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.
"When he came down for the interview," Williams said, "after 20 minutes of arguing, he told me, 'You know me. Expletive. Expletive. Expletive.' And he said, 'If I didn't think I could do the job, I wouldn't have flown all the way up here from Miami. If you want me, fine. If not, then I'll get back on the plane.' "
Guillen got the job, and everything in Chicago changed. The White Sox became a powerhouse. The Political Correctness police went into high alert. And poor Beghtol, sweating bullets at the fringes of the media scrum, started questioning why he ever got into that particular line of business.
World According to Ozzie*
* "I'm smarter than a lot of guys who go to Harvard. When you come to this country and you can't speak any English at 16 years old, and you have to survive, you have to have something smart in your body. If you take one of those Harvard guys and drop them in the middle of Caracas, they won't survive. But if you drop me in the middle of Harvard, I'll survive."
* "You cannot buy a World Series ring on the streets. Ask Alex Rodriguez. He's got millions of dollars and no rings. That's why I say, 'God bless, Derek Jeter.' He's got a lot of money and a lot of rings."
* "I want to win it for Jerry [Reinsdorf]. People think I'm just kissing his [rear end], but he deserves that. This guy spent a lot of time in his life trying to bring a winning team to Chicago. I want to win it for the fans, and for my players and for myself. But mostly, I want to win it for Jerry."
* "With the White Sox, in other seasons, every time they made the playoffs they said, 'Wow, that made our year.' Not me. If we went to the playoffs and lose, it would be disappointing. That's not my goal. My goal is not to go to the first round -- it's to win everything. We might not make it, but that's my goal."
* "A lot of managers try to control everything in the game. I don't try to do that. What I control is my team. I don't care who you are, I control your [rear end]."
* "They're already trying to make a movie about me in Venezuela, and somebody came to me about [writing] a book. I said, no. Why? Because I don't want people to read the truth. I would do a book just to make money, but I don't need money, so why waste my time?"
* "I don't want superstars. I want good players. To be a good player, you will play to win, not for your numbers or your stats or to be the best in the game."
* "I don't use computers. Yeah, I have e-mail. But what's so hard about e-mail? It's just 'delete, delete, delete.' "
* "A lot of people think I'm crazy and stupid and ignorant, but I think before I talk."
* "I'm the manager. I make the best lineup. Who are you to tell me [where you should be hitting]? You tell the player, 'I move you down to six.' I made the best lineup. If they don't like it . . . get another job."
* "I can eat and drink for free in Chicago. What's better than that?"
* "The Cubs didn't need Sammy Sosa to sell tickets. Sammy didn't sell any tickets in Baltimore. . . . I don't believe one guy can bring people in. Michael Jackson would. People would come to see what he looks like in a uniform. I know I'd like to see that."
* "A lot of guys like me. Some guys hate me. But they all respect me. That's all that matters."
* "People recognize me on the street. They say, 'Hey, there's Ozzie Guillen.' They know me as a player. But I'll be happy when they say, 'Hey, there's the manager of the White Sox.' Because then my team gets some respect."
* "I don't know if I'm a leader, but I have the biggest mouth."
(*As compiled during the 2005 postseason by Post reporters.)
Staff writer Les Carpenter contributed to this report.