War of the Words

From the mouth of White Sox manager and new U.S. citizen Ozzie Guillen comes a verbal barrage. "I will tell the truth," he says, "whether you like it or not." And nothing stirs him like the memory of a tragedy in his native Venezuela
February 20, 2006

What's themanager's move here? Pay somebody and have the man beaten? Crippled? Killed?This is a Venezuelan prison, after all; two hundred bucks should do it. Ormaybe Ozzie Guillen himself should confront the man who helped murder his bestfriend--get in his face and ask the question he has choked back for more than adecade: Why? ¶ It is Nov. 5, 2005. Guillen, the Chicago White Sox manager, hasjust seen a face that stopped him cold. A prison guard asks him what's wrong,but Guillen waves him off. Instead he turns to his 21-year-old son, Ozzie Jr.,and rasps, "That's the motherf----- who killed Gus"--Gustavo Polidor,the major league infielder who was gunned down at age 33 in Caracas a decadeearlier. Guillen had wondered then what he would do if he ever met either ofthe two men responsible for the crime, and now that time has arrived. Withoptions.

Guillen, who hascome to the correctional facility in Los Teques, 13 miles southwest of Caracas,to see a jailed friend, didn't anticipate such a moment. But as baseball'spreeminent avatar of the unexpected, maybe he should have. As last seasonproved, the combustible Guillen, now 42, will do just about anything: tweakfellow managers, publicly rip--or kiss--his own players, threaten to resign.Narrating each step with the rat-a-tat rhythm of his hyperbolic,profanity-laced Spanglish, he defied conventional thinking in everything fromplayer relations to roster moves to game strategy, leading his team to the bestrecord in the American League before making a smashing run through thepostseason and ending the Curse of Shoeless Joe Jackson. In only his secondseason as manager he took the eternally overshadowed White Sox to their firstWorld Series title since 1917.

Back in Venezuelahis countrymen found Guillen to be just as unpredictable: On any given day hemight call Venezuela's bombastic leftist president, Hugo Chàvez, "anidiot" or yell "¬°Viva Chàvez!" His weekly column in the sportssection of the Caracas newspaper El Universal sometimes veers from baseballinto religion or culture, but it's always delivered in a take-it-or-leave-itvoice best exemplified by the title of his recently published anthology, Se losdije. I told you so.

Yet nothingexplains the mercurial world of Ozzie Guillen better than his first days backin Venezuela last fall, an emotional whipsawing that managerial icons such asBobby Cox and Tony La Russa could hardly imagine. On Nov. 4 Guillen, the firstLatino ever to manage a major league champion, became the first man to take theWorld Series trophy to Latin America. He couldn't step outside his housewithout being asked for a picture or autograph or hug. People told him he hadachieved the greatest feat in Venezuela's recent history; a nation scarred byviolence, including kidnapping and extortion threats against belovedballplayers, finally had something to celebrate. There was a three-hour pressconference in Caracas jammed with hundreds of reporters; a public embrace withthe childhood coach who had taught him how to play ball; a festive reception atthe U.S. Embassy. Then came a ride in an open truck around the field at EstadioUniversitario, his old ballpark, with Guillen, wrapped in a Venezuelan flag,showing off the trophy. Fifteen thousand people stood and cheered and wept.

The next morningGuillen; his wife, Ibis; and Ozzie Jr. drove to Los Teques to see formerPhiladelphia Phillies reliever Ugueth Urbina, who was there awaiting trial forattempted murder. On Oct. 16, at his cattle ranch in Valles del Tuy, Urbina isalleged to have led a group of men who attacked five workers with machetes,then doused them with gasoline and paint thinner and set them on fire forallegedly stealing a gun belonging to the pitcher. One victim was burned over50% of his body; another needed 300 stitches to close wounds on his shoulder,back and hands; and the others suffered injuries from bruises to broken bonesto a perforated eardrum. Urbina proclaimed his innocence, but Guillen isn'tsure what to believe. The two men have year-round homes in the same housingcomplex north of Miami Beach, play golf and fish together, and in recentoff-seasons Urbina has been a constant presence in the Guillens' house. Ozziehad to go see Ugie in prison. "When you go to jail in Venezuela,"Guillen says, "you go to hell."

Guillen was readyfor the stink of urine and sweat, the dank heat of a cell built for 10 men butcrammed with three dozen; he had visited friends at the prison before. But thenhe walked in and glanced up a flight of stairs and saw a short, skinny,dark-eyed man descending. The two locked eyes. The man turned around and walkedback up. It was Hernàn López Ortu√±o, one of the two men convicted of murderingPolidor, a former shortstop for the California Angels, Milwaukee Brewers andFlorida Marlins, in a botched carjacking attempt in April 1995. Guillen andPolidor had been best friends--more like brothers, really--for 14 years, eversince Polidor had taken the 16-year-old Guillen under his wing in theVenezuelan winter league.

