Commentary

Ozzie returns like he never left

Guillen's Chicago homecoming expectedly expletive filled, entertaining

Updated: July 18, 2012, 1:42 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- When Ozzie Guillen comes to Wrigley Field, he brings with him a light blue T-shirt that reads "Ozzie Mows Wrigley Field." He bought it from a street vendor during the city series in 2009 and has since worn it regularly on his trips to the North Side.

The shirt is meant to be offensive, but to Guillen, who loves to break barriers of taste and race, it's perfect. Now the manager of the Miami Marlins -- and doesn't that sound weird -- Guillen wore it in the clubhouse before the game.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen
Rob Grabowski-US PresswireEven at Wrigley Field, South Side icon Ozzie Guillen looked right at home.

"He's the same guy," said Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle, who followed Guillen from the South Side to South Beach. "He hasn't changed."

In his first professional trip back to Chicago since exiting two games before the end of last season to take the Marlins gig, Guillen also carried with him his house keys, a few grudges, his sons Joey Cora, Big Z and Buehrle, and a bond with his adopted hometown that he says will never die.

These are the things he carries.

"Coming back to Chicago?" he said. "I never left Chicago."

Guillen still keeps his modern home in Bucktown, and when he's home, he said he walks his dog with his head held high. Despite having a home in Miami, Guillen stayed here during parts of the winter. During a recent series with Milwaukee, he commuted from his home. He came back for the All-Star break.

"This is a city I plan to live for the rest of my life," he said. "That's all I can say."

Guillen also carries with him a chip on his shoulder. It was only seven years ago that he did something pretty special. But the world moves on pretty quickly, he has found out. Now with the Sox in first and him in fourth, some have credited his absence.

"I think we did pretty good stuff here," he said. "I don't say me, I say we did pretty good stuff. I think we made this town happy for a couple days. I think I was a hero for a month. Not eight years, nine years, I was only hero for a month."

It's not just him that has been erased this year. At the end of a 20-minute conversation with the media in a stiflingly hot dugout, Guillen laughed when no one asked him a question about the steady former Sox ace Buehrle, who doesn't have the sizzle of Carlos Zambrano or Guillen.

"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 [expletive] don't sell."

Do I miss Ozzie? Yes, of course. He was a great talker and a very good manager.

Maybe it was time for him to leave and the Sox to get a new voice in his place. But that doesn't mean Guillen should be forgotten. Few sportsmen were more important in this city in the past few decades. How many World Series-winning managers do you know here?

But Guillen won't read that praise. He grew rabbit ears toward the end. He has always been vocal about his critics since he started the job, once calling into a talk show to ream out a host. Just before he left for his first spring training with Miami, Guillen told a few reporters he might not talk to the turncoats in the Chicago media when he returned.

He told a newspaper columnist he was going to confront a few people this week. And sure enough, Guillen got into it with a reporter as soon as the clubhouse opened, offended that his critic wanted to shake his hand.

"I'm no hypocrite, bro," he said before a spirited back-and-forth.

Of course, Guillen talked. Talking in his natural state. I'm sure he babbles in his sleep. But also, he's a professional and he wants his legacy in Chicago to exist.

"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."

But Guillen needed to get out of his rut with his general manager and adversary, Kenny Williams, and the Sox players needed new voices, particularly ones that weren't warring with management. Robin Ventura and his staff, along with grouchy holdover Don Cooper, have been well-received since a tough spring training.

Guillen will freely admit that the break-up with the organization that gave him two life-altering chances was necessary. But if you say that the Sox are better off without him, well, his feelings are hurt.

"Don't say they're winning because I'm not there," he said. "That's not fair. That's not fair at all."

It's not fair. But with Miami struggling and the White Sox in first without him, it's no wonder some credit Guillen's absence for the Sox's success. It's lazy thinking, but it's not crazy to connect the dots. Naturally, Guillen disagrees. I do too.

It's always on the players, especially those who underachieved mightily last year and have rebounded this season. We make managers and coaches out to be the be-all, end-all of a team's success, and when a guy like Guillen, all bluster and F-bombs, comes around, he's the natural leading man. But it was never all about him, win or lose. It shouldn't have been anyway. Maybe we learned a lesson about deifying managers.

As for the players, Guillen said he talks to a few Sox, mostly the guys he had been with the longest, like A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko. Surprisingly, Guillen brought up his respect for Adam Dunn, who was useless for Guillen in his Chicago swan song.

"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," Guillen said. "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."

Guillen was booed, of course, when he was announced before the game and when he made a late-inning pitching change. He responded by pointing to his ring finger. But this was Wrigley, where he's despised. It will be interesting to see the reaction if and when he comes to the South Side in a new uniform.

"The only thing I'm looking for, I'm not looking for a standing ovation, I'm looking for three wins," he said. "That's what I come here for, to win games. I don't come here to promote myself or be a candidate for president. I come here to win games. I hope we do."

The Marlins need more than three in a row, but it's a start. They were 43-46 before Tuesday's win, nine games out of first in the competitive NL East, and six games back of the two wild-card spots. In the first year of a gleaming new stadium, Miami might be sellers by the trade deadline. Who knows how long he will co-exist with owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson? If he's managing there in 2014, I'll be surprised.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen
Jerry Lai/US PresswireOzzie Guillen's time on the South Side ended in unharmonious fashion -- but he has many relationships within the White Sox's orgainization.

Guillen wouldn't rule out a return to the Sox one day, a South Side Billy Martin situation, but he said he's healthier in Miami.

"Listen, it's like getting divorced and getting married again. What are you going to say? Oh wow, look at my wife, she has another boyfriend. No, I'm not that type of guy. I got remarried and I wish my wife the best of luck."

Guillen knows that no matter what reporters or fans think about him, they'll always be there to listen to him speak.

"[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."

Absolutely true. I'm glad the soap opera is over on the South Side and we can focus on just baseball. But it's always nice to see Ozzie again, if only for a couple days. But as he likes to say, he has never left.

"I already have a statue there," he said of the Sox's home. "Every time you walk to [U.S.] Cellular Field, the first [expletive] you see is me holding the trophy."

Ozzie will always be our first (expletive). He can carry that to his grave.

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.