CHICAGO – Ozzie Guillen – remember him? – was talking fast enough to give his lips second-degree burns, and in between comparing his players to donkeys and divulging a tad much about his sex life, he pointed at the luxury seats adjacent to the Chicago White Sox's dugout and told the tale of his season.
"There was a man over there," Guillen said. "The guy brought me a picture. I'm with the (World Series) trophy. I said, 'Oh, my God, do you still remember that? That was 50 years ago.' He goes, 'No, that was two years.'
"And I said, 'Well, you guys treat me like it was 50 years ago.' "
Irrelevance can come with the ferocity and swiftness of a bee poised to sting, and the results can be equally painful. Such has been perhaps the most difficult lesson this season for Guillen, two years ago the most controversial man in baseball, the poison-tongued mountebank and, eventually, the World Series-winning manager.
Now he simply is chieftain of a bad baseball team. Adjectives, it seems, are earned with victories. The White Sox are 54-63, closer to last-place Kansas City than third-place Minnesota in the AL Central. Their season has been reduced to rooting for closer Bobby Jenks to continue his streak of 41 consecutive hitters retired.
On Sunday, Guillen cobbled together his best lineup and watched Jeff Weaver embarrass them in a five-hit shutout. And as much as he wants to lash out at his anemic hitters and HAZMAT bullpen for torpedoing the season, Guillen – get this – restrained himself.
"I run this ballclub, and that's why I always take the blame," he said. "If we're winning because it's Ozzie-ball, we're losing because it's Ozzie-ball. I'm not going to blame my players."
What makes Guillen interesting isn't the obvious, which is that Brita needs to create a filter specially fitted for his mouth. No, it's the warring between Guillen's two most prevalent sides – the hyper-confident and insecure – and how they manifest themselves.
One minute, Guillen blamed himself, and the next he tried in vain not to lament the White Sox's injuries.
"If you have the horses, you win the Kentucky Derby," Guillen said. "You're not going to win the Kentucky Derby with donkeys."
One minute, Guillen wondered why "people thought I was going to take my shirt off and go butt naked on Michigan Avenue" during the White Sox's victory parade, and the next, when it was suggested that Guillen leave it all and retire to his native Venezuela and get fat and happy, he scoffed.
"Because," Guillen explained, "my wife, when I have sex with her, wants to feel a good-looking man."
Guillen contends he hasn't changed, and two minutes in his presence confirms that. He still is a walking FCC violation. He greets friends with middle fingers. He lights incense in his office to lighten the mood. And one of the enduring questions – will Ozzie's shtick fly with the players when they're not winning? – has been answered affirmatively, at least so far.
The mood around the team Sunday was status quo. A.J. Pierzynski complained about having to autograph for Kids Day at U.S. Cellular Field. Others went to the batting cages to take their cuts before the afternoon game. Everyone walked past the White Sox calendar hanging on the wall – the one with Tadahito Iguchi, the traded second baseman, as the August representative.
They hope it won't be as rough as July. The White Sox got rid of Iguchi and Rob Mackowiak while dangling fixtures Jermaine Dye, Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez. June was even worse. Chicago went 10-18, fired scouting director Duane Shaffer (in his 35th year with the organization) and lost third baseman Joe Crede for the season to a back injury.
Oh, there have been moments to cherish. Jenks' streak is remarkable – a perfect game plus 4 2/3 more innings unscathed. Mark Buehrle threw a no-hitter, then signed a below-market, long-term deal. Vazquez has pitched well. And rookie Josh Fields has hit 12 home runs in 219 at-bats.
Stitched together, they're more a washcloth than the quilt Guillen fashioned in 2005. His team united Chicago. Today, Guillen could pop his head into any joint, South Side or North, and drink for free. Nonetheless, he understands the lifespan of a manager is more termite than tortoise. He played for five in his 16 seasons.
"Another guy said, 'Oh, you won the World Series. You get a free pass for the next 10 years,' " Guillen said. "(Expletive). I talk to the man upstairs. If you think I'm not doing my job, get rid of my ass. I talked to Jerry Reinsdorf, right in his face."
Reinsdorf owns the White Sox, and in early June he called Guillen and told him to stop asking to get fired. It doesn't look good. Nor does it sound good when Guillen says that if he left the White Sox, "10 minutes later I've got 20 phone calls: 'What do you want to do? We want you here.' "
And yet Guillen cocked his head when asked why he stays here. The White Sox aren't very good. He won a world championship. Other challenges await. Why not do what he did as a player: Cut the string before someone cuts it for him?
His insecure side having already spoken, the answer was rather obvious.
"I want this job," Guillen said. "I love it. Every day, in the morning, I thank God. Do I need it? (Expletive) no.
"They need me."
- Ozzie Guillen