Guillen is no Latin scholar, but he sure can manage

World Series

October 27, 2005|By RICK MAESE

Houston -- As they danced on the field and White Sox were piled one on top of another, as though this bowl of a baseball stadium were actually a giant laundry basket, there was one man at the heart of it all.

When they surprised the baseball world back in the spring and wowed us all here in the fall, one man stood alone in the middle. And whenever the cameras rolled and the mics were hot, it was always the same man we saw at the center.

The most valuable member of this team doesn't swing a bat, he doesn't throw a pitch and he doesn't turn double plays. Not anymore at least.

The Chicago White Sox would not be hoisting the World Series trophy without manager Ozzie Guillen. The guy is a walking opinion. He's unfiltered and uncensored and easily the most entertaining character the postseason has seen in years.

With their patient 1-0 win last night, the Sox completed a sweep of the Astros, turning away from ghosts and curses and 88 years of disappointment. They're champions now, thanks largely to Ozzie.

You should have seen him this past week. You'd think Red Bull was coursing through his veins. Last night, as his players prepared for the biggest game of their lives, Ozzie held court like only he can.

These pre-game talks aren't limited to baseball strategy. In fact, that's often an afterthought. Game 4's topic de jour - even though the Sox were just a few hours away from sports' most fulfilling sensation - Venezuelan politics. Among other things, of course.

Ozzie happens to like controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, unlike many of his countrymen. "That's my opinion," he said. "I don't give a [care] what 25 million people think. ... I have my feelings; I have my taste. Why I cannot say what I like, what I not like?"

He jokes about his English, but this is a man who's never been too worried about editing. The wisdom of Oz isn't always accurate, isn't always politically correct and usually wouldn't make it on primetime television.

What you get is unapologetic passion from a man who has a high-speed connection between his brain and his mouth. But why in the name of Shoeless Joe was Ozzie talking Latin American politics before the biggest game of his life?

"Because I got the [um, courage] to do it," he said.

Ozzie can bounce from topic to topic, like a Sunday morning talk program. There's no subject he won't touch - like Bill O'Reilly, but likable. And soon with a championship ring. Ozzie even writes his own regular column in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal.

"The way I talk, I'm just telling the truth," he said.

He really seems to relish his role. Ozzie has a saying. He has several, actually, but here's one: "A lot of people hate me. A few people love me. But they all have to [expletive] respect me."

That's his license to spill. Last night, that respect got a contract extension.

Earlier this week, the Houston Chronicle published a story suggesting that Ted Williams should be included on Major League Baseball's Latino Legends team. Williams' mother was a Mexican-American from San Diego.

Needless to say, Ozzie disagreed with the article.

"I don't care if his daddy is Venezuelan and his mommy is Mexican, this man can't even say `Hola' in Spanish," he said, adding that "Reggie Jackson is more Latino than Ted Williams."

The Latino Legends team lists Alex Rodriguez as the game's top Hispanic shortstop. Ozzie prefers Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio.

"A-Rod couldn't hold Aparicio's jock," he said.

There was no manager on the Latino Legends team. With apologies to Felipe Alou, Ozzie just won a World Series at the age of 41. I'll pencil him in. His players would no doubt agree.

"He keeps everybody loose," said Jermaine Dye, the World Series' Most Valuable Player. "He wants you to go out there and have fun. He knows how to win."

Ozzie talks like he's getting paid by the word, but that's not what makes him a good manager. His decisions do that. Key pitching changes. Inserting Geoff Blum in Game 3, a half-inning before Blum would hit a go-ahead homer in the 14th inning.

And then last night, Ozzie selected Willie Harris from his bench to pinch hit in the eighth. Harris singled to left and scored the game's lone run three batters later.

The South Side of Chicago erupted last night. The Sox's postseason run was one of the best ever. Full generations have passed, waiting for a man like Ozzie to lead the Sox to this point. It's a party they'd been planning for nearly a century - a dream come true for some. But not Ozzie.

He said the World Series was a goal. His dream involves family, watching his children's children grow up.

That doesn't mean the World Series isn't worth celebrating. And you can be certain that doesn't mean last night isn't something Ozzie will be talking about for a long time to come.

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