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Wizard of Oz Spirited manager Ozzie Guillen has brought the White Sox back to life

June 14, 2004
June 14, 2004

Table of Contents
June 14, 2004

Ronald Reagan 1911-2004

Wizard of Oz Spirited manager Ozzie Guillen has brought the White Sox back to life

"Are you a borger?"

This is an article from the June 14, 2004 issue Original Layout

The child stares up at White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, perhaps
too scared to answer him after nearly being trampled when Guillen
came barreling out of the home clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field
recently. Sensing the child's fright, Guillen stoops, smiles and
repeats his question. But the child continues to stare. The
Venezuelan-born Guillen figures that Daishi Takatsu, the
long-haired five-year-old son of Japanese righthander Shingo
Takatsu, is having trouble understanding his heavily accented
English.

"Is this a borger?" Guillen asks the group of players' wives
nearby, including Daishi's mother, Maki. Like the child, the
women stare blankly at Guillen. Finally, a team employee with an
ear for the rookie manager's speech patterns, translates: "Is
this a boy or a girl?"

Over spasms of laughter, one of the wives gives Guillen his
answer: "It's a boy, Ozzie."

"Go find Daddy then," Guillen says to Daishi, who squirts through
the open clubhouse door.

"I got enough problems with this team," he kiddingly explains
later. "If a girl get in there, she's scarred for life. And then
I kill myself."

And then where would the White Sox be? Instead of leading the
American League Central by one game over the Twins, as they did
at week's end, they'd probably be playing uninspired baseball in
front of lukewarm crowds as they did last season. Thanks largely
to the arrival of Guillen, attendance was up 4,061 per game over
last season through 25 home dates, and the fans--like the Chicago
players--are more spirited and into the game.

With one division title in the last nine years--and a clubhouse
that was growing increasingly stagnant--the White Sox were
looking for a spark last November when they hired the
effervescent Guillen, 40, to replace the reserved Jerry Manuel as
manager. Only three seasons removed from the end of his 16-year
playing career, including 13 as Chicago's charismatic shortstop
(1985 through '97), and fresh from a victorious World Series as
the Marlins' third base coach, Guillen had no managing experience
when White Sox general manager Ken Williams "gave me my dream,"
as Guillen says, and made him a major league skipper.

"No one else has Ozzie's passion and commitment," Williams says.
"We've got fans who've waited generations for a World Series
championship. They are extremely frustrated. Ozzie'll change
that."

After dropping two of three from the Mariners last weekend,
Chicago (30-24) had a .281 team batting average (up from .263
last year), a 4.02 ERA (down from 4.17), was ranked third in the
American League in slugging percentage (.460) and was tied with
the Rangers for second in the AL with 72 home runs.

While Guillen was a solid player for Chicago--a .265 hitter and
an above-average fielder who played in two All-Star Games--it was
his infectious enthusiasm that endeared him to fans. If he wasn't
signing autographs before games at Comiskey Park or chatting up
fans between innings, he was stopping by South Side bars
afterward. But behind the lovable player lurked a manager in
training, "filing everything away in my computer," Guillen says,
pointing to his head. "I've been managing in my mind since I was
25."

"He really got into it when he became a role player, after he
left Chicago," says third base coach Joey Cora, who played with
Guillen from 1991 through '94. "He'd call me from Atlanta [in '98
and '99], telling me things [Braves manager] Bobby Cox said,
things he was learning." Guillen calls the three years he spent
coaching under managers Jeff Torborg and Jack McKeon his "college
education."

"Don't get me wrong--I love Jerry," says pitching coach Don
Cooper, one of four holdovers from Manuel's staff. "But Ozzie's
changed the atmosphere around here. We've got personality,
enthusiasm, life. Ozzie has relationships that go beyond
boss-employee. The players thrive on that."

Guillen flits around the clubhouse in his old slippers, telling
blue jokes and generally having the time of his life. "He's
around so much, he's like he's one of us," says lefthander Mark
Buehrle. "He eats with us, b.s.'s with us. The first thing he
said to us in spring was, 'Be ready to have some f------ fun.'
Then he dropped more curse words in five minutes than we'd heard
in five years. We're living in a new world."

Ozzie's world is governed by two rules: Be on time, and run the
bases hard. "If you're not doing either of those, it shows you
don't respect yourself or the team," he says.

Guillen set about remaking the club in his scrappy, overachieving
image. For years Chicago had depended chiefly on the power of
DH-first baseman Frank Thomas, rightfielder Magglio Ordonez and
first baseman Paul Konerko. But with Thomas turning 36 last month
and Ordonez, who was placed on the disabled list last week before
having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, possibly departing
as a free agent after the season (if he's not traded first),
Guillen has increased the playing time of nascent table setters
such as 25-year-old infielders Willie Harris (a team-leading
.319, eight steals). Guillen has also been a mentor to the team's
many young Latin players, including infielder Juan Uribe,
leftfielder Carlos Lee and catcher Miguel Olivo.

And while his handling of the pitchers has received rave reviews
from the staff--who appreciate his willingness to "let us dig out
of our own messes and go for a win," says Buehrle--Guillen still
dreads the walk to the mound to replace a starter. "I can't stand
taking out a guy who's battled for you," he says.

Though ever the extrovert, Guillen believes he has the best
chance to succeed in his new role by not standing out. "Managers
don't win games--players do," he says. "So what's a good manager?
Someone other people want to play for. A good manager is Bobby
Cox, is Joe Torre, is Tony La Russa. They're so good, people
forget they played the game. So that's what I want: To be so
good, they forget I ever played."

COLOR PHOTO: JUSTIN STEPHENS A popular player in Chicago for 13 seasons, Guillen is again winning over fans.COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN J. CARRERA/AP (HARRIS) Harris has taken advantage of increased playing time by hitting a team-leading .319.

Three Up

CARDINALS OFFENSE
Led by sluggers Albert Pujols (.325, 17 homers, 40 RBIs), Scott
Rolen (.350, 13, 57) and Jim Edmonds (.266, 11, 38), St. Louis
had won nine of its last 11.

MELVIN MORA, 3B, ORIOLES
Coming off one of his most productive years, he was the AL's
second-leading hitter (.370) and had 41 RBIs.

TODD ZEILE, 3B, METS
Since May 31, the 38 year-old infielder was hitting .344 with
nine RBIs and had two game-winning hits.

Three Down

RICHARD HIDALGO, RF, ASTROS
After almost being voted NL player of the month in April when he
batted .341 with 22 RBIs, Hidalgo lost his every-day job by
hitting only .202 with six RBIs in May.

BRIAN ANDERSON, LHP, ROYALS
He lost his spot in the rotation after giving up 13 homers in 11
starts and was 1-7 with a 7.82 ERA.

CARLOS PENA, 1B, TIGERS
He apparently broke out of a slump by hitting two homers and
going 6 for 6 on May 27 but was only 4 for 30 since.