Ozzie Guillen reflects on White Sox

Updated: July 18, 2012, 1:45 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Ozzie Guillen had drinks with A.J. Pierzynski over the All-Star break, connected with Paul Konerko the other day and even received a small gift from chairman Jerry Reinsdorf a couple days ago.

That's why the Miami Marlins manager gets offended when people say the main reason the Chicago White Sox are winning is because he's not there.

"Don't say they're winning because I'm not there," Guillen said before the Marlins beat the Chicago Cubs 9-5 Tuesday in his first professional return to Chicago since his exit two games before the end of last season. "That's not fair. That's not fair. They have the same guy (pitching coach Don Cooper) commanding the pitching as last year. They talk about (former hitting coach) Greg Walker, well, I think the Atlanta Braves are doing pretty good. I believe it's not fair when you talk about coaches moving."

As for himself?

"To be honest, whatever people say about me and the White Sox, I am a true White Sox," Guillen said. "Put it this way, 21 years with the same organization. Nobody can say (expletive) about me in the White Sox organization. Nobody. I am a true White Sox. I spent more years in the White Sox than anybody out there. The White Sox will always be in my heart."

Guillen told a Chicago Sun-Times columnist over the weekend he was angry at some in the local media, reporters and radio hosts, for inferring the White Sox are in first because he's in South Beach. He made similar comments about reporters turning against him in February after an ESPN 1000 event.

"It's not fair when I see a couple idiots, let me put it this way, compare the team played better because so and so is not here," he said in a crowded dugout. "I think that's not fair because when I was here, I was very clear with the media, very honest, and you see my record in eight years. I think I left this team with a winning percentage. Two postseasons and one championship. When people talk about me being overrated, overpaid, that's funny. Because they don't have the guts to tell me to my face."

To prove the point that he's relevant in Chicago, Guillen looked at the reporters crammed into a stifling hot dugout.

"(Former Sox manager) Jerry Manuel, if he was here, not any of you guys would be here," he said. "Ozzie Guillen is here, look at you (expletive) guys making a line."

Guillen repeatedly has said he's rooting for his replacement, his old friend Robin Ventura, and he's happy that Adam Dunn and Alex Rios are having bounce-back seasons.

"First of all, they're my friends," he said. "Rios is my dear friend. I cannot say anything about Rios because I knew him before he came to the White Sox. With Dunn, if there's one player I have more respect for in the game than (Jim) Thome, Konerko, I think Dunner is.

Guillen Don't say they're winning because I'm not there. That's not fair. That's not fair.

-- Ozzie Guillen

"What Dunner went through last year, and he took it like a man, he was the same guy in the clubhouse and dugout every day. He just had a bad year. It takes a very strong man mentally to go through what he went through last year. I'm very happy for him and his family for what he's doing right now, and he knows that."

As soon as the clubhouse doors opened 3½ hours before the game, Guillen did get into a minor argument with a longtime reporter -- "If we're friends, who needs enemies," Guillen said at one point -- but when it came time to meet with the phalanx of Chicago reporters, he was his usual loquacious self, only ducking a question about Nats phenom Bryce Harper. He spoke for 20 minutes, peppering his comments with laughs and expletives.

After he talked to reporters, he hugged White Sox batting practice pitcher Rob Tamen and screamed with joy when he saw ex-Cubs general Jim Hendry, who is scouting for the Yankees.

As Mark Buehrle said, "He's the same guy. He hasn't changed."

Not even a little?

"Not really," Guillen said of his transition to Florida. "A little bit because I don't think the players, they don't know me, and the media, they don't know me back there. ... That's the only difference. And besides that, I've got to speak two languages every day, I've got to speak in Spanish and in English. But as a person, I can't change. But I have to be careful. I don't know that many people out there. I've only spent one year, I don't know who's who. That's the only change."

