ozzie wants them to do what it takes to move the runners along.  That means he expects players to hit to the right side when the situation.   

Situational hitting was sorely lacking in the last part of the Jerry Manuel era, and the fans calling the sportstalk shows decried that situation along with the hosts.  So why the outcry now?  If you translate what Guillen said into its simplest form, all he was saying is, “I expect everyone to hit according to the situation, no matter who it is.” 

This is backed up by the fact that he emphasized playing as a team and winning as being the important thing.  He said for all to here that ego had no place on his squad, that he wanted a club with players who wanted to win, not for those who were playing just for “a thirty million dollar paycheck next year.” 

The oft-quoted statement about Thomas and Ordoñez bunting was about teamwork more than it was bunting.  It was about playing to win instead of playing for next year’s pay check.  He summarized it this way, “When I was 0 for three and I had to move the guy over, that’s what I did, and that’s what I expect for those players to do for me.” 

It was WMVP’s Bruce Levine who asked point-blank about Guillen’s attitude towards Frank Thomas.  Here is Guillen’s replay:  “I think about Frank…he’s a big puzzle on the team., but I’m sorry but Frank’s gonna play my way.  I’m sorry but if he don’t like it…when I played there Frank was a great teammate.   I hear a lot of negative things about Frank.  I think Frank was an outstanding player.  To me I want Frank to be the same Frank as in the ‘90s when I was here.  If he’s not the same Frank, having fun, play the game right, respect his teammates, we’re gonna have a little problem.  I expect that from him, and I hope to see him next week in Vegas…and we’ll talk and clear up all this stuff about Frank.   

“I love Frank, and I want Frank here…He is a great player, but I want him to be a great player in the clubhouse.  I don’t care what Frank does out on the field because we know what Frank can do on the field.  I want Frank to respect twenty-four players so that twenty-four players respect Frank.   

“We’ve got a rule for twenty-five guys, and believe me we have a rule for twenty-five guys.  We’re not going to have a rule for twenty-four guys or twenty-three guys and all of a sudden the rules change.  We’re gonna have the rules from the first day of spring training because the rules have a tendency to change.  When you’re winning, forget the rules.  Now when you’re losing, the rule’s coming back.  That rule’s gonna be every day. 

“You say the players don’t like the rules?  Kenny’s available, and they can have a conversation, and they can leave.  You know, I want to win, and I think they want to win also.  There’s a rule for everybody and I don’t expect any problems from Frank.  I don’t think there will be any problem with him.  I haven’t seen Frank play for so many years, but Frank has to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” 

A couple of things are important to remember here.  First, it was Levine who brought up the issues with Frank at this point.  Second, since Frank is the obvious superstar on the club, Guillen was addressing the issue that pervades so many ball clubs.  Does the superstar get special treatment.  Guillen is saying that everyone gets the same treatment, and he expects everyone in the clubhouse to respect each other.   

Guillen made sure he pointed out that he likes Frank and likes the way Frank played when they were on the same club in the ‘90s.  He emphasized that he want Frank to play the same way he did then. 

Finally, as to the Mortimer Snerd factor, Guillen noted that “baseball is in my blood.”  He noted that when he sat on the bench, he would ask questions of Bobby Cox, Jeff Torborg, and Jack McKeon.  About Cox he said, “[When I was still a player] I told Bobby Cox I might second guess you.  He said, ‘Why?’ and I told him because I want to manage someday.” 

That doesn’t sound like someone who is as stupid as his detractors make him out to be.   

So here is a message to those who were bashing Guillen.  His record right now for the 2004 season is 0-0, the same as it is for Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Dusty Baker.  Nobody knows what kind of manager Guillen will be until they actually play the games.   

That’s something that’s always good to keep in mind.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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