Ozzie Guillén, Man of Letters
The White Sox manager's overlooked literary career.
Ozzie Guillén may be the most misunderstood guy in professional sports. The White Sox manager has made enough verbal faux pas—telling a former player that "he better shut the [bleep] up," playfully calling a friend a "child molester"—that sportswriters have had an easy time portraying the fiery Venezuelan as a loose cannon. It doesn't help that he sounds a bit like Al Pacino's Tony Montana. When Guillén talks about "small ball," you can't help imagining him uttering, "Say hay-lo to my lee-tle friend."
But there's more to Guillén than the gruff, obscenity-laden exterior. The Sox skipper may be the most accomplished baseball-star-turned-writer since Jose Canseco, if not Jim Bouton. Since Guillén started managing last year, he's penned a regular column in El Universal, a Spanish-language daily out of Caracas, Venezuela.
Amalia Llorca, the newspaper's sports editor, says that El Universal solicited various Venezuelan sporting figures to write a regular column, but only Guillén had the discipline to keep it up. The manager's column appears on Page 2 of the sports section each Saturday. Lllorca says Guillén requires very little editing, and for his efforts he's paid a "symbolic" sum. "It's little, very little," she says. "It's like a thank you."
Writing under the byline Oswaldo Guillén, the manager is equal parts baseball savant, media critic, family man, and loyal patriot. Most of the columns are topped by a simple but profound headline: "Chance," "In the End," "The Fans," "To Win and to Lose," "Podsednik." At the bottom, readers find his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Guillén has complained more than once that his e-mail account crashes due to the volume of reader mail he receives.)
For the most part, Guillén's columns chart the day-to-day doings of the White Sox. However, as befits a national hero, much of his writing concerns his homeland. When Chico Carrasquel—a fellow Venezuelan and a fellow longtime White Sox shortstop—died in June, Guillen eulogized him: "He will be in another lineup, above, next to the other glories of baseball that have gone away before him."
Guillén also uses the column to set the record straight. After his well-publicized spat with former Sox slugger Magglio Ordonez—tape recorders caught him calling Ordonez "another Venezuelan piece of shit," among other epithets—he attempted to quell the fury with his pen. Sort of. "As for Magglio," he wrote, "I hope that he's dedicated to playing ball, to enjoying his money, and that, when possible, he has me at the edge of his declarations. If he thinks I'm his enemy, that's his problem."
Read on for more choice excerpts from the Guillén canon. (With special thanks to Rebecca Corvino for assistance in translating from the original Spanish.)
Ozzie explains the Cubs-White Sox rivalry: "And so that the Venezuelans understand what this series means, imagine a Caracas-Magallanes game, and multiply the emotion by three." —"Rivalries," May 21, 2005
Ozzie the psychic: "I insist, if we continue playing like this and luck helps us out, we're going to give a little surprise to all of the analysts who've predicted third place for the White Sox in the central division. We'll see." —"To Third," April 16, 2005
Ozzie on the state of nail hygiene in Chicago: "Eleven victories in 12 games have been decided by a single run. ... Chicago's manicuristas don't have any work, because the fans are biting their nails following our games." —"Eleven and One," May 8, 2004
Ozzie on his facility with the English language: "And when they asked me yesterday who was finally going to be the team's closer, my answer was: The closer will be the one who closes! Not even Yogi Berra would have responded better." —"Closer," April 4, 2004
Ozzie on courting Omar Vizquel—to a point: "And, of course, our No. 1 priority, after finishing the meeting that we had this week in Las Vegas, is to sign Omar Vizquel to be our shortstop in 2005. … I've already told him that if he comes here, it better not even occur to him to fix me up with a watch so that I'll give him the No. 13 uniform that we've both been using for a long time. … At the least, he's going to have to give me a Mercedes Benz." —"Venezuelans," Nov. 6, 2004
Ozzie on failing to court Vizquel: "I trusted that we'd obtain the services of Omar Vizquel, but it was San Francisco who signed him. It did surprise me that his agent didn't even communicate with us at all, not even to give me the chance to up my bid." —"Pure Passion," Dec. 4, 2004
Ozzie on current events, the relevance of: "After the worst storm and the worst hurricanes, the sun always comes out. This is true. It's also true that many thought that the unity that reigns in our clubhouse, the feeling that we're a family and all that happy atmosphere that they've envied us so much for, would collapse as soon as we fell into a losing streak. It was not like that." — "It Is the Truth," Oct. 1, 2005
Ozzie on witchcraft and the American League Championship Series: "It's true that we've been lucky, but the ingredients are there, on the field and on the bench, and even in the stands with the support of the fans. As for the rest, what we have to achieve is to keep it all together until October. From then on, it'll be my turn to make witchcraft!" —"Luck," June 11, 2005
Ozzie on philanthropy: [Detroit Tigers catcher] Iván Rodríguez … has an exceptional human quality. … [L]ess than a year ago [he] was in Venezuela participating in the Home Run Derby organized by Pepsi and in the autograph signing carried out by the Oswaldo Guillén Foundation to collect funds for its charity activities." —"Embarrassment," July 16, 2005
Ozzie on his critics: "No sport lends itself more to criticism than baseball. … Who plays each position, what turn at the bat you're going to give him, what pitch you're going to request, what play you're going to make. Should the team play inside or outside? And the outfielders? Do you bunt the ball, or do you prefer to hit and run? Do you give the pitcher one more batter, or do you bring in the lefty who's warming up? Devils! So many options. And the worst thing is that, whatever you do, there's always going to be someone criticizing your decision, even when the play goes well and you win the game. That's how baseball is." —"Critics," June 18, 2005 *
Correction, Oct. 24: Due to a translation error, this column originally misstated a phrase in one of Ozzie Guillen's columns. He wrote, "Do you bunt the ball, or do you prefer to hit and run?" not "Do you touch the ball, or do you prefer to hit and run?"