If loose lips could sink ships, Ozzie Guillen would be the all-time champion at “Battleship,” but the effervescent manager of the White Sox is never afraid to speak his mind. He’ll do whatever it takes to win, and so far, all he’s doing is winning as a manager. As a result, he was recently rewarded with a three-year contract extension. In this interview, he expounds on the Cubs, Frank Thomas and his many baseball philosophies.
The Heckler: What did you learn from managing the team last year that’s helped you with the team this season?
Ozzie Guillen: That you have to change with the team. When you need to say something, say it. Don’t just hold back and hopefully they change. They have a good game and you tell them, and they have a bad game and you tell them. Communication to me is more important now than it was last year.
TH: What managers did you play for or work under that helped influence the way you manage a team?
OG: There’s so many guys. I want to start with Tony LaRussa. He gave me an opportunity to know the game better. Jeff Torborg gave me an opportunity to be who I am and he’s the reason I have this job. I played under Bobby Cox. Bobby taught me how to be a bench player and how to learn the most I can from the bench. I worked for Jack McKeon and he helped me tremendously. Jack McKeon gave me the opportunity to continue to coach in his organization and teach me how to perform in championship games. I think those guys had a lot of influence on me.
TH: How did Jeff Torborg help you get this job?
OG: He gave me an opportunity after I got released and quit baseball. He gave me an opportunity to have a coaching job and grow up as a coach and learn about the game. I only spent two and a half years in coaching and all of a sudden I had a major league job. I think that’s the guy who really helped me the most.
TH: Is the type of team you have this year preferable to the one you worked with last season?
OG: Last year I had great players. There was no doubt in my mind that we had one of the best teams in the Central Division, but obviously losing Magglio [Ordonez] and Frank, [Thomas] and with a couple of pitchers out, the team went south, but I think this year we have a better team. I’m not saying I have better players, but we have a better team because it’s a unity that started from spring training. Last year I came down for spring training and I was blind. I didn’t know exactly what kind of team I had. Now this year, with what we built, I know what kind of a team we’re going to have. And they give me the opportunity to make sure those guys stick together, play together, and know how to play the game. And that was easier for me this year to build a team I want to be built.
TH: So this is more the type of players and team that you prefer to manage?
OG: I believe pitching and defense and speed will help you to win games. Not because we’re playing good right now am I saying that the pitching staff and everything’s going well. No. I believe your pitching is going to give your team the opportunity to win the game. I think everything in baseball is about pitching. Everything in baseball is how is your bullpen and how is your pitching staff and you will have a better chance to win.
TH: How much influence did you have with Kenny Williams in putting the team together this year?
OG: I’m blessed by God to have the boss I have. I think Kenny understands my points and I understand his. We don’t have to have a meeting. We talk every day about baseball. He says ‘What do we need? ‘What would you like to have?’ I said I don’t like to have anything. It’s the team I like to have. This type of player. This type of pitching staff. All of a sudden, and I don’t know how he did it, he put this team together in less than five months and that’s amazing, the kind of job he did.
TH: Most managers like to have set roles for their players, the set-up man, your closer, etc. If you see a guy’s not doing his job, you seem like you have no problem making a change. Do you think it’s more important to win that particular game than to worry about a player’s ego?
OG: That’s a problem we had last year. I wasn’t afraid, but I was concerned about making some move and being criticized by my own players because of their ego that I want to do this or I want to do that. I think it’s easy for me this year because I grew up with these kids. I make them know who I am. It’s easy for them to know me and I know everyone. It’s 25 different characters, 25 different mentalities, and it’s easy for them to adjust to who I am. I get paid to win games. Not to win games, but to give my players the best opportunity to win games. And I have to do everything in my power to do it. Sometimes maybe we make moves and some people don’t like it but my players understand it’s all about winning. And they know I’m with them 100 percent, and they support me 100 percent also. I do everything I can to win the game.
TH: The Cubs and Sox are huge rivals in Chicago. Do you consider them to be your biggest rival, or would it be the Twins?
OG: Right now, it would have to be the Central Division. I don’t talk about the Twins now because in the Central Division we have pretty good teams. Detroit and Cleveland have good teams, and obviously Minnesota because they’re the ones who win the division every year. The Cubs are my rival when we play six games against them, but besides that, I don’t have any problem with them.
TH: So you don’t get any extra satisfaction from beating the Cubs?
OG: No, because beating the Cubs is like beating Minnesota, the Tigers, or Kansas City. It don’t mean anything because it’s just another game for me. I just believe the fans and the people in Chicago care a little bit more, but to me when I play the Cubs, it’s just another team.
TH: As a former White Sox player, and now the manager of the team, do you think the White Sox are treated like second class citizens by the media in this town?
OG: Yes. And that’s not going to change. I don’t feel like I’m jealous or I feel bad about it. That’s the way it is. The Cubs have got more exposure. People like the Cubs better in this town than they like the White Sox, but I’ll say a fact—whoever wins here is going to be the team to love.
TH: Do you feel like you are at a disadvantage in your chances for success because the Sox don’t have a real big budget like some other teams have?
OG: You don’t have to win with a big budget. I think you build a team, but I think people don’t understand we have a small budget in the big city. We have to take care of the minor leagues first. Kenny [Williams] is a magician with the budget he has. Not because Jerry [Reinsdorf] doesn’t want to be open. I think Jerry knows this year we have an opportunity to win. He’ll bring whatever we need. He will do it.
