Make no mistake, I love Ozzie Guillén.
He was so, so good to me on the beat. Him calling me out, with affection, at the winter meetings in front of some odd conglomerate of national/international/bullfighting beat media after I’d lost a ton of weight like two months into the offseason, is still an all-time favorite moment I have of covering the team.
He made the job so much fun. Terribly taxing, given you couldn’t miss a moment of his endless waxings on everything from opponents to bullfighting (bleah) to his lovely wife Ibis to former managers and teammates to his own club to his many gaffes to the million insider stories told off-mic. But, something I’ll always cherish. Walking away was necessary, but not easy.
That didn’t keep me from calling out his b.s. (much of my time at CSN is locked away in a server farm, somewhere, so if you’d like to scrutinize my claim, scroll to the bottom for a pretty scathing take on both Ozzie and Ken, ca. 2011), of course. But when we sat down near season’s end in Kansas City and talked for a long while, with more than a bit of cheekiness over where we’d both be headed the next year, I knew, for all his warts, we wouldn’t see the greatness of someone like Ozzie on the South Side again.
Shame on him for quitting on his 2011 team. But his legacy as one of the greatest managers in White Sox history (spoiler alert, an interesting SSS feature coming up over the break!) is forever intact, no matter how flatulent the ending.
Maybe the short version of this intro is: I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to transcribe an Ozzie Q&A. Ever.
JASON BENETTI: We have Ozzie Guillén with us today. How are you doing?
OZZIE GUILLÉN: I listen to you guys every day and learn. I swear to God. I never lie. I never lie. I listen to you guys, write it down, and then when I’m working with ESPN all of a sudden I’m a genius. [Huge guffaw]
JB: So we were getting on you for not framing Black Jack’s first pitch, but you told us during the break, he threw you what?
OG: He threw me a split-finger fastball! He told me he was going to do it. I didn’t think he had the guts to do it. All of a sudden, he did it. Thank God, I took my glasses off. I wanted to throw it back at him and tell him, why’d you do that?
JB: I still think you could have framed it better.
OG: I said to Black Jack, “You know what, you never change. You were crazy, you’re still crazy, and you’ll always be crazy.”
JB: What was that clubhouse like in ’93?
OG: Very good, very good, because everybody got along very well. Obviously we had a bunch of kids, Jason [Bere], Wilson [Alvarez], Roberto Hernandez, Alex Fernandez, Robin [Ventura]. I was like the old man of the ballclub, with Pudge [Carlton Fisk]. They brought in Bo [Jackson]. Frank [Thomas] was what, he was only three years in the big leagues? But Walter Hriniak offensively kept the team together and respecting each other, obviously with Gene Lemont.
The pitching staff was great. It was young, but it was great. Young arms. People don’t remember that we competed against good ballclubs, oh my God. We competed against the Oakland A’s, first of all, and we lost the playoffs against one of the best teams I’ve ever seen in my life, the Toronto Blue Jays.
[Highlight of Guillén hitting one of his rare home runs starts playing.]
JB: Nice mustache, by the way.
OG: Well, that was the thing then.
JB: You got [the ball] up and out there.
OG: I was on the stuff. [Massive belly laugh.] Maybe a corked bat.
But you know what, people talk about the 2005 ballclub, obviously I was the manager, but it wasn’t fun, because I [wasn’t a player]. But this  ballclub, it was the ballclub my kids grew up with, and we were better friends off the field than on the field. Off the field, it was a bunch of crazy guys, veteran players.
Today, when I walked in, I said, “Wow, we’re still alive?” [Laughs] Because it was a lot of veteran players, it was a pretty good veteran club [mixed] with a lot of kids, and those kids grew up with good veteran players around them.
JB: When you think back to that year, what games stand out, what moments stand out?
OG: Well, there were so many. First of all, I was hurt the year before [Ozzie suffered an early season knee surgery after a collision with Tim Raines on a fly ball and missed the rest of the season], and my first game back that year was the one I really appreciated, because I never thought I would come back from an injury. I never thought the team and the fans were going to react that [positively].
But I remember the clinch, I think it was Seattle, and Bo hit the home run. We had the lead but Bo stretched it into something more comfortable [actually, Ozzie is wrong here, it was a 0-0 game when Bo homered], and we felt comfortable with Roberto Hernandez coming out of the bullpen.
But over the year, it was so special. Watching Frank Thomas win the MVP, he was amazing. He didn’t have that many people [batting] behind him, to protect him. Like right now [a player might say], “Oh, I’m not hitting because I have no protection.” But with Frank, we did it —
JB: Here’s that last out.
[Footage of the final out of the clinching win.]
OG: Yeah, Ellis Burk!
It was special because we had a bunch of great kids, great coaches, Tom [sic] Mansolino was one of the coaches, Terry Bevington was a great third-base coach — I don’t think he was a good manager, but he was a great third-base coach, one of the best. I give Jim Leyland and Terry Bevington as the best third-base coaches I’ve ever seen in my career.
