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Crisis of Management

July 03, 2006
July 03, 2006

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July 3, 2006

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Crisis of Management

By embarrassing a rookie for failing to honor baseball's retaliation code, Ozzie Guillen exposed a weakness of his own

Last year theWhite Sox were family, and they won it all. This year the Sox are off toanother scorching start (49--26), but for most of the season they've beenlooking up at the Tigers, the arrivistes of the AL Central, and maybe OzzieGuillen was feeling his family wasn't quite as tight as it should be. Perhapsthat is why he decided to play some beanball, a game within the game governedby a set of unwritten rules supposedly unknowable to those of us who neverplayed in the bigs. It's a game managers play to turn 25 ballplayers into afamily, to restore meaning to hoary phrases like "I got your back" and"We police ourselves."

This is an article from the July 3, 2006 issue Original Layout

So in a June 14game against the Rangers, Guillen sought a little payback. His catcher, A.J.Pierzynski, got bopped twice, and the manager wanted one of Texas's big sticksto feel some pain. But things went wrong, and it's not hard to imagine whereOzzie's head might be now:

If that kidpitcher we called up had hit the Rangers' guy the way I wanted him to, Iwouldn't have had to ream him out in front of everybody, and then that ass----from the paper [Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times] wouldn't have ripped me,and I wouldn't have called him a "f------- fag," at least not in frontof a bunch of reporters, and then that man [commissioner Bud Selig] wouldn't bemaking me go to goddam sensitivity training, whatever the hell that is.

The White Sox canplay beanball the "right way," as they showed a week after rookie SeanTracey failed to hit Texas's Hank Blalock and incurred Guillen's wrath. On June20, reliever David Riske hit the Cardinals' Chris Duncan--in the back--aftertwo Chicago batters were hit. (Riske was suspended for three games and Guillenfor one. Riske appealed his suspension, as one of the unwritten rules ofbeanball is to acknowledge nothing, while Guillen, who hasn't admitted orderingTracey to hit Blalock, served his last Thursday.) But maybe Guillen doesn'treally know the code of beanball, with all due respect to his 6,686 at bats inthe majors, not to mention the code of decent public discourse, with all duerespect to the macho Venezuelan heritage he cites. A fundamental of managing isto put your players in situations where they can succeed. If the wrong playerfor a job fails, the responsibility falls to the manager, the designated adulton every team.

Against theRangers, Guillen called in Tracey, 25, a hard-throwing righty appearing in histhird major league game, to face Blalock in the seventh inning. Both teams hadreceived warnings from the umpires that the next hit batsman would lead toejections. Nevertheless, Guillen's instructions were simple: Hit this guy. Ifonly it were that easy. As with many young pitchers, sometimes Tracey's guessabout where his ball is headed is as good as the hitter's. In 2004 he led theCarolina League in wild pitches and hit 23 batters, nearly all of themunintentional. In his first year as a minor leaguer Tracey hit a batter in thehelmet and watched the hitter stagger to the backstop when he thought he wastrotting to first base. It made Tracey feel sick.

By normalaccounting Tracey's pitch sequence to Blalock was textbook: high and tightbrushback; low and away; back inside; swinging strike; weak ground ball out.Not good enough for Ozzie, who flew out of the dugout, yanked Tracey, thenberated him in the dugout (and on TV) while the pitcher, obviously shaken,pulled his jersey over his head. Two days later Tracey was sent back to theKnights. The White Sox say the demotion was already in the works. And Freudsaid there are no coincidences.

Last week, fourdays after throwing his first shutout as a pro in his return to Charlotte,Tracey spent two hours in a Charlotte Applebee's dissecting the ramificationsof the Blalock ground ball. He's a bright kid, a few classes short of apsychology degree at UC Irvine. He said he believes in the beanball code, aslong as the injurious pitch is merited and below the shoulder, and insistedthat he did try to hit Blalock. "I didn't get my job done, and I made mymanager look like an ass," said Tracey, who hasn't spoken with Guillensince his dugout upbraiding. He's lean and strong and was drinking water."He needed to make an example out of me to make the team feel more like afamily, and I'm fine with that. I've learned from it." Tracey's watch wasstill on Chicago time. He plans to pitch his way back to the big club, andmaybe he will.

It's possiblethat he was saying what needed to be said to redeem himself before hisemployers and teammates. But young Tracey has one thing wrong: It's not theplayer's job to make the manager look good, but the other way around. OzzieGuillen made a bad pitching move and took it out on the wrong guy and in thewrong way, and that's no way to build a family. Who says? It's right there, inthe manager's unwritten handbook. Ozzie should read it.

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