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TUCSON, Ariz. – The voice blasts down the hall, a baritone arrow with a poisonous tip. The best comedians sling theirs unmercifully, and on this particular spring training afternoon, Ozzie Guillen, baseball's resident stand-up, has located his target.
Man Soo Lee is the Chicago White Sox's bullpen catcher. He is one of Korea's greatest baseball players, swelling with pride about his country advancing to the World Baseball Classic semifinals. He is also a friend of Guillen's, which encourages an attack rather than immunizes him from one.
"Seriously," Guillen says, "every guy in that lineup is named Lee. What the (expletive)! No. 1 hitter is Lee, and No. 2 is Lee, and No. 3 is Lee, and No. 4 and No. 5 and No. 6.
"Damn, Man Soo. I didn't know you had that many kids." Lee swallows a belly of air laughing, and the rest of the audience, gathered in the White Sox's lunch room, chortles along. If Ozzie Guillen weren't so likable, he might be Al Campanis or Jimmy the Greek. Instead, he's Dave Chappelle or Carlos Mencia.
Those are Guillen's two favorite comedians because to them nothing is sacred, not money, not politics, not culture – and certainly not race.
Race and nationality are Guillen's favorite subjects. Before anything else, he identifies himself as a Venezuelan, a Latino. Illustrating others in the same manner is part of what makes him baseball's most outrageous character. He called Magglio Ordoez a "Venezuelan (expletive)." About Alex Rodriguez, born in the United States and raised in the Dominican Republic, Guillen said: "He's not Dominican! &hellip: He's full of (expletive)." Most biting of all was his snipe at Nomar Garciaparra, American-born and raised, but on Mexico's initial WBC roster: "Garciaparra only knows Cancun because he went to visit."
"When Carlos Mencia says something, people think he's funny," Guillen said. "When I say something, I get in trouble. I can't get away with what they do. If a comedian says something's wrong, it's great. If I say something's wrong, I'm an idiot."
The reputation evaporated some last season after Guillen's White Sox swept the World Series. A championship ring buys a few lives, ones Guillen had frittered away by joking that a friend was a "child molester," which was not true, and saying "there's 30,000 rats running around" Wrigley Field, which was true, give or take a rat.
"I never will stop talking," Guillen said. "It's not my style. I'm not a hypocrite. I don't politick. It's me being me, and if people like it, good. If they don't, I don't give a (expletive)."
That language again. During one spirited stretch Friday morning, Guillen dropped 23 F-bombs in a minute. It's the Richard Pryor part of him.
Guillen has other comedians in him, too. He does imitations from Napoleon Dynamite. He asks as many "Why … " questions as Jerry Seinfeld. Dirty little secret: Guillen does comedy like Carrot Top.
Props are his favorite thing to use. On Friday, Guillen paraded around the White Sox's clubhouse with a high chair.
"Hey, hey," he announced. "This is where Politte sits when he eats."
It was an easy joke. Reliever Cliff Politte stands 5-foot-9. In 5 minutes, Guillen told 50 people about Politte's new seat.
"I'm not going to pat him on the back for that one," Politte said. "He doesn't get that much credit. He's pretty good, though.
"A lot of guys talk about needing a vocal leader, and it's usually a player. Here, it's Ozzie. And he is vocal."
Jokes are Guillen's release from the time he spends in his office, looking remarkably like Dilbert.
Another little secret: Guillen – who looks closer to 22 than 42, whose beard is so perfect it looks like it was trimmed by a diamond cutter, who is cool by any standard – wears reading glasses. Before every game, he sits in his office and pores over paperwork on his laptop, a sweet-smelling stream of incense making his office smell like a dorm room.
To counterbalance the monotony of paperwork, Guillen does some of his best joking in there. Every day, no matter the time, he's holding court with old friends and new hangers-on and everyone in between. Players and coaches plant themselves there just to listen.
"To me, baseball is too serious," Guillen said. "But that's because it's so hard. And if you think about how many times you've failed, you have a choice. I can either be mad, or I can laugh. It's easy to make fun of somebody or make fun of yourself instead of being mad.
"The hardest thing in life is to make people laugh. When that's your job, it's a lot of pressure. That's why I respect comedians. We need people like that. We need them to take our minds off of things for two hours."
"Unfortunately, I don't get paid to speak English," he said. "When they're on stage, they're paid to make people laugh. When I'm on stage, I get paid to win games. And I'm pretty good at that."