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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Strange Sounds

by
Guy Bacci

These are strange days to be a White Sox fan. In the midst of a heated wild-card race, you may find a September call-up with zero major-league experience batting leadoff; you may find a reserve outfielder with limited infield exposure crouching at the hot corner; you may find your World Series heroes of a year ago pitching a gem one night and getting bombed the next. And most baffling of all, you’ll find your enigmatic manager sounding more like a walking contradiction than a resolute mastermind.

Curious sound bites were all the rage over the past week. On Tuesday, Guillen stated centerfielder Brian Anderson “has to get more at bats,” which struck most Sox fans as funny considering Guillen is precisely the man who could give Anderson what he’s asking for. South Siders—at least the majority on WSI—have been clamoring for Anderson to be a permanent starter all season. (This column in particular dedicated an entire piece to the subject months ago.) And yet, Rob Mackowiak continues to see plenty of balls fly over his head, costing the shaky Sox pitching staff crucial outs.

Of course, Guillen’s quote was not in reference to major-league at bats, but rather Anderson playing winter ball, which is about the only ball the Sox will be playing beyond September if they don’t redeem their identity from a year ago.

Why would a team that used defense and pitching to win a title suddenly leave gaping holes across the diamond? Kenny Williams must be wondering the same thing. He followed the Anderson story with an appearance on The Score, implying that, as General Manager, he only has so much influence on the lineup card. As any good GM should, Williams gives the final say to Guillen, who clearly thinks Anderson is not supplying enough offense for the Sox to win.

The entire scenario demonstrates how fragile the psyche of professional athletes and managers can be. The pressure to win is extraordinary, even one season removed from a World Series championship. Guillen exhausts enormous energy insisting he has faith in his players, insisting he is unwavering in his ways. And yet, the Anderson situation reeks of panic. The Sox sluggers have always been able to cover for Anderson’s lack of punch at the bottom of the lineup, and the centerfielder more than makes up for it with his ability to track down balls and save runs. So why put a defensively deficient player in one of the most important positions on the field?

“If you don't play the way we think you should be playing, we're going to find somebody else,” Guillen says. “One thing about it is if I start changing the way we play all year long, they start to panic. I'm not panicking.”

Could have fooled us.

For a brief moment, let’s give Guillen the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s not panic that’s resulting in the odd lineup decisions, but rather Anderson being in Guillen’s doghouse for some unknown reason. Yet Williams’ follow-up comments seem to imply he would rather see Anderson on the field. So we’re led to believe Williams’ doghouse has different rules than Guillen’s doghouse, and that’s not a good sign. At this point, Anderson can only gain valuable experience from September pressure, which was the plan all along. His offense won’t cost the Sox a playoff spot, and his defense might just help them secure one.

And yet, the oddities continue. When Joe Crede flew out with the bases loaded to end a game against Kansas City last week, rookie Ryan Sweeney was on deck as a pinch-hitter, prime to make the final out of a crucial game. “This kid played the game right,” Guillen swoons. “I wish my players would look at themselves in the mirror when you see a rookie guy playing the way he played.”

It’s lovely that Guillen has such fondness for Sweeney’s potential, but now is not the time to be breaking in a rookie. All of that “playing the game right” has gotten Sweeney off to a 2-for-14 start. The kid is (not surprisingly) hitting .143. There aren’t many freakish minor-leaguers who can make the jump so quickly. Ryan Sweeney is no Delmon Young.

Despite the daily lineup switcheroos, Guillen remains stubbornly steadfast in peculiar situations. Closer Bobby Jenks was hung out to dry in the game against Cleveland Friday night, even when double after double (four in a row, to be exact) gave the Indians the lead. Another blown save, on the heels of a devastating loss in Boston on Monday, could have sunk the team into an unrecoverable despair. A ninth-inning walk-off homer saved the day.

In what may turn out to be the ultimate bizarro déjà vu, it could be Dustin Hermanson returning to save the bullpen and Jenks suffering a late-season injury.

Just another strange twist in this strange final chapter. And it’s not likely to get any less strange. Chances of Guillen having a sudden streak of sanity are slim. He’s oddly confident in his seemingly unconfident decisions. “I know this ballclub better than anybody, and I have to put the best guys in that particular night that I think will help us.”

The 2006 Ozzie Guillen is not the crazy genius the 2005 version turned out to be. Instead, he’s just a little crazy. Which is making for one wacky White Sox September.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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