GLENDALE, Ariz. – Six years in, a seventh season calling, Ozzie Guillen hasn't stopped talking.
He'd say it's a gift.
As he views it, Ozzie doesn't simply say what he needs to say, he says what you need to hear.
"I don't see why you can't be honest," he said on a rainy morning outside the Chicago White Sox clubhouse.
He's right, of course. (OK, most of the time.)
His players call it passion. His bosses call it commitment. His fans call it personality. Writers call it copy. The rest call it obnoxious, hurtful, insensitive, derogatory, homophobic and egomaniacal, if I've covered them all there.
Ozzie calls it the truth.
"Some people maybe don't have the guts to say it," he said.
Politically, socially, the right loves him because he often says what it thinks. The left loves him – or should – because he gets its name in the paper.
Boundaries are rare, but not rarer than apologies. He's made a few of those, too, often with the caveat that he meant what he said, just not how he said it. So, sorry, gay rights groups. Sorry, abused. Sorry, rookie pitcher. Sorry, A-Rod. Sorry, fat Venezuelan countryman. Sorry, Kenny Williams. Sorry, guy who overthrew the cutoff man. Sorry, Cubs fans. Wait, I take back the last one. Sorry, anybody he missed.
Ozzie has made mistakes, some nasty ones at that, and no one's excusing those, not even him.
"If I hurt people," he said, "I apologize."
So, can we get past that? Not that Ozzie much cares, really. But, in the meantime, we should recognize that Ozzie is good for the White Sox, good for the game and, at a time when the world is paved over by mindless mimics and fragile psyches, good for the soul.
He doesn't care more for his team than other managers for theirs; he just doesn't care that you know it. He hides nothing. As for his views and his tantrums and his occasional slips, depending on where you stand, enjoy it or get over it. The man is a baseball manager, and a good one.
Hell, if nothing else, you have to be impressed by the volume. Pick your definition.
"So many different things, you have to be politically correct," Ozzie said. "People think I'm crazy. I'm not crazy. I'm a very happy, honest guy. Hey, sometimes the truth hurts. Maybe somebody else would say it a different way. That's the way I talk. That's the way I grew up."
That's also the way the White Sox like it. They are a clubhouse of players with chips on their shoulders, as one team official put it Sunday. In an American League Central in which they'll be picked somewhere behind the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers, the White Sox will play back from injuries and old age and bad career trends. None, however, will carry a chip as large as their manager's. He sat them down this week and reminded them who they are now, starting today, and why they are here.
Three veterans – Jake Peavy(notes), Mark Kotsay(notes) and newcomer Juan Pierre(notes) (who had Ozzie as a coach in Florida) – had not seen that side of Ozzie. When it was over, when Ozzie had shouted and spit and cussed and stomped and challenged them all to be something, Peavy shook Ozzie's hand.
"It was the coolest thing I'd ever heard as a major league player," he said.
Until then, he'd only made them laugh. Sometimes on purpose.
"He's a lot different than other guys," said Pierre, who has played for six managers, including Joe Torre, Dusty Baker and Jack McKeon. "Even when he's joking, he's telling the truth. He's one of those guys."
Pierre cocked a funny grin. It's not always comfortable. It's almost always real. After six seasons, a World Series championship and one broken promise to run for mayor, Ozzie still says things stink when they stink, still has the back of the people who have his and still stumbles along the line of decency.
"You're not going to get anything but who he is," said Kotsay, who came from Terry Francona to Ozzie at the last trading deadline. "You know what he wants. He wants you to go out and play hard and play the game the way he played the game."
And when you don't …
"Everybody sees those moments," Kotsay said of Ozzie's reactions. "You don't have to tell anybody about them."
About a month into the season, Ozzie will manage his 1,000th game. He will have outlasted predictions he'd A) burn out, B) sell out or C) get carried out. His winning percentage of .526 is ninth among active managers.
"That stuff gets lost in, 'Oh, Ozzie went off after the game,' " Peavy said.
Ozzie knows. He can't help it and wouldn't if he could. He doesn't like it when he's walking down the street and a father turns to his son and says, "That's the crazy guy who's always on TV." And he hates – really hates – the phrase, "Ozzie being Ozzie."
"They only say that to be negative," Ozzie said. "Why not, 'Ozzie being honest'? When they say 'Manny being Manny' they mean that Manny's [messing] up. I'm not messing up. No. Ozzie's being honest. Ozzie's saying things people need to hear. And I'm not going to say anything just to make people happy."
So, he's not sorry. Not really.
And, you're welcome.
Hey, can 28,000 Twitter followers (as of Sunday afternoon, in five days) all be wrong?
- Ozzie Guillen