Editor's note: Uribe Down is a staff travel writer for the off-beat rag In Times of Grinders, which is not concerned solely with sandwiches. Use of his articles cost SBN and SSS considerable money, so let's be respectful, eh?
Ozzie greets me in the three-story rotunda, the main entrance to his home, and I tell him exactly how I feel: "I'm wishing we never met." The animosity is true, and deep-rooted.
Work recently took me down to Miami on assignment, to review the gaudy art museum/baseball exhibition area they call Marlins Park, which can be read here. During the second of two games I took in for the review, I happened upon the Marlins' director of media relations, Matt Roebuck, a congenial, portly man with a wide grin, pressed khakis and wayfarer sunglasses. In passing and half-jest I asked about an interview with the manager himself, Ozzie Guillen. As a White Sox fan, I definitely had some words for him, and some questions; the thought that I would actually be granted access didn't occur to me until Roebuck came trotting back up the steps of section 18 in the 6th inning. "He's in," he said, in a pleasant business-as-usual tone. This is, of course, before the All-Star break incident.
The following morning I drove to Guillen's stucco mansion, a dominant house in the depths of a wealthy sub-division not all that far from the ballpark. After my direct-to-bullets approach, the interview I had sort-of-not-really prepared went poorly onward, but not for lack of attempted good faith. As a White Sox fan, I had been taught to accept his insults as a fact of life, almost a point of pride, something on which to build Chicago toughness. Guillen had been at my pulpit, the one true priest of my team, the unquestionable source of insight, solace and protection. Even in the poor in-game decisions, namely bunting and sacrifices, it was Ozzie filling his own role. There could and would be no imagined replacement, not with the perceived total vacuum his absence would open. Though he was fallible, he was defended by the myths surrounding his reputation, his clubhouse presence, and the eight-year buildup of mud and dirt that accumulated from so much time in the gutter. My plan was to be polite, but not to mince words or give any ground.
"So why you here?" Ozzie's retort comes across casually; he leads me to the gorgeous expanse of a backyard despite my initial insolence. An assistant, a servant, really, pours us fresh lemonade, and we settle in at a table set up next to the pool. The first sip reveals the drink to be half vodka. As I lay out a short list of grievances, Ozzie listens more intently than I anticipated. He's not nervous, but he squirms in his seat as if it's made of pine needles. About two minutes in, he realizes this is less of an interview than an ambush. Or maybe a broadside. I do have questions, but first comes the blame, perhaps at the expense of my journalistic credentials.
You were a tyrant, I start off. As a fan, I really only remember you as a White Sox manager, but you brought shame about a proud franchise. Your antics were explainable, or at least pardonable, at the time. In hindsight I am disgusted that I let them slide in the guise of "protecting the players." If your mouth happened to move the spotlight from the stage, it was pure coincidence that it helped any players, or the team as a whole. What it did do, each time, was build your brazen confidence and deepen the hole between everyone and you. King You. Your show, your team, your city. Of course players have bad games and bad seasons. We, as fans, know that. What can absolutely not be tolerated is indifference or laziness or sabotage. I blame you for everything surrounding Herr Teahen and the DHydra. I firmly believe that you were more involved in personnel decisions than would ever be let on, though ultimately Reinsdorf saw you for the nutbag you are. K-Dub pleaded to keep his own job, and remained on his last chance. The fact that he pulled off the Youkilis trade probably bought him a year of amnesty, with that excitement he's provided, and those terms agreed to, and a nice fuck you to Bawston, and maybe a few more fannies in the seats. And you know what, Ozzie? I'm proud of him for it. I'm happy for him, and for my team. I'm ecstatic that Yolk will never play slotted in your fantastical, helter-skelter line-ups. I'm happy that he came in here, for a purpose and with a purpose. I'm also happy that you don't get to detract from that, and I also have the gut feeling that if you were still in Chicago, besides the team being under .500, Yolk wouldn't be here either, strong personality and all.
You get to distract, or detract, from nothing related to my experience this year, and that alone means it's a better year than 2011.
You made it seem that you let the inmates run the asylum last year, and in years previous, but that wasn't exactly true. You ran the place. You made a work environment that beyond tense and poisonous. Your hands-off approach now has a stench of diabolical laziness, of concerted power, of destined failure. This year, the inmates have input into management, everyone's been looser after a rocky start, and the positive attributes are being noticed if not noted. The team and the city are better with you out of the picture. You're never going to find that should-have-been everlasting love that you enjoyed so obviously in Chicago.
