Ozzie Guillen is his own man. Outspoken and sometimes misunderstood, the mercurial White Sox skipper is not only colorful, he is also smart as a fox. Considered one of the most cerebral players in the game during his playing days, the 44-year-old native of Venezuela has shown himself to be no less wise as a manager, having led the South Siders to a World Series title in 2005. Now he has his charges-considered second-division fodder by most prognosticators when the season began-atop the AL Central as the pennant race enters its home stretch. A big-league shortstop for 16 seasons and a third-base coach for three more, Guillen took over as the White Sox manager in November, 2003.
David Laurila: When you signed your first professional contract in 1980, and someone had told you that you would someday manage in the big leagues, what would your reaction have been?
Ozzie Guillen: Well, I was only 16 years old, and it’s hard for a kid at that age to go that far and think about it. But I’ve always liked to teach-I’ve always liked to coach-even at that time. From an early age, I always liked to be around baseball, and I liked to be around people, but there was no way that I was thinking about being a manager at that particular time.
DL: When did you first start thinking about managing?
OG: When I was playing, I was thinking about staying as a coach and staying in the game. Everything happens so quickly, and I am lucky to be able to say that I went from playing time to coaching right away, and not too many people have that opportunity-to finish your career as a player and all of a sudden you’re a big-league coach, and a couple of years later you’re a big-league manager. It happened so quickly. When I started to be a backup player with the Braves, Bobby Cox gave me the opportunity to start learning from him about situations and how to handle a staff. But when I was coaching, I never thought as a manager thought. Some guys, when they’re coaching, they’ll say, ‘If I was the manager, I would do this, I would do that.’ That would never go through my mind, because I had enough problems coaching and enjoying it. I never started thinking as a manager until after I got hired by the White Sox. I wanted the opportunity, but didn’t have any experience; I didn’t think as a manager, I didn’t have any clue. I went to the meeting with Kenny [Williams] and I didn’t even know what he was going to ask me. I never asked any of my managers what they were going to ask me, what the expectations would be, what I should do. I just went straight to the meeting and I guess that I responded the right way to the questions, which is why I have the job.
DL: How would you describe yourself as a manager?
OG: I’m fun to play for, there’s no doubt. But it’s not easy. I have a few rules that my players have to go by, and I think I’m kind of old school. I think I’m more old school than new school; I’m an old-school type of guy. I like the little things, I like respect, I like discipline; it’s 25 people’s way, it’s not only one guy’s way. But I’m not going to say that I’m a good manager on the field, because the players will dictate how good you are. I treat my players like my brothers; I treat my players with a lot of love and a lot of respect, and I expect them to treat me the same way. The players know they have this friend for real, but I have a title and that title has to be respected. So it’s not easy, but it’s fun. It’s not easy because I demand a lot of things.
DL: How much does the public perception of you differ from what you are?
OG: One hundred percent. I don’t think the public knows who I am or what I do. I think that people see a different kind of personality than who I really am. A lot of people on the street, or around the ballpark, and a lot of media members that aren’t from Chicago, they perceive me like I’m the tough guy, crazy, real bad, a troublemaker. But it’s the complete, complete opposite of what the people perceive me as. I’m easygoing and have dinner with my players; I’m going out with the PR department guys and the clubbies. I don’t want to say 90 percent different; I’m 100 percent different than what people look at me-the way I talk to my players; the way people think that I hate my players and that my players hate me. They think I’m walking around cursing people. I’m different than that, totally different.
DL: Casey Stengel provided reporters with a lot of quotable material, often to draw attention away from his players. Are you like Stengel in that regard?
OG: No. I never do that. Every time I say something to the media, I think that people think I’m pushing the button to take away the heat from my players. No, I say what I feel; I say what I should be saying; I say what I need to be saying. My players aren’t about it. It never even crosses my mind to say something to give a distraction away from the players. No, I never will.
DL: How has what you experienced as a player impacted what you do as a manager?
OG: One thing about it is that they can’t tell me something I don’t know. They should respect, because I played a lot of years in the big leagues and always showed up. There are a few managers in this game right now managing because-I manage because I love the job. It’s not because I need the money or need the fame. I manage because I love the passion of the game and I love to compete. But it’s not about economy. That’s why I say f*ck it. I say what I say and do what I do, and if people like it they like it, and if they don’t there’s one thing to do: they can fire me. And that would be fine with me, because I always say that managers have a job, and they have a job just to get fired. I don’t worry about those situations. I don’t want to say that I do this for fun, because this isn’t a fun job. This is a pretty hard job, and I do it because I love it. I do it because I like to be around my players and so many different things. But I’m not losing sleep because I might lose my job. I don’t need the money.
