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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Ozzie vs. Frank?† Bring it!

by
Guy Bacci

Imagine the most irritating co-worker youíve ever had the displeasure of working with. Maybe heís the windbag who never shuts up in meetings, or the know-it-all whoís constantly putting other people down, or the gossip monger who canít wait to spread the latest dirt around the office. Or maybe heís all three rolled into one. Now imagine he just became your boss.

Horrifying, isnít it? Well, you can take a deep breath and relax, because it isnít really happening. But for Frank Thomas, it already has. Itís no secret that Thomas and Ozzie Guillen were not the best of buds. Their two personalities didnít mesh, which isnít hard to understand, considering Thomas appreciates his personal space and Guillen delights in being in-your-face. As much as fans (and most normal people) enjoy Guillenís energy and enthusiasm, Thomas most likely sees Guillen as an annoying gnat that never goes away.

Hence Thomas hasnít bothered to pick up the phone and return calls from Guillen or Kenny Williams this off-season. Thatís a pretty clear indication that Thomas is far from pleased by Guillenís hiring, which has columnists across Chicagoland fretting that another spring training blow-up is inevitable.

My delighted response is: Bring it on!

Since when is controversy a bad thing, especially when it pertains to the slumbering White Sox? The last time Thomas and his manager nearly ripped each otherís heads off, the Sox proceeded to rip apart the competition, winning 13 of their first 19 games. The end result was an AL Central title. The next season, Thomas was MIA thanks to a season-ending injury, and the clubhouse was relatively quiet. The same sense of clam subsided over the 2002 and 2003 teams, led by the calmest man of all, Jerry Manuel. There were no major distractions, no major controversies, no major explosions (unless you count Manuelís forced attempts at arguing calls and getting thrown out of games). End result: Snooze Ball, as the Sox pulled up limp in all three seasons, despite soaring expectations.

So I say, bring out the fireworks Ö figuratively, that is. I want a Guillen/Thomas tussle in spring training, preferably more than one. I want a major brawl early in the season, preferably with a team the Sox play often, such as Kansas City or Minnesota. I want to see Magglio charge in from right field and perform his patented spin kick, I want to see Carlos Lee body-slamming Doug Mientkiewicz, I want to see Shingo Takatsu unleashing a flurry of karate chops.

Speaking of Shingo, heís a prime candidate to participate in this seasonís Operation Mayhem. The published rumor was that he decided on the Sox because he was guaranteed a closer role, but Williams quickly denied the report. At his press conference, Shingo acknowledged he would have to earn the position. ďYes, I'd like to be the closer. Ö But whatever my role is, I will take it," he said through an interpreter. Okay, sure, for now heís saying all the right things, such as corny lines like, ďChicago is my field of dreams.Ē But the first time Shingoís hanging slider gets blasted into the next solar system, Guillen will quickly turn to Koch or Marte, and Mr. Zero will quickly become Mr. Pissed Off. Chicago could rapidly turn from his field of dreams to his nightmare on 35th Street.

Consider the numbers: Shingo is 35 years old, not exactly a spring chicken. At the same age, former Seattle closer Kazuhiro Sasaki has decided to return to the weaker competition of Japan. And Shingo is no Kaz Ö Sasakiís numbers in Japan were astonishing: He once posted a 0.90 ERA while striking out 99 batters in 60 innings. Takatsuís stats are not nearly as impressive. His best ERA was 2.04 in 1997, and heís never struck out more batters than innings pitched. Not to mention, his strikeout rate has steadily declined, while his walk rate has steadily increased.

If youíre starting to sense the Sox closer position will be a revolving door, youíre probably on to something. Four relievers (Shingo, Koch, Marte, Politte) have had experience as closers, which means Guillen could reasonably turn to any of them. But how is that going to sit with Mr. Zero, the man famous for tossing shutout innings in Japanís version of the World Series? And if Koch returns to form, how will he feel about losing save opportunities for political (and international) reasons?

My message to the 2004 White Sox: Let the sparks fly. Get in touch with your inner Mike Tyson (but keep it legal). Get aggravated, get heated, get pissed. Throw high and tight to Juan Gonzalez and Kerry Wood. Force Ozzie Guillen to get in shouting matches with Tony Pena and Dusty Baker. Put passion back on the field as you displayed in 2000. Donít listen to the ďexpertsĒ who are afraid a volatile clubhouse will destroy the season. They all seem to think chaos is a bad thing for the White Sox.

How quickly they forget.


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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