In a Frost/Nixon-like moment, Ozzie clams up, taking in my mini-rant. Dwelling on it. He stops shifting his weight, and though he still looks fairly relaxed his face looks more glum than I can remember. It's silent for a few moments but for the birds. All of a sudden, he's human, and right in front of me. I can see why players may defer to him; even he has his limits of power, the point at which he stops enjoying the vitriol and the mean-spirited politics, making every day, every game just something to get through. Surprising as it is, the manager has feelings.
In brief, he tells me that he loved his job "up there," but hated the people. He couldn't handle dissent, and he was put off by others having any input. "Didn't you see me on that fucking bus? Downtown, with the paper from the sky? That was me," he says. In his mind he's still waving to crowds of fans, still a hero, dejected for reasons beyond him, but there's not a mirror in sight. I can tell that there's more on his mind, if I only would ask, but I realize that I'd rather not know, not now, and it doesn't matter anyway. He's not the bigger man, and I'm still too angry to try and let him be. I get up and he walks me out.
At the half-circle driveway, where I left the rental, we don't shake hands. It's an unfulfilling, awkward moment. I get in the car and he actually closes the door for me. With a cursory wave I drive away, leaving him to who knows what, as the Marlins are off. Rarely do I actually feel like I need a drink, but this is one of those moments. Going to his mansion, I didn't want to like him, and for the most part that stays the same. This is confronting your abusive stepfather as an adult, realizing that nothing will change and the past stays the past. This is the emptiest part of moving on.
Now, everything above was written before Guillen's plane went down into the Everglades. I was editing and sprucing the piece up when I heard the news. The death of the pilots is truly unfortunate, but until they locate Ozzie's body, despite the news reports, I can't be sure of his demise. I don't think that tough talk was entirely bluster, or that he's not as dumb as some media-types portrayed him. If there was a way for him to make it out, he probably did.
And all of this still makes me angry. Once again, he gets to have the last word while the baseball world looks at the spectacle in more wonder than revulsion. He loves to be hated, and he's gotten his wish, in one form or another, for a long time now. In all reality, Ozzie is off the White Sox Christmas card list. Probably even birthdays, too. But he doesn't care. He has, amazingly, somehow, burned all the good will in the world. Somehow he earned respect, and he did actually earn it. But then he squandered it, against the odds. He went along to get along, he had played as a "grindy" player. Ozzie used his experiences as a wedge of old-school self-righteous horseshit; you're either a member of the family, with me as the patriarch, or you have your own routine and mindset and fuck you, you were adopted anyway. Towards the end he was dead-set on his path, no apologies, full speed ahead, over the waterfall in a barrel.
But he's gone, or so we're told. I get to have fun now. I get to have straight-forward games, a game with no sideshow, won or lost without superfluous drama. After a loss, not everything is horseshit. After a win, there's no genial crusader, ascribing victory to the troops with a false sense of nobility. He ate at my enjoyment of the game and he doesn't get to do that. At least not anymore. Our new leader is amateur enough to know that his job depends on actual performance. For once, the team seems amped to help him out with his small problem. He is on their shoulders, but it's not forced, and they're not being whipped, these galley slaves rowing in unison without special prodding. With victory comes a resurgent sense of duty. With loss comes wave of disappointment, but not disillusion. Confidence remains at the surface.
If he ever turns up, he can read this criticism. I know he would revel in the slight anger it may make him feel. I know he would get energized that someone would spend the time dwelling on him, trying to take him down, while he's the clear winner: a successful player-turned-manager at the top level of the game, thumbing his nose at both detractors and cautious friends. It's Ozzie being Ozzie and he deserves any fate that may descend upon him. To really deny him pleasure is to forget about him completely, but it seems we fans are incapable.
As long as we feed the beast, he will be around. The Myth of Ozzie Guillen lives on, whether we like it or not, whether he knows or does not. On that fateful flight, I am tempted to wonder about his last thoughts in the seconds or minutes when he realized the plane was going down, that he was more out of control than ever before in his life, that it could actually be over for him. He always made a point of never giving a fuck, and I think there's a good possibility that his immediate, if not final, thoughts were along those familiar lines. I know that, upon hearing of the crash, that sentiment was exactly what crossed my mind.