In Chicago, Guillen Is the Talk of the Town
Friday, October 21, 2005
CHICAGO -- The PR guy is getting nervous. He's standing at the fringes of a media scrum in the middle of the Chicago White Sox' dugout on a sunny afternoon before a recent playoff game, and the PR guy is nervous because at the middle of the scrum sits Manager Ozzie Guillen, and in the cracks of vision between shoulders, heads and cameras, the PR guy can see Guillen's mouth is moving. Uh-oh.
If the PR guy, Bob Beghtol, could just get a little closer, he would be able to make out exactly what it is Guillen is saying, and maybe be able to give a signal -- a loud throat-clearing, a scratch at the back of his head, maybe even the signal of last resort: the finger across the throat -- to get Guillen to stop before he hangs himself on his words. That's part of Beghtol's job to save Guillen from himself.
But from the fringes of the media scrum, boxed out of position, all Beghtol can make out is words and phrases: " . . . Hugo Chavez . . . ," " . . . Michael Jackson . . . ," " . . . the Cubs . . . ," " . . . horse[bleep] . . ."
So Beghtol cranes his neck, cups his ears, looks around to see if the reporters are writing this stuff down. They are. And he's nervous, very nervous.
Guillen, 41, is a reporter's dream and a PR guy's nightmare -- never more so than now, as his White Sox have earned the franchise's first World Series berth in 46 years. The media scrum around Guillen has grown in size through each of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and it will grow again beginning Saturday night, when the Fall Classic gets underway at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field.
Unlike the majority of managers, who measure every word and try to be as vanilla and non-controversial as possible, Guillen has no governor switch on his mouth. He is, at various times, goofy, outrageous and profane. He has an opinion on everything, and he's happy to share them all with you. He never needs to go off the record because half the stuff he says is so vulgar and ridiculous, he knows it will never make print.
And, yes, occasionally his mouth gets him in trouble. Beghtol lives in fear of these moments, but sometimes, like an overmatched boxer, he's powerless to stop them. Guillen's mouth is too big, too strong.
Guillen has been suspended this season for calling an umpire a liar. He riled some of his players by telling reporters during a late-September losing streak, "We flat-out stink." He once suggested reliever Damaso Marte was faking an injury. He got in trouble this year when he pointed to an old friend he had spotted during batting practice, and said to the pack of reporters, "Hey, everybody. This guy's a homosexual. This guy's a child molester."
"Ozzie is the Hispanic Jackie Mason," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf explained, when asked how he deals with Guillen's talkative tendencies. "If you look at him in that light, you don't worry about anything he says."
Perhaps, but nobody ever tried to turn Jackie Mason into a baseball manager, the way Reinsdorf did with Guillen. It was Reinsdorf who pushed General Manager Ken Williams to interview Guillen -- who was then the Florida Marlins' third base coach, and had been retired as a player for only three years -- for the team's managing job after Jerry Manuel's firing at the end of the 2003 season.
"I always felt Ozzie was manager material," Reinsdorf said. "I've known him since he was 21. Even at that age, he had incredible baseball instincts. You could see the passion."
Williams scheduled a four-hour interview with Guillen, but needed only half that to determine, "I had my man." Guillen's mouth won him over.