López and anaccomplice, Marco Tulio Quintero Flores, had marched up Polidor's driveway inCaracas and tried to steal his car. Polidor's wife, Eduvigis, was standing nextto the vehicle with their one-year-old son, Gus Jr., in her arms. When Polidor,who had been nearby taking out the garbage, began to argue with Quintero, Lópezthreatened to snatch Gus Jr. from Eduvigis. Then, as Polidor protested moreheatedly, Quintero put a bullet in the ballplayer's brain. The killers fled ina waiting station wagon.

Guillen, who hadjust built a new house in Caracas, moved Eduvigis and her three children intohis old house. Polidor, he says, would have been a coach on his White Soxstaff, "no question."

Now Urbina passedLópez on the way down the prison stairs. After hugging Guillen, Urbina said,"You see him?"

Guillen said yes.What to do? After Polidor's death Guillen hated his country. He doubted God; hecouldn't sleep; he wanted to hurt the men who had killed Gus. Guillen is a manwho claims he never forgives--a man who says about a mere war of words,"You throw me rocks, I've got an F-16 ready to go, because I'm going toshoot you"--and now here was his chance. Amid the cacophony of the prison,with Guillen's mind racing and his blood up, the manager and his son heardUrbina say, "Don't worry."

What did thatmean? Was Urbina offering to arrange for López to be harmed? (Urbina, speakingthrough his U.S. agent last week, denied he ever suggested such a thing.) MaybeGuillen misunderstood. But the seconds were racing by; this was not a time orplace to expect clarity. Guillen told Urbina to stay away from López. Then,Guillen and his son recall, Urbina said, "What do you want to do?"

Despite hisimpulsive nature, Guillen knows the virtue of holding back. Four times inOctober during the American League Championship Series against the Los AngelesAngels, when any other manager would've gone to his bullpen, Guillen stood pat.Four times his starting pitchers won complete games. When, after winning theWorld Series, his players raced onto the field in celebration, Guillen againdid the unexpected, sitting still in the dugout, his face blank. López? He'sstill facing 16 years of hell.

"Nada,"Guillen said in answer to Urbina's question. Nothing.

"Why?"Urbina asked.

"Because it'sover."

The two mentalked for a half hour. On the ride back to Caracas, Ozzie sat in the front ofthe car with the driver. He could hear his wife and son sobbing behind him.Soon he cracked, too, and the nation's hero cried all the way home.

Ozzie Guillen isa reporter's dream. He'll talk about anything. He can't help himself. Abaseball writer's job is often a grinding exercise in reading between thelines, divining a team's direction from the pauses, burps and raised eyebrowsthat punctuate the clichés spouted by men determined to say nothing--not oneword--that might touch off a SportsCenter feeding frenzy. In the last decadethe most prominent major league manager to break with baseball's code ofvirtual silence was the New York Mets' Bobby Valentine, and maybe it's just anaccident that he now plies his trade in Japan. "I don't know when, why andhow we became so sterile," says White Sox general manager Ken Williams,"but this was a game that enjoyed enormous popularity from the beginningbecause of its characters. We have to have a little personality."

A little? Guillenmakes Valentine sound like Alan Greenspan.

"Mostmanagers say what people want to hear, because they're afraid to lose theirjobs," Guillen says. "And they kiss people's asses. I don't. I've gotmy money. Fire me? I'll show you I don't need you. I might not get hired again?I don't give a s---."

Ask about hismanagerial philosophy. Or don't. He'll tell you anyway. "It's not easy toplay for me, because I will tell the truth whether you like it or not,"Guillen says. "I don't say, 'Well, uh, somebody....' No! I'll say, 'Konerkof----- it up.' People say, 'That's just Ozzie being Ozzie.' Bulls---. It's justOzzie being true. Players try to own this game. But the players know they'renot going to big-league me. I tell my players, 'Listen, boys, I'm going to behere longer than you.' Even if I'm not going to be here longer, I'm going toshow you: I'm the man here.

