In the world of professional sports, there are very few people who say what they mean without filter. In baseball, the vast majority of managers and players toe the line. They can spend hours saying the same things, day after day after day. They’ve all been well coached in the art of saying the exact right thing. Sure, there are many players that offer the occasional honest comment, but most know when to hold back and keep their mouths shut. Most people associated with the game are very controlled with every comment they make in public, even those that can be viewed as impolite. It can all be very boring. Ozzie Guillen has none of these issues. If he’s asked a question by a reporter, he’s going to answer it and then he’ll just keep talking about whatever pops into his head, rarely going more than five or six words without dropping an F bomb. Ozzie Guillen loves to talk. The only two words not to pass his lips are no comment. He is volatile, funny, bright, passionate, ridiculous, absurd, loud, obnoxious, profane, honest and occasionally self-destructive.
I like Ozzie Guillen and I like him a lot. Of course, I’m also awfully glad that he isn’t managing the Braves. Ozzie's act will eventually wear thin, even with those who love him.
Rick Morrissey’s Ozzie’s School of Management is the story of former Chicago White Sox manager, current Miami Marlins manager, and former Atlanta Braves shortstop Ozzie Guillen and his philosophy on managing a baseball team. I began this book with trepidation. There’s an entire genre of business books about sports personalities. The author attempts to make these strange analogies between athletic success and business success. More often than not, the pages of these books offer more value as toilet paper than as a fount of business wisdom. My boss forced me to read Rick Pitino’s "Success is a Choice" back in 1998 and after reading five or six pages each night I would beat the crap out of my pillow. I was afraid that this was going to be that kind of book. I would not put it past a "culture of management" guru to try and cram all that is Ozzie into a serious business book, no matter how absurd the notion. It was a relief to discover that Morrssey had other goals. This is a parody of those sorts of books. The book is wildly entertaining and puts Ozzie on display, warts and all.
From the beginning of his professional career at the bottom of the San Diego Padres sytem (where John Kruk would teach the young Guillen the F word and all the various ways in which it can be used), through his time in the majors with the White Sox, the Braves and others, to his days as a coach with the Florida Marlins, Ozzie Guillen wanted to learn more about baseball. He was always planning for the day when he would be a manager. He would ask any question of any one and he was not afraid to be an irritant. When he first broke into the majors with the White Sox, he was desperate to learn from Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines and Tom Seaver. Try as they might to shut up the young Venezuelan shortstop,it just couldn’t be done. He would learn from managers he respected like Tony LaRussa, his first in the big leagues. He would also learn from managers he did not respect, most notable Terry Bevington. When he arrived in Atlanta, late in his playing career, he would watch Bobby Cox work and ask him questions about why he would make a certain move and why he would stick by a certain guy. He soaked it all in.
It may be heresy to suggest it here, but Ozzie Guillen is most certainly a student of the Bobby Cox School of Management, if not of temperment. Ozzie Guillen sees himself as a manager of men and believes that his number one duty as a manager is to create conditions under which a player can perform his best. He will provide a young player with words of encouragement and he will keep the veteran in the lineup to prove that he believes the player can break out of a slump. Games are won by players. Championships are won by players. Guillen wouldn’t even rush the field after the White Sox won the 2005 World Series. That was accomplished by his players. Let them celebrate. On the other hand, when losing, he sets himself up for blame. He goes to the press and suggests he could be fired. He makes sure that when his team is losing, he will be the lead story. He loved taking the heat when his team was playing poorly. Many loved playing for him.
Of course, Ozzie is still Ozzie. The tempest that always swirled around him could be a bit much for the players. When asked a specific question about his players by the press, he’s brutally honest. Sure, he isn’t saying anything that he hasn’t already said to the player’s face, but a player typically doesn’t enjoy reading the ctiticism in the papers. His constant battles with management and umpires have been an occasional distraction for his team. Plus, with Ozzie, there’s no getting away from him. Despite his old school ideas about how the game should be played, he is decidedly different in the clubhouse. Unlike Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa, Ozzie Guillen doesn’t sit in his office. He wanders through the clubhouse talking to the players. Sure, he’s often out there to encourage the team, to get them talking about the game at hand. Sometimes though, players need a break. When Ozzie and his mouth are around, there is no break.
Even more than the players, management needs a break from Ozzie. The relationship between Ozzie Guillen and longtime White Sox GM Kenny Williams was often fractured. They would argue about moves they wanted to make. They would argue about comments Ozzie would make in the press. They would argue about something Guillen’s son said on Twitter. In his interview to become White Sox manager, Ozzie went off on Williams and everything else in a profanity laced tirade. It actually helped him land the job. I doubt that Williams thinks it was a mistake to hire Ozzie, but you know he was glad when it was over. For the record, Ozzie admits that he is not an easy person to manage. WIth his welcome wore out in Chicago, Guillen would find his way to Miami.
If players and upper management would tire of Ozzie, there was one group who wouldn’t. The press loved Ozzie because Ozzie loved to talk. It was not in his nature to hide his feelings. He is not a diplomatic man. His wears his heart on his sleeve. It never occurred to him that maybe this though should not be shared. Reporter after reporter can enter his office after a game and fully expect to hear something quotable, even if they have to leave out several words. He tells what he believes to be the truth in the moment and his most outrageous words always end up in print. He finds himself in hot water more than any reasonable man could tolerate. This is why many of us love him and it is also why many hate him. One thing though, at least he takes his lumps like a man. He doesn’t shoot off to a reporter and then try to blame the reporter for the backlash. Ozzie knows who he is and he knows when he says certain things he’s going to get into trouble. It’s not that he doesn’t care, he just can’t stop himself.
If you hated Ozzie before reading this book, your opinion will not be changed. As the author says, "one person’s entertaining manager is another’s loudmouth." His mouth has already spoiled his new start in Miami thanks to those ridiculous comments about Castro. (An event that was predicted in spirit, if not exactly by Morrissey.) Still, it looks like he’ll get a chance. At some point though, that foot is going back in his mouth. There will be people who love him, and there will be people who hate him. I wouldn't surprise if he doesn't have some success in Miami, especially the first few years. It doesn’t really matter in the long run. As Morrissey says, sooner or later, he will wear out his welcome.
Such is baseball life around Ozzie Guillen.