JB: Why’s that? Why was [Bevington] so good at third base?
OG: He knew what he was doing, like there was another manager there. He took the role very seriously, and he was into every play we had on the field. Mansolino was working with the infield. I told Manso, “It’s easy working the infield when you’ve got Joey [Cora], Ozzie —
JB: Yeah, you’ve got Joey right there.
OG: He looks like my granddaughter when I hold her. [Laughs]
But it was special. We didn’t have the wild card, we competed against good ballclubs. It was just divisions, four [ALCS] games to win [to get to the World Series]. We competed against [Toronto] — most of the guys on that team are Hall-of-Famers, great players.
JB: What was it like playing behind that pitching staff you guys had, Wilson and Black Jack and Alex and Bere?
OG: Wow. Awesome. They had good arms. Now you see good arms, but you don’t see strikes. I watch the games every day and I say, “Oh God, this guy throws 98 or 97,” but no [command of the] strike zone. [Our] guys knew what to do.
To me, the leader of the pack was Black Jack. They listened to him, and he was a gamer. Now you see a guy, he throws 60 pitches, they think about taking him out. Black Jack showed people how to pitch through 100 pitches, through nine innings. People don’t appreciate that now[adays], and maybe the career is shorter, but you take more advantage of the pitching staff.
JB: Was ’93 the year you guys did the fake shoe commercial for Spanky LaValliere?
OG: I remember that. I hit a double and Spanky tried to score. [Laughs] He was out by miles. Then, the same place, I hit another double, and he scored. It was fun.
Baseball was fun, but there was respect. Baseball now, people do a lot of crazy stuff, I see Sanchez go there and put the bucket over his head. I’m not against that — I love it. I love it, because baseball now, it’s no fun anymore. People go through their business in a different way.
We had fun guys. We had a great ballclub. Also, it’s more fun when you’re winning. It makes it a little easier to come to the yard.
JB: When did you know that year was going to be special?
OG: To be honest with you, we didn’t know, because we had so many young players and young talent. The old guys we had were very old, and —
JB: Like you.
OG: — I was in the middle. but I felt older because I had the most years in the big leagues, [along] with a few veteran players. The good thing about us was that the veteran players took care of the young players and the game in the right way, and the young players respected the veteran players.
Now, you don’t see that as often; as soon as the game’s over, everybody goes to their own house. Stoney can tell you about it. Stoney has more friends who played with him in the past, and they’re still friends. They don’t do that now. They see each other in the airplane, a little group here, a little group there, but they’re not doing it [in the same way].
[Footage of Ozzie in extreme Charley Lau/Walt Hriniak batting-stance bend, smashing a single vs. Toronto.]
JB: That’s from the ALCS.
OG: That’s Walt Hriniak’s swing. It didn’t work for that many guys, but it worked for me. I was still hitting .220 [laughs], but it worked good for me.
One of the most underrated players we had was Lance Johnson.
JB: Oh yeah, he was a table-setter.
OG: He played good for us.
JB: What did you say to Walt Hriniak when you saw him today?
OG: Thank you.
OG: Yes. Walter Hriniak made me good, on the field and off the field. Walter to me was more than a coach. I could talk to Walter and be honest — he’s been through it. When you tell people the truth, to their face, they don’t like it. And the relationship between us both was very honest and very true.
One thing he told me today was: “You know what I remember? You said, ‘Walter, let me tell you one thing: You only care about people’s hitting, you don’t care about this ballclub.’ And he looked at me [today] and said: “You got that right.” [Laughs]
Because Walter’s the kind of coach who cares about you [as a hitter]; he doesn’t care about the pitching staff —
JB: It’s not his job!
OG: — he doesn’t care about anybody. He doesn’t care about how good you pitched, how you played your defense. He just worried about hitting, and that’s why Walter was what he was.
JB: Who was the guy — you mentioned Lance Johnson being underappreciated — who was another guy you look at and say wow, he kind of made that ’93 team go?
OG: Roberto Hernandez. Roberto Hernandez came from injury, nobody knew what he was, and all of a sudden he was the closer with Thiggy.
Nobody talks about Ron Karkovice. Karko caught all those big boys. I told Karko, it’s easy to catch them; they’re good, they’ve got good arms, they throw strikes. That’s something nobody talks about, because catching and pitching is the key to the game, and [Karkovice and the pitching staff] were a pretty good combination.
[Edited out for non-1993 content:
- Ozzie’s takes on Danny Duffy’s super-eephus wild pitch — was it ironic that the worst ball-strike calls on Yoán Moncada, Ryan LaMarre and Yolmer Sánchez all came in the half-inning Guillén was in the booth?
- Ozzie predicting that if he faced Steve Stone, it would be an “18-pitch complete game” because he swung at everything.
- Ozzie in full-throat with his endorsement of Sánchez’s role on the White Sox, and adding that if Sánchez claimed he was from Venezuela, he had to make the fabulous, over-the-shoulder catch he made in foul territory in the first inning seem routine.]
Flashback: 2011 content below