OG: Well, with Tony I was a baby. And to me, I don’t think there is a better manager than Tony when he has a rookie player under his wing. Tony prepares you unbelievably well to compete; he gives you the best chance. And I learned that; I learned to give the rookie guys the best chance to compete and have success. I think Fregosi changed my whole style of play, and helped me to grow up in baseball. I think they’re two different types of guys. You have to manage according to the type of ballclub that you have. But they are two people I admired a lot, because they helped me when I needed to be helped.
DL: How similar are you and Lou Piniella as managers?
OG: I don’t know. I wish I could be half of Lou Piniella when I look at his career as a manager. I wish I had his experience; I wish I had the respect he has. But Lou, he can get away with a lot of things I can’t. Lou can tell the media, “I don’t want to talk to you guys today,” or “Nobody ask any questions,” and that will be fine. If I’m the same way with the media, I’m a piece of shit. I see that a lot. We walk in the same places, and I tell the Chicago media, “Two days ago, Lou walked away from the media room and you guys don’t say anything.” If I don’t show up to the media room one day, I think I’d be blasted. But I like that Lou is aggressive. He’s an old-school manager; he will protect his players the most he can. But I try to be my way. I love the way he manages, but like I say, the attitude is the same because of the way they taught us to play the game. We expect people to play the game the way we played the game, and that’s not easy to do. We played the game different.
DL: What does the term Ozzieball mean to you?
OG: Ozzieball is baseball. Move the guy over, run the bases hard, break up a double play, pinch hit, hustle. A home run now in baseball is the big thing-‘I hope I drive in 140 runs and hit 200 home runs.’ I think baseball has forgotten about bunting and base stealing, putting on a pickoff play. There are so many things that can help you win baseball games, and I don’t think that’s Ozzieball, it’s the way people should be playing baseball.
DL: Your team is currently second from the bottom in the American League in both stolen bases and sacrifice hits. Is that less your philosophy than it is roster-driven?
OG: I have a team, and I try to do the best I can with the guys I have. But I think that pretty soon in baseball-baseball is going to go back to the 1980s and the 1970s, where you have to do it. Now there are so many powerful players, and powerful lineups, that you have to try to compete against those guys in the raw power. But to me, I don’t care what kind of lineup I have, I still believe that you have to play defense and you have to pitch. If you don’t do those things, combined, I don’t care how much power and how good a lineup you have, you’re not going to win.
DL: What are your views on pitch counts and pitcher usage?
OG: Pitch counts are important when the game is not on the line. But if the game is on the line and I see that the guy is throwing the ball well, that’s a guy I’m going to leave in. In the minor league system they don’t let the guys pitch very much, and then all of a sudden they’re in the big leagues and they can only pitch six innings; that’s it. You can’t ask them for any more. But I always go with my gut feeling. One thing, my priority as a manager is to make sure I keep those pitchers healthy for as long as I can-don’t overuse them. I want to make sure that the guys pitching on my ballclub are there in September and October, that they’re ready to complete the last month of the season. To me, that’s important.
DL: How much does your pitching coach, Don Cooper, influence your decisions when it comes to pitcher usage?
OG: I pull the trigger. It’s easy for me, because he’s been my pitching coach for five years. If I want a lefty warming up, I don’t even have to tell him that I want this guy or that guy; he knows exactly what I want. That makes it easy for me.
DL: Are you concerned with how much your relievers are working in the bullpen, regardless of whether they come into the game?
OG: You have to be careful, and that’s Don Cooper’s job, to make sure to tell me that we didn’t bring this guy into the game, but he was hot the last two games. Then we have to take into consideration that we may not use him the next day.
DL: Your 2005 championship team had Scott Podsednik in the leadoff position despite his not being known as a high on-base percentage guy. Why?
OG: Because he’s the only guy we had who could run, and the key to the ballclub was when Podsednik was playing well. I think that the first two hitters were the key to that team. It was Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi, and I think the big reason we won was because those two guys were unbelievable; they did a tremendous job. Now I’ve got [Orlando] Cabrera leading off. Right now there are maybe one or two guys in the league who are a legit leadoff hitter-the one you’re really looking for to get on base and steal bases. I think you always try to put the guy with more speed on top, just in case for the big boys coming up. Getting on base is important, but if you get on base and are going to need three or four hits to score, that doesn’t show me anything. I like the action, I like the action. I like to see some speed on the bases.
