By Phil Rogers
December 7, 2005
While his team was celebrating on the infield at Minute Maid Park, Ozzie Guillen hung back in the dugout, congratulating his coaches and savoring the moment. He was willing to let the White Sox players have the World Series stage to themselves while he stayed in the background.
Guillen watched Jack McKeon do the same thing with the Marlins in 2003. He had learned similarly valuable lessons while playing for Bobby Cox with the Braves at the end of his career.
Considered a chatterbox and prankster throughout his 16 big league seasons, it appears Guillen was paying more attention than most people knew.
The one person who had the most confidence in Guillen was team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. But Reinsdorf wasn’t comfortable hiring Guillen to replace Jerry Manuel two years ago until the former Gold Glove-winning shortstop had convinced general manager Kenny Williams that he had put away his toys and was ready to eat at the big boys’ table.
When Williams picked Guillen as the replacement for Manuel, Reinsdorf said that Guillen would make it fun for the White Sox players.
“I don’t want to knock Jerry,” Reinsdorf said. “Jerry’s a fabulous man. Ozzie’s just different, has a different style. You can see it around the clubhouse. These guys are really going to have fun playing.”
Nothing is more fun than winning.
At Long Last
Guillen rewarded Reinsdorf for his faith by guiding the White Sox to their first World Series victory since 1917, when Pants Rowland managed the Sox to a win over the New York Giants.
Like Manuel before him, Guillen arrived committed to the National League style of play, emphasizing pitching, defense and speed. With Williams’ help, specifically the trade for leadoff man Scott Podsednik and signing of Tadahito Iguchi, he brought that vision to life in 2005–although it didn’t hurt anything that the White Sox also hit 200-plus home runs for a sixth consecutive season.
“He took a club that was predicted by some to finish in third or fourth place and rode it to a World Series championship,” Williams said. “That’s a very commendable thing. I’ve been a little disappointed in some of the awards. Defensively, I felt that Aaron Rowand, Joe Crede and Juan Uribe certainly deserved some attention this year. I feel Paul Konerko could be the MVP. But all along Ozzie and I decided the most important thing was a team effort, to be cohesive as a unit, and all individual things were secondary.
“The way Ozzie and I view all those things, the manager of the year, the executive of the year, they’re organizational awards. Ultimately the players determine how you will graded at the end of the year.”
Guillen will never be hotter than he was in October. He made all the right moves, guiding the White Sox to an 11-1 playoff run that included seven wins by one or two runs.
He trusted a rookie closer, Bobby Jenks, and got a 14th-inning home run in the World Series from an infielder, Geoff Blum, who had just entered in a double-switch. Neither of those guys appeared in the American League Championship Series, when he used but 15 of his 25 players, giving his starting rotation a heroic amount of rope.
Against the Red Sox, Guillen called on Orlando Hernandez–overlooking his 5.12 ERA during the 99-win season–to protect a one-run lead with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning of Game Three.
“No one believes this, but the success we have had is a lot due to Ozzie,” Hernandez said later, with a proud Ozzie Guillen Jr., serving as his translator. “When he makes a move, none of us complain.”
Underneath Guillen’s entertaining, sometimes unpredictable exterior, he is a smart man who has learned from some of the best in baseball, including Tony La Russa, Jeff Torborg, Cox and McKeon. He sweats the small stuff just like Buck Showalter and the control freaks.
“The coaching staff–these guys prepare,” first baseman Paul Konerko said. “I know Ozzie gets the reputation for the other stuff and all that, but our guys are organized and they study the game while it’s going on.”
One universally overlooked example from Game Two against the Red Sox: Immediately after Tadahito Iguchi’s home run had given Mark Buehrle a lead, Jason Varitek led off for Boston. As Varitek stepped into the box, Guillen frantically waved toward left field, capturing Scott Podsednik’s attention.
Guillen motioned for Podsednik to move back, and Podsednik retreated five or six steps. Varitek immediately lined a 1-0 pitch toward the left-field line, and it took a quick burst by Podsednik to cut off the ball, holding Varitek to a single and turning down the heat on Buehrle. The Red Sox would have had the tying run on second with no outs if the ball went to the wall.
As a rule, Guillen doesn’t like to go to the top step of the dugout and move his outfielders around. But this time he felt he had no choice.
“I thought he was playing too close, especially with the way the wind was blowing,” Guillen said at the workout before Game Three. “Who knows? Maybe if I don’t move him back he would have caught it (on the fly) . . . I don’t like to do that. You move a guy over, everybody in the ballpark sees you and the ball goes right to where he was standing. It makes you look like a (fool).”
What if Guillen hadn’t moved Podsednik back?
“I’ve got no idea,” Podsednik said. “It’s tough to talk about the what-ifs. Maybe I would have got a good jump. Maybe I would have gotten a bad jump. Who knows? This game gives us a lot of questions that we never know the answer to.”
Fair to say that Bobby Jenks could have made Guillen look silly when he was handed one of the toughest save situations imaginable: one-run lead, six outs to go and Manny Ramirez at the plate in Game Two against the Red Sox. But it worked.
Hernandez easily could have made Guillen look silly. But instead he made him look brilliant.
Hernandez fell behind the first hitter he faced, Varitek, 2-0 and then went to three-ball counts against the next two, Tony Graffanino and Johnny Damon. He retired all three, getting Graffanino and Damon after they had forced him throw a combined five pitches to them with 3-2 counts.
“I was nervous in left field,” Podsednik said. “I was thinking, ‘If I’m this nervous, how does El Duque feel? What does it feel like to stand on the mound?’ ”
Guillen did a marvelous job all season using players in situations where they can succeed.
Guillen’s fielding alignments–also the result of advance scouts–clicked throughout October.
The White Sox got four outs from the exaggerated shift they used on Red Sox MVP candidate David Ortiz, including two 4-3 groundouts Iguchi delivered from right field and an unusual unassisted double play. Third baseman Joe Crede was positioned near where a shortstop would play, and if anything was shading Ortiz up the middle. Damon broke for second, causing Crede to move toward the bag. He easily grabbed a liner from Ortiz and tagged Damon standing on second base.
Score it 5-U to double a man off first. Seen that lately? At the craps table, they call this being a hot shooter.
In 2005, no one was hotter than Guillen.