Don Mattingly may lose his job. John Gibbons could lose his job, too. Even though Mike Scioscia has a contract to manage the Angels until 2018, they could cut him loose earlier than that. In baseball, no manager is safe as teams go astray; the worse the record gets, the louder the rumbling. It's inevitable that someone will lose their job this season, it's just a question of when the first pink slip is handed out. And if one of the 28 major league teams that has never employed or fired Ozzie Guillen is looking for a new manager, they can expect to receive his résumé any minute now.
One of the most enigmatic and polarizing managers that the game has seen in the last 20 years is interested in stepping back into a leadership role, but the biggest question is one that has haunted Guillen his entire management career: Has his mouth and management style put him in a position where he's no longer a viable candidate for the job?
Guillen's departure from baseball was unceremonious and premature. After eight years of managing the White Sox, he was refused a contract extension by owner Jerry Reinsdorf and was lured to Miami by Jeffrey Loria with a four-year, $10 million contract to manage the pristine Miami Marlins. They had a new stadium, a new name, and thanks to an aggressive offseason, a star-studded roster of talent that would make them contenders. As we now know, it was all a mirage. The Marlins' 69-93 record, low attendance, and eventual fire sale were all pinned on Guillen, who was dismissed at the end of the 2012 season.
The Marlins will still pay Guillen for the next three seasons, but idly collecting a paycheck isn't Guillen's style. He told ESPN Chicago earlier this month that he's a free agent and looking for new opportunities, though he wasn't willing to say which teams he'd be interested in managing, saying that it would be unprofessional to do so. On and off the field, Guillen is fiery, opinionated, strong-willed, and defiant, with an endless stream of whacky responses that are never sugarcoated. Guillen never shrugs and says "it is what it is" or "sometimes this stuff happens." Instead, he's shouts into the microphone, saying things that will make you laugh, cringe, and shield your children's ears, as he holds his players accountable for both their failures and successes. A few examples:
- On starting pitcher Jose Contreras: "Usually the manager wants his players to get a hit. I cheer for him not to get a hit because then he will have to run the bases."
- On White Sox trainer Herm Schneider's evaluation of A.J. Pierzynski's ankle: "Hermie told me that A.J. is a little slow running the bases. I told him, no kidding, what have you been watching over the past two years?"
- On pitcher Scott Linebrink's not playing due to a headache: "I believe him because he's a real religious guy. Someone else tells me they have a migraine, I know they are hung over."
- On Dustin Pedroia: "I never thought I would walk a jockey. I must be the worst manager in the history of baseball right now, walking a guy that just came from being on the top of Big Brown to beat the White Sox. The guy right now is on fire. No matter what you throw there, he's going to get it. I can't believe it. You can change professions from one year to another. To go from the Kentucky Derby to the Boston Red Sox ballpark and perform, that's amazing."
- "Is the clubhouse closed? We should open it and let them [answer] why they're so horse[bleep]."
- "I'm the Charlie Sheen of baseball, without the drugs and a prostitute."
Guillen is this era's Billy Martin, operating without a filter and often making enemies, though instead of battling his players, owners, and the bottle like Martin did, Guillen's greatest enemy is himself.
For the White Sox and Marlins, Guillen's brash and unpredictable antics were just part of a cost-benefit analysis. There's no denying that Guillen has anger issues; he's yelled at radio hosts, reporters, umpires, and members of the front office. Most of his tantrums were harmless; when they weren't, he was quick to apologize and accept his punishment, be it sensitivity training for calling Jay Mariotti a homophobic slur, or serving a five-game suspension for the biggest gaffe of his career: Saying that he loves Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. While not an excuse, it seems fair to say many of Guillen's antics (the Castro situation aside) have come at times when he was trying to protect his clubhouse by deflecting attention from their struggles to his sideshow. But even though Guillen is a nightmare for an organization's public relations department, there's no denying his abilities as a manager.
For struggling teams, changing managers often won't mean much of anything. Teams have low winning percentages for a myriad of reasons, most of which don't relate to bunting too often (or not enough). While Billy Martin was once the man to swoop in and change a ball club's record quickly, he's dead and no one has been able to duplicate his record. While we can't credit a manager with much, there is some truth to the notion that sometimes managers become lame ducks in their own clubhouses. When they do, it's time to try something different.
It's an old Bill James observation that teams tend to hire the opposite personality of the manager they have just dismissed, hoping that changes the outcome. Clubs will cycle from laissez-faire laid-back managers to more high-strung, outspoken counterparts; it's the reason that when the Red Sox fired Terry Francona following the Red Sox September collapse in 2011 they brought in Bobby Valentine to whip the team into shape. Even before all the injuries set in, Valentine overcompensated for the struggles of the previous year's team with his militant antics and weak baseball decisions, while alienating players and embarrassing the organization thoroughly. Given the recent memory of the Boston debacle, teams may be reluctant about trying a 180-degree change in personalities, but it is still true that sometimes it takes a big personality to unite a clubhouse, and even though Guillen is a hand grenade, he might be worth pulling the pin.
In his second year as manager, the White Sox won the World Series. Over the course of his managerial career, he has a .513 win percentage, which isn't bad when you consider the Marlins' 69-93 record last season. Guillen is a neutral manager -- he bunts like the rest of them, likes intentional walks, and uses pinch hitters sparingly -- but he has a track record of getting the most from his players, whether it's a rookie Gordon Beckham, an aging Frank Thomas, or an unknown like Justin Ruggiano.
As a player, Guillen was fast, aggressive, and a wizard with his glove. His appreciation for his own style of play seemed to inspire "Ozzieball," a hybrid of small-ball, speed, and defense. In practice, Guillen managed a thoroughly modern game based on the rosters he was given. Prior to 2004, the White Sox team record for home runs was 192, but in his first five seasons as manager, Guillen's squad topped that number in four of five seasons. It was in such contrast to what he advocated that then-Baseball Prospectus columnist Joe Sheehan created a stat to describe the percentage of a team's runs scored on home runs: The Guillen Number. That's not to say that he eschewed speed -- he pushed players like Scott Podsednik, Juan Pierre, and Jose Reyes to be aggressive on the base paths -- but rather that the bulk of his production came from other sources.
The landscape of baseball has changed since then. Offensive levels have declined, and what won games in 2005 doesn't win games in 2013. If Guillen lands a managerial job this season or next, he might finally have the opportunity to showcase Ozzieball, especially if he took over an anemic offense like the Dodgers, who are averaging just 3.51 runs per game this season. Having a manager who embraced the principles needed to make a team like that successful could be a difference-maker. What once seemed anachronistic could suddenly be a key skill.
If a position does open up, Guillen's name will at least come up in conversation; the current crop of prospective managers seems weak, and It's not likely that Bobby Cox or Tony La Russa could be coerced out of retirement. Despite the fact that they have both interviewed for positions, organizations don't seem to think that Dave Martinez and Ryne Sandberg are ready.
There will be some teams that don't see Guillen as a fit, and perhaps some of it will be baseball-related. He's far enough removed from his ignorant comments and it seems that the Castro fiasco and subsequent firing in Miami has humbled him, hopefully leaving the baseball world with a more palatable version of Ozzie. Sure, there will still be times when he's misguided, and there's certainly no taming him, but there's something refreshing about a good tactical manager who isn't prepackaged for the media, with all the rough edges shaved off. While I wouldn't root for anyone to get fired, should there be a vacancy, it's time to bring Ozzie Guillen back to baseball -- he's good for the game, and he just might be good for a team, too.
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