TH: A lot of managers like to play the percentages, put in a lefty to face a lefty. Is that something you believe in, or do you think that’s overrated?
OG: It’s not overrated because that works. I just go by my gut feeling. I played this game and I know how this game should be played. If a manager goes lefty-lefty, he’s protecting his rear. He’s protecting himself. I just go by my gut feeling and if it works, I’ll be a great manager, and if it doesn’t work, I will be criticized.
TH: You played with Frank Thomas before, and last year was your first year managing him. How do you think he has changed from when you played with him?
OG: First of all, he was the best right-handed hitter I have even seen. With all my respect for Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, and Dave Winfield, and all of those great players I played against, but the numbers Frank put up, not too many put up those numbers. I think he has matured a little bit more. I think he understands the game a little bit more. So do I. I think Frank Thomas, with the attitude he has right now, and the way he wants to help this team, I think he can be enormously big. Before when he was a kid, he was a great player. Now he’s a good player, with age under his belt.
TH: You are never afraid to say what’s on your mind, and it’s got you into a bit of trouble a few times. Has anyone in the organization told you to tone it down, or are you going to continue to speak your mind?
OG: I always will say what I think. You will be able to say is it the right thing, and to me I never say anything to hurt anybody. It’s unfortunate they put it the way they want to put it. When I talk about people, it’s because they punch me first. And they think I don’t want to punch back. The worst thing about it is when I punch back, I punch back my way. A lot of people go a different way to punch back. I never criticize anybody, I never say anything about anybody, but when I have to say something about somebody to protect myself or to protect my organization, be ready because I’m going to say it the way I want to say it. Some people don’t like the way I say stuff because I curse a lot, but that’s the way I learned, that’s the way I grew up, and I just make sure I make my point across.
TH: Do you think the team you have right now has enough to make it to the World Series?
OG: Yes. I’m not lying because my pitching staff, my defense, and the way we play, we have an opportunity. Do I think we have a chance? Yes we do. Because as soon as you reach the playoffs, anything can happen. And if you have a good pitching staff in the playoffs, you have a chance to win.
TH: If there was one position you could add to the team, where do you think the team could use a little help?
OG: It’s tough for me to say right now because we’re in first place and we’re playing good ball. It’s not fair for me to say that we need this and we need that. Well right now, we don’t need anything. In the future, hopefully we will, because we will need something in the future. But right now, we don’t need anything. I think we’ve got a great group of kids that pull for each other and that want to win.
TH: Is there ever a good time for a manager to get in an argument with an umpire and get himself thrown out of a game to fire up his team?
OG: No. Every time you get thrown out of a game, you hurt your team because you left the team by itself. It’s a tough position for a manager because if you don’t argue with the umpires, they’re going to think you’re easy. Meanwhile, if you argue with them every day, they’re going to think you’re not good for them. You have to be careful how you handle that situation.
TH: Going back several years, there was a statement attributed to you around the strike in 1994, where you said something like, “We don’t need the fans here to support us.” Was that a correct quote?
OG: No, that was not about the strike. It was [about] calling Frank Thomas a name. I don’t know if I could say what they were calling him. I don’t think it was right. People don’t have the right to come to anyone at work. Frank Thomas was building his house somewhere in Oak Brook. He didn’t have union people work with him. Then all of a sudden we went on strike because of the union. When we came back, they would come to the ballpark and were calling Frank Thomas all kind of names. Even the name people don’t like to hear when you’re African-American. I got a little upset about the fans. The fans don’t have the right to come to the ballpark and call Frank Thomas names. We don’t need those kind of fans in our ballpark. That’s exactly what I said, because I was protecting Frank Thomas. You can come to the ballpark and boo and clap and make noise, but don’t get on one of the players and start calling names when you’re not supposed to be calling those kind of names in this country. People forgot about that and even Frank forgot about that. I got myself in trouble about exactly why I made that statement, not because of the fans. I think if you talk to White Sox fans about fan favorites, I’d be in the top three with the White Sox, but in the statement I was making, they were calling Frank Thomas a name he didn’t deserve to be called.
TH: You’ve been getting nothing but praise for the job you’ve done so far this season, but Dusty Baker is constantly criticized for the job is he doing. All of the talk on sports radio is if he doesn’t make the playoffs this year, he should be fired, and some are saying they shouldn’t even wait that long. Do you think it’s fair that managers are put under the gun when maybe it’s not really their fault with all of the situations that come up?
OG: That’s why we have this job. If you have the guts to take it, and you don’t have the mind to take all of the criticism, get another job. Sometimes people think they know more about baseball than the people who really know about baseball, and that’s why they have those talk shows. They can say whatever they want and I respect that. And if they know about baseball, they would be managing. And I guarantee you none of those guys have the guts to put a uniform on to manage a game, because I know they couldn’t take it. This is the easiest job in sports to be second-guessed because they always will second-guess you when things don’t work. When things work, you’re the greatest and you’re a genius. But managers don’t just push a button. Sometimes you bring in the right guys and it doesn’t work that way. It’s easy to second-guess people. I think you cannot say anything about Dusty because everything he does is show he’s a winner. I think Dusty Baker is a tremendous manager, and I’m not just saying that. He’s showed people that he is. He’s showed over the past what kind of a manager that he is. But when your team doesn’t go good, doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do, it’s easy to blame somebody, so why not us?