Tagged: Rookie of the Year

Ozzie Guillen is a far better manager than he was a player

There’s a saying in baseball: “His mouth is writing checks his ass can’t cash.”

It might have been invented with Ozzie Guillen in mind.

As a player, Ozzie was a  fine defensive shortstop for a few years, until an injury robbed him of his range, and then he stuck around the big leagues for several more years as a glorified utility player. But even at his very best, Guillen’s performance on the diamond never lived up to his braggadocio.

After his playing career, Guillen transitioned to the sidelines and eventually became manager of his old team, the White Sox. In 2005 he guided them to a title, their first World Series championship since soldiers were fighting the first World War. Even with that success, Guillen has been a lightning rod for controversy. He’s been a miracle of m poor manners – he’s offended nearly every group of people inside and outside the game of baseball – often to the bemusement or frustration of those around him. His penchant for drawing attention to himself may be annoying, but it serves a purpose. It redirects attention away from his players, who are allowed to go about the business of winning games for Ozzie.

One of Ozzie’s famous quotes was about Latin Americans, who he felt got a bad rap because of the illegal immigration issue. “There are a lot of people from this country who are lazy,” Ozzie said. “We’re not. Prove me wrong. A lot of people in this country want to be on the computer and send e-mails to people. We do the hard work. We’re the ones who go out and work in the sun to make this country better.”

As a player, Ozzie was a lightweight, figuratively and literally. He was signed out of Venezuela as a teenager, following in the tradition of great shortstops from that country: Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, and Dave Concepcion. But Ozzie wasn’t their equal in any part of his game. He couldn’t turn the double play like Chico, he didn’t have the speed of Little Looey, and he didn’t have the powerful arm of Davey. Ozzie did have good range and he was sure handed, talents that caught the eye of the White Sox, who included him in a trade with the Padres in 1984. The next season he was at short for the ChiSox, and largely due to his defensive reputation, he won the Rookie of the Year Award.

But Guillen was a one-dimensional player, better suited for the 1950s than the 1980s. Back then a shortstop was expected to make the routine plays in the field and whatever he did with the bat was a bonus. But in the 80s, Guillen was at a position that had been transformed by Robin Yount, Alan Trammell, Cal Ripken Jr., and others. Shortstops could pick it and poke it.

But Ozzie never could poke the ball. He was a miserable hitter, and once he suffered that severe injury in 1992 and had to have surgery, he couldn’t field very well either. To consider how bad Guillen was at the plate: of all the players in baseball history who had as many as 5,000 plate appearances in the majors, Guillen’s OPS+ of 68 is the lowest. His OPS+ means that Ozzie was 32% below an average major league hitter. His glove helped make up for some of that deficiency early in his career, but after the surgery, Ozzie wasn’t really a major leaguer any more.

So, he learned as much as he could about the other areas of the game, much of it at the feet of manager Bobby Cox during Ozzie’s two seasons with the Braves late in his career. The chatty Venezuelan started to learn how to back up what his mouth was spouting about the game. If he couldn’t play it at a high level, Guillen figured he could pull the strings.

After a brief apprenticeship as a coach with the Expos and Marlins (he earned a World Series ring in 2003 with the Fish), he was welcomed back to the Windy City to manage the Sox. At 40n years old he was not much older than many of his players, but he earned their respect. His eight seasons in Chicago were entertaining (just Google “Ozzie Guillen quotes”) and fruitful. One could argue the Sox should have made the playoffs more than just once, but they did win that title, and the club stole the spotlight from the Cubs for a few summers.

Now the Ozzie act is in sunny Florida with the newly named “Miami” Marlins. Already run out of one spring training game for arguing a call, Guillen hasn’t lost the touch for drawing the spotlight. It remains to be seen whether the Marlins can meld together new players under the new uniforms with a new manager, but one thing’s for certain: it’ll be interesting. Ozzie is right where he does his best work – in the dugout.