"People say,'Joe Torre: genius.' 'Greatest manager ever: Tony La Russa ... Lou Piniella.' Isay they're not good baseball managers. Nobody's a good baseball manager. Theytalk about Jim Leyland: 'Oh, my god, Jim Leyland....' Jim Leyland quit! SparkyAnderson? Sparky Anderson was horses--- for 10 years with Detroit. If you don'thave a good ball club, you're not going to be a good manager. People forget JoeTorre lost with St. Louis and the Mets. The New York Yankees? I could managethat team. Lou Piniella, the best ever? Why don't you win with Tampa Bay? Mypoint is not that he can't manage his ass. It's just that you have to have theteam. I'm not a good manager. I'm good people. Nobody was a good manager.Ever."

Ask him aboutintelligence. Guillen dropped out of high school at 16. "There's two kindsof education: book smart and street smart," he says. "You put me atHarvard, at the podium to talk to the people graduating, I know what I have tosay, and I know how to say it. But you put Bill Gates in the middle of Caracas,Venezuela? He will s--- his pants. He will die."

Freedom?"We've got the best cars in the United States, and you've got to go 55miles an hour. You have a party at your house, there's someone at your doorbecause the neighbors don't like it. You say something about color, religion orpreference about sex, you're in trouble. What kind of life are we living here?You work seven days a week and get paid for four because of taxes, and youdon't have a right to say anything?"

Alex Rodriguez,the U.S.-born Yankees third baseman who mulled over playing for the DominicanRepublic in next month's World Baseball Classic? "Alex was kissing Latinopeople's asses. He knew he wasn't going to play for the Dominicans; he's not aDominican! I hate hypocrites: He's full of s---. The Dominican team doesn'tneed his ass. It's the same with [Nomar] Garciaparra playing for Mexico.Garciaparra only knows Canc√∫n because he went to visit.

"People say,'Ozzie Guillen is a bigmouth, he's so controversial.' No. People don't like itwhen you tell the truth."

For Guillen, itall comes back to that word. Truth is his abiding theme, his defense againstwould-be censors, a source of strength. "Why," he asks repeatedly,"shouldn't we have the power to say what we think?" Some things heutters as a manager are so obviously said for effect that they're laughable.(Last season's gem was the pronouncement that he would quit if the White Soxwon the World Series, ostensibly to prove he was in it only to win, not for themoney.) Yet even though he publicly calls out players when they messup--"Throw them under the bus!" he cries--Guillen says nothing aboutthem to the press that he hasn't said to their faces.

But to hearGuillen speak--no, shout--his version of the truth is to realize that it's alsohis weapon. Against what, exactly, isn't clear until one morning in his livingroom in Golden Beach, Fla., when he returns to the subject of the prison in LosTeques. Guillen wants to correct one thing. Yes, he says, jail in his countryis hellish, but the devil's hand reaches far beyond any prison. "This ishell," he says, his glance taking in the spacious living room, the tablewith the photo of his pretty wife and their three handsome, smiling boys, theshelf holding his 1988 All-Star Game platter, a White Sox championship seasonDVD and a phone displaying the message 50 new calls. "We live inhell."

What Guillenmeans, of course, is that the daily news of disaster, war, child abuse andother crime makes it easy to embrace the darkest view: This pitiless world isas low as one can go. There's much in his experience to prove him right. InJuly 1989 Guillen's closest friend in Chicago, a Venezuelan named JonGoicochea, died in a car accident. In 1995, after Guillen had arranged for GusPolidor to become a reserve infielder for the White Sox, Polidor opted toretire to Venezuela; he missed Gus Jr. too much, he said. Such longing isbeautiful, of course. It's also one reason Polidor is dead.

The two mencouldn't have been more different. Guillen was clownish and electric, Polidorso even-keeled that Guillen called him Tiricia (Sleepy). But from the instantthat Guillen joined him on the Tiburones de La Guaira (La Guaira Sharks), whoplayed their home games in Caracas, Polidor never wavered in his support of theyounger player. He would drive far out of his way in the wee hours after nightgames to make sure that Guillen got home safely. They played hundreds of gamesside by side: Guillen, number 13, at shortstop and Polidor, number 14, at thirdbase. They won back-to-back Venezuelan league titles in 1984-85 and '85-86.They spent holidays together. Even as their careers diverged in theU.S.--Guillen the All-Star, Polidor the utilityman--they talked daily."Friends forever," Guillen says.

Five years agoGuillen's youngest son, Ozney, played with Gus Jr. on a youth-league team inCaracas. In their first game Ozney took the field at shortstop, wearing number13. Gus Jr. stepped in at third base, number 14. Ozzie Guillen was sitting inthe stands, watching behind sunglasses, when it hit him: We did that all ourlives. Tears rolled down his face, and Guillen silently asked Polidor, Whyaren't you here to see this? For the rest of the season he couldn't bear towatch the two boys play.

