Guillen-less silence not golden for White Sox

April 23, 1992|By Bob Verdi | Bob Verdi,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- What troubles Carlton Fisk is that, unlike homeowners around an airport, the Chicago White Sox didn't have a vote on this noise abatement project. Baseball's summer is long and hot, so he wonders whether the team can deal with all that peace and quiet.

"No Ozzie Guillen from now until October," Fisk sighed. "What we'll have to do is get some tapes of him talking. Play them in the clubhouse before a game, then pipe them to the dugout and bullpen during the game. English or Spanish, doesn't matter. With Ozzie, you can't tell the difference anyway."

Of course, the White Sox will miss Guillen in the field, because All-Star shortstops are rarer than honest aldermen. And the White Sox will miss Guillen at bat, because he swatted almost as many big hits as he disallowed. And the White Sox will miss Guillen stealing second in broad daylight, or beating the throw to third in a cloud of dust, unsafe maneuvers at any speed except his.

But, also, the White Sox will miss Ozzie Guillen on the bus.

"You don't win any games there," Charlie Hough noted. "But you can lose them there."

Chemistry isn't the most popular word in our national pastime. Accounting maybe, but not chemistry. Players set up corporate headquarters wherever the price is right, managers are disposable and some owners say goodbye before they say hello. Franchises that used to operate on five-year plans get better ideas every five minutes. Loyalty, once a two-way street, is closed for repairs. Continuity is nice, but an annuity is nicer.

Still, it's the boys on the bus.

"Compatability can help," Hough went on, a veteran pitcher shamelessly attached to old-fashioned values. "And Ozzie was a big part of that. I mean, when I was with Texas, we were compatible. We all got along well. No jealousies, no enemies, nothing like that. Thing is, we would look up in September, and all of us compatible players would see that we had lost 100 ballgames. So, what did all that togetherness prove?

"Los Angeles, with the Dodgers. We had some friction, we had some sniping. We also had four guys who hit 30 home runs and a heck of a pitching staff. We had overwhelming talent, so we won and never mind the chemistry. But with this group, which is very good but hasn't won yet, it could be very important. Jeff Torborg, the manager who was here last year, helped establish that. So did Ozzie, who won't be with us anymore this year.

"Can we overcome losing Ozzie because of our chemistry? It certainly can't hurt. And that extends beyond just us, the players. The White Sox, I used to play against them when I was with the Rangers just a few years ago. The White Sox stunk. Look at them now.

"This organization hasn't made too many mistakes lately. Look at the people we have here. Not having Ozzie won't make it easy. But not having Ozzie won't become an excuse. The front office here knows what it's doing. The new manager, Gene Lamont, knows what he's doing. Can we still do it without Ozzie? Yes."

Craig Grebeck is from the Guillen school of grit. They both heard the same old hymn. Little guys have to prove they can play, big guys have to prove they can't. Grebeck doesn't possess Guillen's range or grasp and only time will decide the matter of stamina.

Grebeck had enough pop in his bat to be designated as the starting second baseman until the White Sox opted for the offer they couldn't refuse, Steve Sax. So, Grebeck supplants Ozzie in an emergency. It's no more the perfect solution than it is a square peg in a round hole.

"I can't try to do all the things Ozzie did," said Grebeck. "But I know everybody in this locker room is behind me. It's been that way since a couple years ago, when I was up here hitting .150. Teammates who didn't have to make me feel like I belonged made me feel like I belonged."

Nobody in Chicago figured Ozzie belonged when he arrived from San Diego during the winter of 1984. Then he put his glove on and came out smiling. Baseball is the only sport where the defense has the ball, and he revels in it. His joy is your joy and the longer the game, the better. Baseball lends itself to conversation and Ozzie borrows liberally. Nobody has more fun, but the White Sox won't suffer in silence forever.

There will be a day soon when Guillen bursts through the swinging doors on crutches, lights up the locker room and calls the meeting to order. The surgery was a success and they didn't operate on his voice box. At the lucky hospital, doctors and nurses are getting an earful.

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