Guillen Doesn't Get It

By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

PITTSBURGH -- Good Ozzie was on view at the site of the All-Star Game on Monday. American League Manager Ozzie Guillen bantered with reporters, danced entertainingly on the edge of controversial topics and, all in all, showed the charming, tart side of a personality that reminds many of the spicy, sassy managers of bygone eras who sold the game with their vivid flare.

Bad Ozzie -- already on view a half-dozen times this season, most infamously in using a derogatory slur for homosexuals three weeks ago -- was presumably locked away somewhere in a South Side dungeon, doing penance, taking sensitivity training and learning a multitude of much-needed lessons.

The presence of Ozzie at his best before this All-Star Game was a startling reminder of what the sport may lose if the White Sox manager does not control his bleak alter ego -- the angry fellow who either is or can easily be mistaken for being bigoted, abusive and mean-spirited.

Not since Billy Martin has baseball seen a manager who was so combative, unyielding in his views and, at least for a time, enormously popular with his players. And not since Martin has baseball had a manager so keen to light the fuse to the dynamite directly under his own seat. Can Guillen go a month, a week, even a day without playing with matches? Watch.

On this all-star dais, on almost every question, you could see Guillen tempted by the flame of his own bright personality, drawn to the reflex quip, the magnetic controversy, the moment of candor, bordering on insult that other managers avoid.

One baseball-smart question -- like those that invariably get him on a free-association riff before every game -- was enough to get him rolling. "Since Manny Ramirez could not be here [as an all-star] because of a sore right knee, what was your reaction when he played all 19 innings" Sunday against the White Sox, Guillen was asked.

"I tip my hat because he was 0 for 6," said Guillen, whose White Sox finally beat the Red Sox, thanks in part to flailing Manny. "Everybody has different opinions. We have to respect Manny's decision. He was limping around. But that's the way he always walks and runs. I don't know whether [his story] is true or not. The game was so long I was saying: 'Manny, hit it out of here. Let's go home.' "

So, in one minute, Guillen poked fun at Ramirez for being a blatant all-star AWOL (again), played with fire by teasing one of the sport's great RBI men about going 0 for 6 and pretended he had even rooted for his own team to lose.

That moment was so full of candor, spark and confidence that his audience knew every nuance of his meaning. Its freshness was worthy of the long-gone tradition of vivid all-star managers such as Sparky Anderson, Whitey Herzog, Earl Weaver and Tommy Lasorda, who couldn't wait to use this midseason stage to tell a joke, pull the tail of a foe, tell a tall tale or tweak authority.

But Guillen is not yet ready for such company. Many of his flaws and flaps are typical baseball fodder. However, when Guillen used a homophobic slur to describe a Chicago newspaper columnist last month, he went miles beyond a line -- the one where raw bigotry is identified -- that he barely seems to understand exists. Guillen thinks he's simply part of a colorful tradition and accidentally put his foot in his mouth with an injudicious choice of insults. Those who are actually in that tradition know differently.

Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager here for the festivities, made it clear that many managers in his time were characters while still knowing the values and standards of the larger society around them.

"It's what Ozzie said that's putting him in hot water," Lasorda said when asked about Guillen's recent slur. "You never heard me say anything like that to anybody. You never heard any of those [Hall of Fame] managers say anything like that.

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