Venezuelanbaseball stars have been targeted by criminals for years, but Urbina hasattracted violence the way a magnet draws iron. His father was killed resistingrobbers in 1994. His mother was kidnapped in September 2004. Before she wasrescued unharmed, Urbina, refusing to negotiate with the abductors, weatheredfive months of worry with a chilling hardness.

"I wish Icould be like him, sometimes," Guillen says.

For the last 15years Guillen has been a babalao, a kind of priest, in Santería, theCaribbean-based religion that blends spiritual traditions of West Africa withthose of Roman Catholicism. The practice of Santería involves devotion to anyone of a number of saints; altar offerings of small items such as candy,candles and fruit; and, in rare instances, animal sacrifice. Guillenoccasionally worships informally with other santeros but mostly observes hisfaith alone or with his family. In Santería he feels a daily connection to Godthat he never felt in the Catholic church, and he says the faith helped himunderstand that Polidor's death was his friend's destiny.

Some believers inSantería see significance in numbers. Like most White Sox fans, Ibis Guillenfelt that first baseman Paul Konerko could bail them out of any jam in the ALCSagainst the Angels, but in Ibis's case it was because Konerko wore Polidor'snumber 14. After Chicago's 8-2 win in Game 4, Ibis saw the Angels' linescore--two runs, six hits, one error, four left on base--she nudged her sisterand said, "Look at that." Gus was born on Oct. 26 and wore number 14.Two, six, one, four: an omen.

But on that samenight, Oct. 15, the murky events at Urbina's ranch began to unfold. At firstGuillen didn't care if Urbina was guilty or innocent. He considered buyingUrbina's way out of prison. Still, something happened on that ranch that night;men were slashed and burned. "If he's guilty, he's guilty," Guillen nowsays of his friend. "If you did it, then you deserve to be where youare."

In the WorldSeries, Guillen's most celebrated move came in the 14th inning of Game 3, whenhis choice of a pinch hitter, little-used Geoff Blum, snapped a 5-5 tie with agame-winning homer in his first World Series at bat. But Guillen didn't basehis masterstroke on some obscure statistic. He didn't even talk with hiscoaches. The manager had already written the name of another batter, infielderPablo Ozuna, on the lineup card taped to the dugout wall when he noticed hisson Oney standing nearby. Ozzie asked Oney, a junior at Chicago's North ParkUniversity who was watching the game from the dugout, what he thought."Blum's ready," Oney said.

"Blum hasn'thad a hit in two weeks," Ozzie said.

"Blum's goingto win you the game."

Guillen had neverbefore consulted one of his sons on a managerial decision. It didn't strike himthen that Polidor was Oney's godfather, but something about using Blum feltright. When Ozzie sent Blum to home plate, the game of their lives on the line,Oney thought, I can't believe this.

On the morning ofGame 4 Ozzie was eating breakfast in his Houston hotel room, still buzzing fromthe epic win just hours before. He spoke of how nervous he felt becauseHouston's bats were waking up. Ibis cut in. "Don't worry," she said."It's over. We win tonight. It's Gus's birthday."

So it was: Oct.26. "I believed," Guillen says. Chicago won 1-0 that night to becomeworld champion.

After Guillenreturned to Venezuela, his mood swung daily between elation and despondency. Hevisited Urbina four times, but he didn't see Polidor's killer after the firsttrip. On New Year's Eve, Guillen stood with his family in Caracas and raised aglass. He began a toast, "I hope Ugie ..."--but choked up and couldn'tsay another word.

On Sunday, Jan.8, as he prepared to return to the U.S. for the 2006 season, Guillen drove to acemetery in eastern Caracas. He took flowers and stood at Polidor's grave,feeling awkward because his family was watching. He began to babble. He spokeabout the season, about that last night in Houston. "I wish you werethere," he said, and to stop himself from crying, he laughed a bit. ("Iknow he didn't want me to cry," Guillen says now, "because it's not myfault that happened to him.") Then he thanked Gus for everything, forlooking out for him all those years, and by the time Guillen was done, he hadworked out something important. "I know you were there, Tiricia," hesaid to the tombstone. "One way or the other."

On the morning ofJan. 20, his 42nd birthday, Ozzie Guillen walked into a makeshift courtroom inthe offices of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in downtownChicago, waving his hands as the applause from hundreds of people--reporters,White Sox staffers, INS officials--got louder. "Looks like the World Serieshere," he said.

