September 25, 2020

Adios, Ozzie

September 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 


September 26, 2011

Adios, Ozzie

When the Chicago Bears fired Mike Ditka 19 years ago many Chicagoans were crushed.  How can you get rid of an iconoclastic icon who finally brought us a championship?  Simple: it’s time.

Now the situation is the same on Chicago’s South Side where the White Sox have released Ozzie Guillen from his contract, paving the way for him to take over the Florida Marlins.  Ozzie and Ditka are similar in that the things they accomplished with their teams were often shouted down, caught in the profanity, controversy and Sturm und Drang of their own making.  That’s a shame because winning is much more entertaining than becoming a microphone’s best friend.

Ditka won one Super Bowl and probably should have won more.  Many honest Bears fans even go so far as to say the 1980s Bears would have won more if Ditka hadn’t been there.  Maybe.  Ozzie won one World Series and the Sox teams that followed that 2005 champions certainly seemed to have the firepower to repeat but no one really expected them to and so Ozzie’s legacy became that of one hell of a party followed by a bumpy, but often funny, ride home.

Still, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the place Ozzie Guillen holds and forever will in the hearts of White Sox fans.  Think of this: 88 years.  That’s how long it had been since the Sox had won a World Series and whether it was by hook, crook, luck, pluck or plunder Ozzie was the man in the dugout when that awful streak of ignominy finally came to an end.

A few years before the Sox hired Ozzie a colleague of mine, in Atlanta, told me I was the first Chicago White Sox fan he had ever met, as if I were some strange breed of baseball fan he’d heard of and, when pressed, would have guessed existed but never actually encountered.  To him, I wasn’t a unicorn or the Loch Ness monster or some other mystical being that people hope to discover but rather his inaugural empirical encounter with a Chicago White Sox fan was more like finding a dead worm in the garage – how did that get in there?

Ozzie Guillen helped change that.  The White Sox should be like the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.  They are a team that plays in a major city and has done so for decades and should have a respected reputation and a national following.  They don’t.  But the Sox are closer now to such a standing than they were before Ozzie took over the dugout in 2004.  White Sox fans -like any other fans I suppose – don’t really care what the rest of the world thinks of their team just so long as they think something of them and before 2005 it seemed – as unfathomable as it can be – that few people outside Chicago thought of them at all.  Ozzie Guillen helped change that.  11-1 playoff runs topped off with World Series victories help change that.

By the time the Bears fired Ditka after the 1992 season his team was a shell of its former championship self and Ditka admitted, humbly and passionately and in his own Ditka way, that it was time for him to go.  It’s now time for Ozzie as well.  Guillen is a good manager who handles his pitchers well, holds his players accountable, isn’t afraid of the media, (isn’t afraid of anyone) and helps bring fans to the ballpark.  But as a drawing card – a label many Sox fans including myself have given Ozzie in recent years – he was falling short.  The Sox are 21st in MLB in attendance and with the fifth highest payroll in baseball – $127 million – it’s tough to argue that the Sox’ bottom line will be hurt by Guillen’s departure.  White Sox fans are notoriously skeptical, and thrifty, and will always show up to support their team but won’t show up as often for a loser as they would a winner which doesn’t make them unique but does serve as a reminder that the Sox have to win because despite playing in a nice ballpark (it is) and a safe neighborhood (it is) the South Side simply doesn’t attract the casual fan.  It’s a shame, but it’s true, and even a verbose, picaresque guy like Ozzie couldn’t change that.

The best thing Ozzie could do to draw fans was to win and this makes it three straight seasons now that the Sox will miss the playoffs and Ozzie’s teams compiled just one playoff victory in 2008, their only postseason appearance since 2005.  No team – except the Yankees – makes the playoffs every year and every team or manager can have a couple of bad years but three years seems to be the magic mark for all teams in all sports.  If you miss the playoffs three straight years something is wrong.  Something must be changed.  Someone must go.

All of this might be different, of course, if things were different for Adam Dunn.  Mr. Dunn is making $12 million this year while suffering through, truly, one of the worst seasons any major league player – certainly one with such a hefty salary and lofty expectations – has ever had.  Dunn is hitting .161 with 11 homers and 42 RBI.  If Dunn had duplicated his numbers from last year with Washington – .260, 38, 103  - then this might have been a different year for the Sox and Ozzie might have gotten that extension he clamored for and might also be preparing for the postseason.  Most will say it’s not Ozzie’s fault that Dunn flopped this year but it is curious that baseball – more so than most other sports – seems to divorce a player’s performance from a coach’s acumen.  What do the guys in the dugout get paid for?  When it’s time, it’s time.

God willing, it won’t be another eight decades before the White Sox win the World Series but it may indeed be so long before the South Side is ever again home to such a zestful gent as Oswaldo Jose Barrios Guillen.  He was both jester and king.  In his wake he leaves many laughs…and a championship legacy.


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