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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Give Oz a Chance!


by
Guy Bacci

It’s typical for the new guy to want to be liked by everyone. Last Monday’s introductory press conference was Ozzie Guillen’s first big moment as White Sox manager, so we’ll have to forgive him if he was trying to be all things to all people. For Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams, he was the humble servant, insisting he wanted to win with gutsy kids instead of over-priced veterans. For the Sox fans, he was a demanding leader, saying it was going to be his way or the highway.

Something is going to have to give.

Just a few weeks ago I made my pitch for Ozzie Guillen over Cito Gaston. While it wasn’t an overwhelmingly confident selection on my part, there was one fact I was certain of: The Ozzie Guillen Show would be ten times more entertaining than the Gandhi Snoozefest, win or lose.

It only took one press conference to confirm that belief.  Displaying characteristic enthusiasm and hyperactivity, Guillen won over the press with his bright smile and off-beat humor. More importantly, he issued ultimatums to his players before even shaking their hands. “I hope they can hear this press conference right now,” Guillen said. “They don’t play the game right, they’re not going to play for me.” When questioned about Frank Thomas, his comments were more direct: “I’m sorry, but Frank has got to play my way. I want Frank to respect the other 24 players.” He even went so far as to say that Thomas and Magglio Ordonez would be asked to bunt if they routinely failed to get men into scoring position. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is yet to be seen, but there’s no doubt it raised some eyebrows.

The first of many raised eyebrows throughout Guillen’s managerial career, no doubt. There will be some growing pains as Guillen struggles to find his true identity. It was somewhat unsettling listening to Guillen sound both confident and insecure in one fell swoop. The perceived insecurity could be attributed to Guillen’s slightly broken English, but there was a definite tone of caution in his voice. “Hopefully I won’t let Kenny Williams down,” he said (more than once). Speaking directly to the media, he said, “I want to know in July how much you guys love me.” Those comments don’t exactly inspire gobs of faith in the hearts of Sox fans.

Guillen’s going to make some blunders. His first big mistake is thinking he’s still in Miami. “Give me a bunch of kids that want to play,” he said. “I don’t want selfish players.” It’s obvious that he’s currently living in an idealistic world where a bunch of unsuspecting no-names called the Florida Marlins can win a championship. He says he wants to duplicate that feat in Chicago. But the truth of the matter is that kids don’t usually win. High-priced rosters with lots of talent win. Guillen is going to have to return to Planet Reality before he can be a successful manager. He’s going to have to realize that the White Sox, as currently constructed, thrive on power, not sacrifice bunts. And he’s going to have to realize that he can’t win with lousy players. “Give me bad players who want to win, not good players who want to make $30 million next year.” Reinsdorf must have giggled like a giddy child after hearing that statement. He probably signed Guillen on the spot. And while it’s admirable of Guillen to crave players with desire and heart and hustle, it’s smarter to crave an owner with deep pockets.

That’s exactly what Cito Gaston craved, and that’s exactly why Cito Gaston isn’t the new Sox manager. Cynics will say Guillen is a perfect Reinsdorfian hiring. They will say that Guillen signals another year of small-market spending in a large-market city. And let’s face it, the cynics are right.

But there’s still cause for excitement, and it stems from the possibility that Guillen could turn out to be a great manager for years to come. He’s well-liked by those who know him, including veterans such as Roberto and Sandy Alomar (who are now locks to return to the Southside). And even though Guillen appears willing to utter the company line, he’s not the type to bend to others’ wishes, a la Jerry Manuel. Guillen showed his savvy by saying, “Managers get hired to be fired. If I get fired, it’s gotta be for doing things my way.”

The Ozzie Way deserves a chance. Get over the fact that the Sox don’t have the payroll to attract Cito Gaston. The Sox are cheap, we all know it. Kenny Williams will once again have to get creative to put together a winner. But that topic is for another day. Today is Ozzie’s day. Reinsdorf’s new whipping boy could turn out to be the hero Sox fans have been looking for. And even if he doesn’t, it’s going to be a heck of a ride. I can safely say I am more interested in watching the 2004 White Sox now than I would have been if Gaston had gotten the job. Win or lose, it’s going to be a wild run. Or, in the words of Ozzie Guillen, “We win, we’re going to have music, we lose, we’re going to have music.”

Let’s just hope it’s Queen instead of Taps.


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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