Along with Ibisand Oney, Ozzie had just taken--and passed--the test for U.S. citizenship. (Tothe first question, "Who is the mayor of Chicago?" Guillen had jokinglyand, some would say, accurately answered, "Ozzie Guillen.") The judgecharged with swearing him in was a devoted White Sox fan whose son had been theteam's batboy in 1986 when Guillen was its shortstop. There was a sheet cakewith little black White Sox helmets on it and gooey icing declaring happybirthday ozzie. An administrator presented Guillen with a miniature Statue ofLiberty, and the White Sox gave him the U.S. flag that had flown over U.S.Cellular Field during the World Series.

Yet the momentthe judge began administering the oath, the jovial mood shifted. The place wentsilent. The smiles dropped from the Guillens' faces. They listened to the wordsasking them to "renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to anyforeign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which you haveheretofore been the subject as a citizen," to support the U.S. Constitutionand promise to bear arms on behalf of their new country, and to take theobligation freely, "so help you God."

"I do,"said Ozzie.

"I do,"said his wife and son.

It's a soberingbusiness, changing one's homeland. Guillen will keep his Venezuelan passportand still visit the country in the off-season, but he made his loyalty clearafter the ceremony.

Becoming a U.S.citizen was his dream, he said to a group of reporters.

It's better thanwinning the World Series, he agreed in response to a question.

He'll take hiscitizenship-test flash cards to spring training and make his players answerthem, he said, laughing.

This is thegreatest country in the world, he said again and again.

Guillen's e-mailaddress is public knowledge. He expected a landslide of messages from Venezuelacondemning him: How could he, a man so recently draped in Venezuela's flag ofblue, red and gold, say such things about the U.S.? Of course, he was readywith an answer. "Prove me wrong," he said. "I'm rich because of theUnited States, not Venezuela. My sons got a great education because of theUnited States, not Venezuela. I'm 42 years old, and I've [lived] 26 years inthis country, not Venezuela. That doesn't mean I'm not a Venezuelan. But youthink this is not the greatest country in the world? Prove me wrong. Tell mewhy we don't have Americans going to live in Venezuela and why we haveVenezuelans coming to live here. Some people don't like to hear the truth. I'mmore Venezuelan than Chàvez is, because I represent Venezuela. He's our leader,but you ask people who they'd rather have [running] the country? They're goingto vote for me.

"I'm notafraid. If they don't like it, what're they going to do? When I get home, theyboo me? Big deal. Why do I have to worry about what people think? The thing is,what they think, they don't say. I say it."

With that,Guillen stood up, signed some autographs and took an elevator to the firstfloor. Security ringed him as he and Ibis and Oney burst through the doors andonto the sidewalk of Jackson Street. A black limousine idled at the curb. Thesecurity men stopped the lunchtime walkers in their tracks, clearing a path forthe Guillens, and what had been a triumphant yet wrenching off-season for Ozzietook yet another turn. A young man held up his cellphone to snap a picture ofhim. A woman pointed: There goes Ozzie Guillen. There goes the mayor ofChicago, the king of Caracas and now a new American, not to mention the firstcitizen of a country of his own making, a land of Oz, where no thought goesunspoken and the talk never ends.

Guillen grinnedand ducked his head and slipped into the limo's blackness. How did he get here?Ask him. Or don't. He'll tell you: The truth made him free.

Nothing explains Guillen's mercurial world better thanhis visit to Venezuela, an EMOTIONAL WHIPSAWING that other managerial iconscouldn't imagine.

Urbina passed POLIDOR'S KILLER on the way down theprison stairs. After hugging Guillen, Urbina said, "You see him?"Guillen said yes. What to do?

Guillen calls out players when they messup--"THROW THEM UNDER THE BUS!" he cries--but says nothing about themto the press that he hasn't said to their faces.

"Prove me wrong," Guillen says. "I'm richbecause of the United States, not Venezuela. You think this is not THE GREATESTCOUNTRY in the world?"

"Don't worry," Ibis told a nervous Ozzie atbreakfast on the morning of Game 4 against Houston. "It's over. WE WINTONIGHT. It's Gus's birthday."

PHOTOPhotograph by Al TielemansHIZZONER Although baseball fans in Venezuela would be happy to have him as their president (top), Guillen has joked that he's already got a job--as mayor of Chicago.
PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON[See caption above.] PHOTOHOWARD YANES/REUTERSWrapped in the Venezuelan flag, Guillen--and the World Series trophy--got a hero's welcome in Caracas. PHOTOREUTERS (POLIDOR)Guillen's best friend, Polidor (left), was murdered, and another close friend, reliever Urbina (right), is in prison. PHOTOALEX DELGADO/AP[See caption above.] PHOTOMIKE EHRMANN/WIREIMAGE.COMGuillen and his ace Freddy Garcia, a fellow Venezuelan, shared a special moment after the World Series sweep.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)