Baseball has found a way to move on from at least one Castro.
The last thing anybody needs is another person with zero Miami connections offering an opinion about how an entire community should or shouldn't feel about Ozzie Guillen and his Fidel Castro material. And I think "material" is the best way to describe it, since he trial-ballooned the segment in 2008 and received no real response.
I'm more interested in the New Yorker article about Guillen that preceded this controversy, as I finally got a chance to read it (BuehrleMan referred to it a couple days ago and Rob Neyer linked to it on Tuesday).
I know a lot of you no longer care about Guillen; I still care, but only so I can better understand what Robin Ventura is doing differently. It requires some detective work. Ventura appears to share a similar baseball philosophy, so it's all in the implementation. Ventura also happens to be a helluva lot better at keeping a secret, and the Sox are choosing to only speak well of Guillen in public, so Guillen's side still offers the most to mine.
As BuehrleMan hinted, it's not a flattering profile of the new marriage. Ben McGrath, the author, mostly stays out of the action, but the tone he uses in the article conveys that he's amused, and wondering if that should be the case.
Guillen takes a lot of pleasure in pointing out how little responsibility he actually has:
He is a born performer—he says he sometimes wishes he had become a toreador instead of a ballplayer—and one of his recurring acts is to call into question what a major-league manager actually does to earn his paycheck (two and a half million dollars a year, in his case). "This is not instructional league," he said this spring. "We not teaching here." He’s not strategizing, either, if he can help it. "They don’t have to play my style," he argued. "What’s any manager’s style?"
Nor does Guillen pore over his roster in an attempt to familiarize himself with personnel. "A lot of people say I’m un-f----ing-prepared," he volunteered one afternoon in his office, and did little to dispel the notion, shuffling distractedly through some papers on a fake-mahogany desk that he deemed too big for his purposes by at least seventy-five per cent. "I no like this desk," he said. "This is overrated." He required only space enough for his can of dip tobacco and his scented candle (peach cilantro, to counteract the clubhouse stench). His audience wanted to know who would be pitching, where, and when. Guillen finally shrugged and said that the pitching coach was next door—why not ask him? "That’s why you got f---ing guys there as the coaches."
Later on, McGrath was watching practice when Guillen drove by in a golf cart shouting "Eyewash!" In other words, he's saying the drills give the impression that the players are making an effort, but don't actually serve a purpose. After he drove by, McGrath writes:
A number of minutes passed with no sign of the manager’s returning. "See, my dad went inside and Joey’s doing all of this," Oney said, referring to Joey Cora, the former second baseman and Ozzie’s best friend, who was using a fungo bat to conduct an infield drill. "Right now, he doesn’t have a TV in his office, so he’s probably just sitting there. He likes to eat popcorn. He got an iPad—he just likes playing dominoes on it."
When a guy takes a new job, there's usually a renewed sense of purpose and effort, whether in order to make a positive impression on the employer, or just because there's none of the baggage/fatigue from previous relationships. Maybe Guillen is playing up his lack of attention because it's cool to act like he doesn't care, but any exaggeration is likely minimal. Based on the drips of information offered by those who witnessed Guillen's decline in Chicago, his described routine with Miami seems to be a continuation of the way he ran the Sox.
I remember Mark Gonzales slipping a line into his mailbag saying, "The coaches had plenty of say, and some front office people even thought that Joey [Cora] was running the team too much." That still seems to be the case, and the way Guillen deferred to the pitching coach over the most basic of questions tells us how it's even possible the Sox held a powwow about Jake Peavy's future with Guillen nowhere around.
(This account also diminishes any impact statement Guillen could make as a supposed victim of Don Cooper's Brutus act. If he were that concerned about a pitching coach having too much say, you wouldn't think he would cede oversight so easily.)
Ventura can't afford to be nearly as laissez-faire about the proceedings, so spring training took on a different tone. Kenny Williams said Ventura put his stamp on the spring. White Sox players talked about a greater commitment to seeing drills carried out successfully. The term "attention to detail" was used often.
Maybe it would be classified as "eyewash," but Ventura has to err on the side of overpreparation. He's building a reputation from the ground up. He couldn't show up to Camelback Ranch with a totes-whatever game plan.
And what's interesting is that the "eyewash" hasn't been put away yet. Prior to Monday's game, Daryl Van Schouwen tweeted:
Old school: Sox just took infield practice after they hit. Don't see that every day.— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) April 9, 2012
The idea of infield practice is appealing; its real-life effect probably doesn't meet hopes. But for the players, it has to be a departure to see drills carried into the regular season if the previous regime didn't invest much into practice during spring training. And it seems like the latter is the case, based on the New Yorker article and the bits that have leaked out before it.
Apologies in advance if this feels like a book club, but here's something I'll throw out for discussion for those who read the article...
Considering McGrath's description of Guillen's current leadership style, it seems like it would naturally run the risk of leaving a massive void in direction. Guillen can manage a pitching staff and he can take the heat off struggling players when he cares enough (*cough496PAcough*), but given his disregard for structure, it seems like discontent could spread rapidly if the clubhouse is even a slightly habitable environment for it.
Fortunately for the organization, the White Sox clubhouse is formed in Paul Konerko's image. When a contentious personality has surfaced in recent years, it has been removed from the premises in short order. They kept their heads down through the soap opera the last two years. They do crossword puzzles and play cribbage.
I wonder if that's why Williams publicly floated the crazy notion of naming Konerko player-manager when talking about how he ultimately decided on Ventura. Williams couldn't have seen it as a valid baseball strategy, but maybe Konerko had such a hand in keeping the Sox focused that Williams wanted to acknowledge his role.
Or maybe I'm way off. Or maybe you're tired of Guillen talk no matter how much I try to make it about Ventura. Lucky for all of us, there's a game at 11:05. You know, if it doesn't snow.