Thursday, June 9, 2011
A not-always happy medium
By Jon Greenberg
If you hate reading stories about what athletes say on Twitter, or if you're an athlete or pseudo-celebrity who resents their "tweets" being turned into front-page news, you're in for a long and frustrating life.
The idea of immediate social connectivity is not going away. It will only evolve.
Personally, I love Twitter and, like so many others, am addicted to it (find me at @espnchijon!).
For all the positives of the medium, mostly its ability to connect and to pass along news, the negatives are clear and go well beyond the degradation of language. See Weiner, Anthony.
Twitter is great for people like me. For all the talk that athletes getting their voice heard on their terms would cripple sportswriters (those who have the access), the opposite has occurred. We've become addicted to covering their unfiltered opinions, which we get little of in group settings. It's instant fodder for stories. The Jay Cutler playoff debacle was the greatest example.
But Oney Guillen's rise from anonymous middle child to 140-character hit man could make for a thesis on social media.
In real life, Oney is Ozzie Guillen's 20-something son, who is upbeat, funny, loves his life and his family, and is in the early stages of building some kind of marketing enterprise with his older brother, Ozzie Jr.
Online, at @oneyguillen, he is super-confident, crass, sometimes very funny and sometimes openly antagonistic. He has no patience for spelling, periods or "haters." He has nearly 5,000 followers and no shortage of people who send him profane, belligerent messages.
It's only newsworthy when he's confident, crass or seemingly antagonistic toward the baseball organization that has dominated his life and his family's life for 26 years. It is Online Oney that some Chicago White Sox fans despise. And it's a shame, because he loves the White Sox more than anything.
It's been more than a year since his rebel tweets have turned into 24/7 news. It's unfortunate, and not always fair, but that's life nowadays.
Last season when the rift between the team's manager and general manager Kenny Williams was at its ugliest, Oney was unloading on Twitter, too. He didn't cause the conflicts, it was deeper than that, but he was there. There is no doubt this is an angle that we, the media, like to exploit.
Confrontation and backstage squabbles are certainly more interesting at times than discussing the actual game on the field, especially when the White Sox are striving for a .500 record. He won't get a hit or make an out this season, but is anyone talking about Phil Humber or Brent Morel?
I understand why his criticism of the White Sox organization is news, because he's the manager's son and it's obvious that, occasionally, his complaints mirror the skipper's own feelings and convey the soap opera environment surrounding the team. So whenever Oney hits the "tweet" button, he leaves himself open for criticism. Yes, he's no longer employed by the team, but he's the son of the White Sox manager, and you can't erase that with a pink slip.
That's why it was national news when he unloaded on Bobby Jenks in December, after the former Sox closer made a mildly disparaging remark about Ozzie's handling of the bullpen. Oney went wild and brought out some skeletons from Jenks' closet, a no-no in the "clubhouse culture" of baseball. He later apologized to Jenks, but it was an ugly scene.
After a rip at the Adam Dunn signing -- that was quite prescient -- Oney's Sox criticism has abated. He tweets more often about his beloved Los Angeles Lakers and his hatred of LeBron James. But every time he I see his agitated posts in my Twitter feed, I wonder if the end is nigh for the Sox-Guillen family.
The other day, Oney expounded on the Sox's first draft pick, an Arizona junior college player named Keenyn Walker, who was taken 47th in the recent amateur draft. No big deal, really. It's the amateur draft, after all. But his tweet was taken seriously by some media and it blew up.
|Some White Sox fans probably would like to share popcorn with Ozzie Guillen when watching the soap opera that often surrounds the team.|
Walker was the player of the year in the always-competitive Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. He hit .412 with six home runs, 59 RBIs and stole 70 bases in 74 attempts. His athleticism is supposedly his strong suit, as he was also a very strong football player in Salt Lake City.
As a fan, and someone with a lot at stake, both emotionally and for his family, with the club, Oney thought the Sox's philosophy is skewed and it showed with their most recent pick. His criticism wasn't very eloquent, though.
"Shocker white sox pick another good athlete black kid. How about picking a good baseball player," he tweeted.
Clunky syntax aside, some people focused on the words "black kid." It's just that he has no filter, like his pop. Oney swears he wasn't intentionally bringing race into the discussion.
I assumed his point was clumsily made, so I emailed him to verify it. The point he was trying to make was that the Sox were too focused on a player with "upside." Which I suppose is true of a lot of teams, especially in baseball, where few draftees are finished products.
"I was simply pointing out that they drafted same type of player when they drafted Jared Mitchell, that is all," he responded. "Nothing wrong with athletic guys but there's high-risk, high-reward. Sometimes taking a low-risk guy isn't all that bad."
Some people might not believe that, but his follow-up tweet bears him out: "That's all they talk. High ceiling, blah blah. Braves, twins A's. Baseball players. Nothing wrong with those."
Mitchell, the team's top pick in 2009, is still getting used to baseball (he missed last season after ankle surgery), hitting .225 with 77 strikeouts and 47 hits in the Carolina League.
