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CHICAGO -- Ozzie Guillen said he didn't know what to expect when he arrived at a downtown steakhouse for an hour-long "Lunch with a Legend" broadcast with ESPN 1000.
First, there was a phalanx of cameras and reporters. Then, a full house in an upstairs ballroom at Morton's the Steakhouse. An hour went by quickly. He was besieged by autograph seekers and well-wishers. It was an event.
|Ozzie Guillen has left Chicago for South Florida, but his legacy looms large on the South Side.|
Not bad for the manager of the Miami Marlins.
"All these people, I never thought there would be this turnout today," he said. "I thought it was going to be 20 people and me talking with the media. All of the sudden, all the Chicago media is here."
Guillen joked he's probably more popular now than during the waning days of his White Sox managerial career. That's probably true. The divorce was best for both parties.
But guess what? Guillen isn't going to disappear to some fishing boat like Mike Quade, or even Lou Piniella.
Chicago just can't quit Guillen, and vice versa. As long as his hair stays jet black, Ozzie will be a one-name Chicago "legend," at lunch and otherwise. How many World Series-winning managers do you know here?
Miami is a few hours south by airplane, but Guillen is only a tweet away. He acts like he won't follow the White Sox, but I don't buy it. He'll be tweeting about the Bulls, the White Sox, the Cubs, you name it. He'll be on national radio tweaking his former friend Kenny Williams. He can't help himself. Chicago is in his blood.
"The two cities I really love are Caracas and Chicago," he said.
Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if he returns to manage this team again, Billy Martin style, if Williams ever leaves. Stranger things have happened.
As he entered the event, Guillen told an ESPN employee he was going to stiff the local media that was waiting for him, because "I'm here for you." But when he saw the cameras, Guillen talked. He always talks; that's why we, the media, loved him. I told him we'd have to rent out a local bar for his post-game at Wrigley when comes there in July.
But he reiterated an earlier idea that he might boycott the local media when he comes back with the Marlins. I rolled my eyes. Guillen caught me.
"Oh, I should talk?" he said.
No, I replied. You don't have to talk, but you will. I'm not convinced he won't.
Guillen said he's still angry at a few reporters for what he perceived as negative coverage after he left.
"I respect a lot of media but a lot of media here turn their back on me," he said. "I read a lot. My English is very bad, but I can understand what I read. I don't have too much support from some people. But we'll be fine."
Of course we will, not that it matters. Guillen will want his soapbox when he returns, because he likes the idea of being wanted. And when he returns for that July 17-19 series against the Cubs, he will lead the newscasts and the front pages. He knows it too.
"You know what's bad?" he said. "When you come in town and nobody cares about you, no media, no papers. That's something make you wonder. When you come back and see people and media to cover you, that means a lot to me."
Guillen still has a modern-looking home in Bucktown, and says, "when I walk in Chicago, I want to walk with my head up." He was booed and cheered at a Bulls game a couple weeks ago, though that usually happens anywhere there are Cubs fans.
I asked him if he ever had trouble disassociating himself with the White Sox after spending most of his adulthood with the team. He said no, and while the Marlins are ascending and the White Sox are in a supposed descent, I think he will miss it here. Dearly. No matter what he says, attention drives Guillen. He wants to be respected, he wants to matter. He wanted that extension to validate his importance to the organization, and they wouldn't give it to him, so he felt spurned. And that is why he will miss it here more than he can even admit.
Because Chicago cared about him, for good and bad. The Marlins might take the National League East by storm, but will they overtake the sports apathy prevalent in South Florida? He used to call Jerry Reinsdorf "God." What will he be calling Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria in two years?
Guillen will never have a relationship with a city and a team like he did here. And likewise, the White Sox will never have a manager who doubles as the face of the team. Robin Ventura was a great player, but will he connect with the fans again like Guillen did? Doubtful. It's hard to follow a legend, especially one who won a World Series two years in. How much would you bet Ventura even makes it to the third year in his contract?
|Say this for covering Ozzie Guillen: It's never boring.|
"I might not remember the White Sox the way they're going to remember me," Guillen said with a smile. "Every time the White Sox walk through the office, Ozzie Guillen pictures are up there. Too bad. I can walk through the Marlins [stadium] and nothing's there. But those pictures are going to be up for the rest of their life."
"Am I going to root for them?" he said. "I don't know. Right now, I've got to root for the Marlins. That's the team I love right now. But I still have people I care about inside the team, people in the [White Sox] organization. The manager is one of my best friends. It would be stupid for me to say I'm not going to root for them. I don't want them to win, of course not, but I'm going to root for them because the manager is a good friend of mine."
My translation: He's torn between his feelings of support toward his friends and his secret desire that the team goes 0-162 without him.
How does Guillen think Ventura will do as a manager?
"I don't know," he said. "If the players play the same way they played for me, he's going to be a very bad manager."
Rimshot! But seriously, he thinks Ventura's baseball acumen will serve him well. And he'll definitely be better than some their predecessors, that's for sure.
"I think Robin is crazier than me, I just show it," he said. "Robin is quiet, but I think players are going to love him. Some players are going to get along with him very well. The question is, when the game starts, what are you going to do? ... We played for a lot of bad managers. We learned a lot about what not do. I think Robin is going to be fine. Obviously people have to be patient with him. I think he'll be fine when the game starts."
But, as Guillen said, it really comes down to the players. Everyone is talking a good game now, rejuvenation and all that. We'll see what happens when spring training ends.
"Hopefully they'll play better for him than they did for me," he said. "The talent's there. they still have talent, they still have good ballclub. It's up to the players on how they're going to perform. Right now they sound pretty good. Wow! Right now, they have clear minds, ready for season, they can't wait."
Guillen's lunch was a public farewell to the city before heads back to Florida for spring training. But he also made a less-publicized trip to U.S. Cellular Field this week.
"I just went to the ballpark a couple days ago to pick up some of my stuff," he said. "I thanked Jerry, Rick (Hahn, the assistant general manager), (director of baseball operations) Dan Fabian, hugging everyone. I talked to them for 15-20 minutes. A very good conversation. The first time (people) saw me, they thought I was a ghost: 'What are you doing here?'"
What was he doing there? As he said, he'll never really leave.Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.