LOS ANGELES – Mid-morning Thursday, Ozzie Guillen shuffled from his office at one end of the visitors’ clubhouse. He wore a T-shirt and sliding shorts. His hair was tangled, his face a bit puffy. Reading glasses teetered at the end of his nose.
The clubhouse was not yet at full roar – the White Sox had played deep into the night before and lost – and neither was ol’ Oz.
More than walk, he oozed through the room and down the hall. Five minutes later, he returned wearing the same damn-it’s-early costume. Only he carried a cup of coffee in one hand and a glazed donut in the other.
Jermaine Dye looked him up and down and smiled, which Guillen caught from the corner of his eye.
“What?!” he snapped, playfully, and inched away.
Guillen, another big weekend ahead, clearly was pacing himself in the hours before the White Sox return to Chicago for El Series II, or recovering in the days since El Series I, or simply hoping for some peace and quiet in between.
Of course, it’s Guillen himself who discharges so much of the ruckus, he who talks the White Sox into corners, he who laughs and speaks his mind and reveals the presence of killer swine-rodents at venerable Wrigley Field, which, by the way, he believes to be a dump with souvenir stands.
And while he has flaws – he was slaughtered during the Cubs series for removing starter John Danks too soon, leaving starter Jose Contreras in too long, and general mismanagement in a three-game sweep – it is Guillen who brings much of the color to the games’ most compelling intra-league rivalry. Some would say he brings the off-color as well. There’s no arguing that, either.
In just a half-season, we’ve had Ozzie vs. Orlando Cabrera, Ozzie vs. his hitters, Ozzie vs. Kenny Williams, Ozzie vs. Wrigleyville, Ozzie vs. the media and Ozzie for blow-up dolls, and I’m sure I’m leaving a few out.
So, when he rises to the top step Friday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, he again will be among the central figures in a series that for the moment surpasses New York vs. New York (or, third place vs. third place) and Los Angeles vs. Los Angeles (first vs. providential second) in drama and relevance. What other series has one general manager paying his respects to the most painful century in sports, that being Williams’ now-infamous “Happy anniversary” regards to Cubs fans? What team comments on the others’ “idiot” fans? And no series carries more potential for the postseason of our lifetimes, the Cubs nearing July and holding the best record in baseball, the White Sox parading behind (and, occasionally, cleaning up after) Guillen and clinging to first place in the AL Central.
After being crushed on the North Side, the White Sox trundled into Los Angeles, got their heads back together by winning two of three against the decidedly average Dodgers, packed and caught the next thing smoking for a rematch in hysteria.
Guillen sighed. Across the way, he’s told, Joe Torre felt the same thing about those Mets-Yankees series; too much hype, too much media, too much work, very little real significance beyond a few in 162. Being Kings of Chicago did nothing for the Cubs against the Baltimore Orioles, who beat them twice in three games this week. And being swept at Wrigley was cause for White Sox concern only because Contreras and Javier Vazquez were hittable again and the Minnesota Twins won’t go away.
“I’d have to see it first to see the difference,” Guillen said of Mets-Yankees. “The Cubs and White Sox, the only thing better than that is the World Series. Chicago? It’s crazy. I mean, a good crazy.”
And yet, he added, “There’s no doubt it drains you. People are so into it. … I wish we could play three days at home and next year play three games at Wrigley Field. For the players and ourselves, it’s kind of too much.”
Maybe, it was suggested, there was a little too much talking before the last series and, conversely, not enough playing.
“We just tell people what they need to hear,” said Guillen, who apparently gets to decide. “We’re not against the Cubs, we’re not against the organization, we’re not against the fans. They get offended by that, look at yourself in the mirror. You tell the truth, you got nothing to hide. Last year we didn’t say anything and they still kicked our butts.”
Adding to the drama, the White Sox have a well-developed inferiority complex, which they generally lay in the laps of the local media. Guillen has noted the White Sox’ championship drought is running about 97 fewer years than the Cubs’, yet the Cubs remain the city’s darling. So, they play to their roles.
“It’s always going to be like that in Chicago,” Guillen said. “Overall, maybe because the manager is a [jerk]. Maybe they don’t like me. Maybe they don’t like Kenny. In 2005, they couldn’t wait for us to lose. &hellip OK, maybe the manager is sometimes unprofessional. Look around. See what I say and why I say it. I don’t like Wrigley Field. Big deal. I have to like Wrigley Field? It seems like every time we open our mouths to protect the organization, we’re bad guys.”
The players mostly fall in behind the manager, that way somebody else takes the hit. It’s also entertaining. And, after losing 90 games last season, the White Sox are winning fairly regularly again. It looks like an edgy existence with the White Sox, just as Guillen keeps it, but the players don’t seem to mind.
Despite scoring only two runs in the final two games against the Dodgers, the offense has had a big June. The bullpen – Boone Logan and Matt Thornton in front of Scott Linebrink, Octavio Dotel and Bobby Jenks – has been terrific. And the rotation is generally sound, with flashes of dominance. So they win in spite of predictions of imminent collapse, even took their first road series in a month, maintain their sanity in spite of Guillen’s capricious observations, and roll into summer with a fairly rosy outlook.
“Yeah, it’s fun,” Jenks said. “I love it. A little controversy never hurt anybody.”
Then, if they really wanted to let some air out of their regular-season series with the Cubs, Torre passed along some advice.
The Mets-Yankees series, he said, “lost a little of its steam after the World Series.”
So, there you go.
Meantime, Guillen prepared for another crush of a weekend, by game’s end with an orange soda and a hunk of tri-tip.
“I don’t want to be in public anymore,” he had said the day before, laughing. “I feel like Brad Pitt every day.”