But Oney wasn't exactly dead-on with his criticism. Williams and his staff have shown a proclivity to draft finished products early as well.
The Sox got lucky when pitcher Chris Sale fell into their laps last year. Sale made it to the big leagues mere months after being drafted. Gordon Beckham, the polished college star, was taken in the 2008 draft and he didn't play a full season in the minors before getting the call in 2009.
There is a school of thought that Oney's criticism of the Sox's first-round draft pick might have caused the Sox to rethink drafting the youngest Guillen in the latter rounds, and that's where this is important.
Ozney Guillen plays at a community college in Miami, and despite a decent freshman season, he wasn't taken in the just-completed amateur draft. There was a thought this could reignite a divisive situation between Ozzie Guillen, who is signed through 2012, and the White Sox front office, led by Williams.
The Sox took Ozney in the 22nd round last year, and the feeling was selecting him that low was a slap in the face to the family. That was a major bugaboo between Ozzie and Kenny, before the team went on that illusory run toward respectability.
It would be a shame if Guillen took his talents to South Beach (I hate myself for writing that) to manage the Marlins. He's the best thing that's ever happened to baseball writers, not to mention newspaper editors.
Ozzie sent some morose tweets himself after the Sox passed on his son during the second day of the draft, though he informed reporters those vague thoughts were about a sick family member in Venezuela. He said he's not worried about Ozney.
Oney told me the same thing.
"I'm not sure what their plans were," he wrote. "Maybe they just thought Ozney wasn't good enough."
Now, it's not as though Ozney was destined to make the majors and the Sox are denying him his opportunity. He's supposedly pretty good. He was the 61st-ranked prospect in Florida, according to Baseball America, and he hit .347 with 33 RBIs in 44 games, but didn't show any power (one home run). In any event, he's stuck in the shadow of his famous father, just like his two older brothers.
But Williams intimated the Ozney snub wasn't just about talent, and if the Sox don't want him, maybe that influenced other organizations to pass. After all, how many other managers have family members who critique the club so publicly?
"I think the potential for distractions weigh heavily toward a situation that is not in anybody's best interest," Williams told reporters Wednesday.
Talent, naturally, trumps everything. And that's why, Williams said Wednesday, the organization drafted his son, Kenny Williams Jr., in the sixth round in 2008 against the GM's wishes. The Cubs were apparently going to draft the younger Williams, so the Sox draft team scooped him up first, Williams said.
Williams Jr. is currently hitting .208 for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, which, if history proves correct, means he will play shooting guard for the Bulls next season.
This year, the Sox didn't take scouting director Doug Laumann's high-school aged son, Jackson, who went in the 31st round to the Atlanta Braves, nor did they make an early bid for Alex Santana, the son of the team's Dominican Academy director, Rafael Santana. He went in the second round to the Dodgers.
So maybe Ozney's rejection by the club is a good thing for everyone involved. Nepotism has always been kind of a joke on the South Side, most notably in 1993 when the team drafted GM Ron Schueler's daughter Carey in the 43rd round.
I was simply pointing out that they drafted same type of player when they drafted Jared Mitchell, that is all. Nothing wrong with athletic guys but there's high-risk, high-reward. Sometimes taking a low-risk guy isn't all that bad.
-- Oney Guillen
Oney himself was drafted by the Sox, albeit in the 36th round of the 2007 draft. He hit .140 in 52 games over two truncated seasons, finishing his career with a 1-for-3 game in Triple-A. He wanted to stay in baseball and had a brief career at the bottom rung of the minor league coaching ladder, and that's when everything exploded, when he started criticizing Williams and airing the franchise's dirty laundry.
Because of this, Oney doesn't work for the Sox anymore, and he makes great pains to tell me this, but he still wants to be in baseball or media, anything where he can show off his knowledge and love of the game. He had a weekly radio show on WSCR last year and he will always be a devout Sox fan.
Oney has potential to succeed as a sports personality. I'd give him a radio show. He is bilingual (he translated for other players in the minors), and passionate, and knowledgeable about all sports.
But his problem is his image, and how it's spiraled away from his control. And this latest flap didn't help. Nor did it benefit a repaired, but never healed relationship between his family and Williams' White Sox, who seem forever mired in bush league scuttlebutt.
All these things are tiresome distractions to the game itself, and Oney, in my opinion, would be best served to keep his criticisms on baseball only, which I supposed he was trying to do.
I asked Oney if he wanted to talk about this over the phone but he said, 'No.' He's tired of people making him into a villain.
He emailed me some responses to the question about why he still tweets, and they are no different than anyone else's. He has thoughts and he likes to share them. He wants his voice to be heard.
"Sometimes I just read some things and listen to some things and feel sometimes people should know the truth," he emailed.
I know the feeling. That's why I write, too.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
|It's hard to imagine Oney Guillen's thoughts don't sometimes mirror those of his father.|