DL: To what extent do you identify yourself as a Latin-American manager?
OG: One-hundred percent, because I am. Nobody is going to take that away from me. I’m Latino and proud to be Latino. I’m proud to represent Latin America, and my hope is that every day that I step out on that field, I make sure that I do good because it will open the doors for a lot of different men. It depends how I do my job. I know that a lot of general managers will look at someone similar to me, someone from Latin America, and that’s very important for me and our countries. The sooner you have the reputation as being a good manager in baseball-I guarantee they’re going to be looking for people around Latin America to do their job. It’s not easy to do, but I feel privileged to be myself, to have a job to open a lot of doors for a lot of people. And it can go either way. I can open a lot of doors for people or I can close a lot of doors for a lot of people. My job is to make sure I keep it [open]. Felipe [Alou] opened it for us, and we have a couple of managers keeping it open for us. I think that the worst thing that can happen is that we haven’t managed for Latin America.
DL: That ties into the first question I asked, which was if you envisioned yourself as a manager when you broke into pro ball. How differently do you feel that Latin-American players are perceived, and treated, compared to 20 and 30 years ago?
OG: Before, we only had one guy on the team. Now we have three, four, five, six, seven Latin-American guys on the same ballclub. Before, you wouldn’t even think about having a Latin coach. You wouldn’t think about how many Latinos there are now. The game has changed. Now you have people here in the big leagues who speak the language. And that helps, having a coach or a manager who speaks the language. I think it also helps American managers if they can speak Spanish, because the communication would be better and you know when they say stuff about you. But there was no way I was thinking about it. I always wished that I’d be a manager one day in my life, but you have to think about how you get that shot.
DL: What was it like for you to sign out of Latin America in 1980?
OG: It was easy. Now is different than it was in the past. In the past, you’d see 30 kids for one scout; now you see 30 scouts there to see one kid. If you want to see somebody in Venezuela-if you go to Venezuela and you’re a scout, they don’t do shit. In my time, in the ’80s, if you’re a scout and go to Venezuela, everybody was kissing your balls and saying, ‘Can you sign my kid?’ Now, if you’re a scout you’re just another guy in the ballpark; now it’s a different scenario. If the scout wants to sign you, he’ll say, ‘Here, take the money and sign with us.’ Now, the players will say, ‘Manny, I want 500 thousand dollars; how much am I going to make? How much are you going to pay me?’ Before, you were just happy to sign. I don’t think that anybody in my era signed for more than a thousand dollars, maybe two thousand dollars. Now you don’t sign nobody-I don’t care who you are-if you don’t give them at least 50, or hundreds. They’re just not going to get signed.
DL: Should there be an international draft?
OG: No. No way. I think that hurt Puerto Rico; it hurt Puerto Rico bad. Now all the Puerto Rican guys have to go through the draft, and if they don’t get picked they have to compete with the United States. To me, and this is my opinion, that’s why you don’t see too many Puerto Rican players like in the ’80s when you had Rodriguez and Sierra, the Alomars-my god, just name them-Benito Santiago. Now you don’t have those types of players; now there are just a couple of Puerto Rican players out there. I think that hurt Puerto Rico; that’s my opinion.
DL: Any final thoughts?
OG: I think that, as a manager, a lot of people say that baseball has changed. Baseball hasn’t changed. The people running this game have changed the game. Everybody, from managers to minor league offices to coaches to trainers to scouts-they’ve changed it. Now it’s a different ballgame; now you sign and you have an agent. That’s one thing people ought to know: we need the media more than we need agents. Agents are there only to make money; the media can help you in your career. They can also destroy you, yes. But the agents? They can only destroy you. A lot of people think there are good agents, but there are no good agents in baseball. There are good players in baseball. A lot of people talk about the agents. “Look at this guy making 250 million dollars, Alex. Wow.” I say, yeah, that’s Alex Rodriguez. Why doesn’t the same agent go find Pablo Ozuna the same amount of money? Before, I could count the agents; there were maybe four or five guys who were agents in baseball. Now, even my kids have f*cking agents. Everybody has an agent. That’s why I think that baseball has changed. And maybe that’s the owners’ fault? Maybe they don’t trust. I have an accountant to count my money. I have my kid, who is 16 years old, and I already have agents calling him, or calling me about helping him. That’s changed a lot. At 16 years old I was worried about getting three hits every day. Now, at 16 years old, they worry about how much money you’re going to get as a first-round pick. That’s changed all this shit.