It hasn't been a smooth ride for Guillen. His Marlins, despite a huge free agent outlay to bring in talent to play in their new stadium, came into Chicago 43-46 and could be sellers instead of buyers before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Guillen found himself in the center of a major public-relations storm after he was quoted by Time magazine as saying he loves Fidel Castro and respects the retired Cuban leader for staying in power so long. That didn't exactly go over well in a region with such a huge Cuban population, and the result was a five-game suspension along with an apology from the manager.

Over the weekend, he found himself at odds with Harper. Guillen informed Nationals third base coach Bo Porter rather than an umpire that Harper's bat might have exceeded the rules regarding pine tar. The next time he stepped to the plate, Harper pointed a bat in Guillen's direction and the two had words.

The Marlins knew there would be flare-ups when they brought in Guillen. After all, he was sent to sensitivity training with the White Sox when he used a gay slur to describe a Chicago columnist.

The controversies at times overshadowed his ability as a manager, but Miami believed he was the man to lead them as they tried to make a big leap into contention.

They were aiming high with a new ballpark opening, and backed it up with a huge financial commitment.

They swung deals totaling $191 million to acquire NL batting champion Jose Reyes, All-Star left-hander Buehrle and All-Star closer Heath Bell.

Besides Guillen and Buehrle, the former White Sox ace, the Marlins kept the Chicago pipeline going with the trade that brought in the troubled former Cubs All-Star pitcher Carlos Zambrano.

"Well, my team right now, we're very inconsistent," Guillen said. "We're not playing the way we thought we were going to play. The talent out there is not producing the way we thought they were going to produce. We're still fighting, still fighting."

As for the first-place White Sox, Guillen said: "They're playing better because they're good. All those people that say they're playing better because managers and coaches change, no, they're good because Robin is doing a tremendous job and the players are responding the way they should respond. I said last year it's too bad that didn't play good for me. If I'm going to take the blame for the way we were last year, I always take the blame for anything. I never blamed anybody, never did, never will. I'm very glad they're playing well, believe me."

Asked about how he'll be received at Wrigley -- he was booed by the small crowd in their seats when his name was announced around 6:45 p.m. -- Guillen wasn't worried.

"How? I don't care," he said. "I'll be honest, why should I care? We're playing in the part of the city they don't like me too much. I don't get a standing ovation. Why? I should? But I live in Chicago. If they have something to say, I'm on the street every day walking my dog, have a couple beers, anybody can say anything there. They come here, I think everybody knows in Chicago, Ozzie coming to Wrigley Field, it's going to be a fest."

After the questions died down and Guillen started to get up off the bench, he yelped with delight. He had something on the reporters.

"Wait a minute," he said. "(Expletive) Chicago media. That's why people talk bad about Chicago media. How about Mark Buehrle? He's a nice guy, so no one say nothing about him, huh? All right, Mark Buehrle left Chicago in mourning, but you don't say anything about him. That (bleep) don't sell."

Guillen was asked if he'll get a stand-alone statue at U.S. Cellular Field. He said he hopes so, but until then: "I already have a statue there," he said. "Every time you walk to (U.S.) Cellular Field, the first (expletive) you see is me holding the trophy. That's the biggest statue you can have."

Guillen wasn't the only Marlin making his return to Chicago. Zambrano, who told Cubs clubhouse personnel that he was retiring as he left the stadium after being ejected from a rough start at Atlanta last August, was also back at Wrigley.

The Cubs placed him on the disqualified list, the latest in a series of incidents over the years that included confrontations with Michael Barrett and Derrek Lee.

Buehrle said Zambrano has been "one of the best teammates I've ever played with." Zambrano apologized for his issues and said he has no immediate plans to leave the game.

He said he has good memories of his time in Chicago and still owns a home there. He isn't scheduled to start in this series and has no desire to take to the mound at Wrigley Field this year.

Zambrano said he also enjoys playing for his friend and fellow Venezuelan Guillen.

"He's straight, which is good," he said. "He says things to you, in front of you. ... Ozzie's pretty straight. That's the kind of people that I really like."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.