Honesty rules Guillen's clubhouse
Manager insists on playing hard every day
LAS VEGAS -- By the time Ozzie Guillen finished his first press conference as White Sox manager back on Nov. 3, 2003, the news already had begun to travel around Major League Baseball.
This was a gregarious, highly entertaining man, who could attract even the game's biggest names to the newly-energized atmosphere on the South Side of Chicago. If there were any doubts as to Guillen serving as the ultimate players' manager, they were quickly erased by watching him interact with his charges like just another member of the clubhouse and not a boss lauding over them.
Playing for Guillen certainly is much more demanding than it seems when watching him in open-microphone, comic action mode during his postgame media sessions. He demands as much from his players as the high level of expectations he sets for himself.
"It's funny because people like to play for me until they start playing for me," Guillen told MLB.com before leaving the 2008 Winter Meetings on Wednesday and heading home to Venezuela. "I will let players go a little, but my job is to make sure they go hard every day and play the right way. I have to let fans know how we play, the media and front office people.
"When I make quotes in the paper, I will tell the truth about what I see. You guys see something and I say different, and then I'm a hypocrite. Sometimes players misunderstand or don't like what I say. If you take things personally, well, off the field, I'm you're friend. On the field, I'm the manager. That's the truth. That's the way it will be with me."
Where the aforementioned quartet of dispatched players is concerned, the issues with Guillen stemmed from the respective individual's overall fit with the team. It had little, if anything, to do with a conflict with the manager.
Swisher didn't earn any high marks through the way he reacted at the end of the season when Guillen benched the struggling outfielder, but Guillen said Wednesday that Swisher was traded because there was no lineup spot for him with Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome already in place. In fact, during his managerial interview session on Tuesday, Guillen took full responsibility for Swisher's 2008 problems because he was played out of position in center field and, for a time, as a leadoff man.
Little doubt existed that Guillen lost confidence in the much maligned Logan, leaving him off the playoff roster and even apologizing to the fans for bringing Logan into a second-half game against Boston where the southpaw got shellacked once again. But the talented Logan became expendable with the emergence of fellow southpaws Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda.
Even Javier Vazquez, who struggled through an 0-4 finish and was thrown under the proverbial bus when he was not deemed a big-game pitcher by his manager, earned Guillen's confidence down the stretch. After all, Vazquez did open the American League Division Series against the Rays.
"You know what the problem we had with Javy, and I gave him the ball for our biggest game," Guillen said. "I never sit a guy or punish a guy because he fails on the field. I sit a guy for his attitude on the field or not hustling or he doesn't care about the club. If you are 0-for-20 or if you lose 10 games in a row, I keep playing you."
It was Guillen who pushed for Cabrera's acquisition from the Angels last offseason, knowing the shortstop as a consummate leader and a hard-nosed competitor from their days together in Montreal. Guillen admitted Wednesday the expectations for Cabrera were a little higher than actually panned out, especially in the leadership area, but Guillen quickly pointed out how Cabrera made valuable contributions on the field, especially in his first season anchoring the leadoff spot.
Basically, grudges don't play a role in Guillen managing the team. Guillen used the example of outfielder Brian Anderson, who criticized his handling by the White Sox to MLB.com last offseason, but came back with a new attitude to Spring Training and helped the White Sox win a division title in reserve. In 2009, it looks as if Anderson has earned a shot at more regular playing time.
"We trade people because we just want to help this organization. That's it," Guillen said. "I don't care if a player likes me or not, as long as he goes out and performs well. That's all I really care about."
A prime goal for Guillen is winning another championship, the same desire as held by Williams. And while Williams wouldn't cop to the cleaning out Guillen's doghouse theory when asked on Wednesday, he readily admitted how team chemistry plays a major role just like overall talent in long-term success.
"As a general manager, I always urge communication and trying to find resolutions to issues because it's not easy to find good players," Williams said. "It's very difficult to replace these guys. So, before you are reactionary, it's prudent to sit down like men and try to resolve things and work it out.
"Listen, if there's not a fit, either by performance or by attitude or by personality or whatever, I'm a believer in that you want a cohesive environment. I don't mind a little bit of friction, but I still want everyone pulling from the same rope. So, if Ozzie articulates to me, and I'm involved, I see things, if he articulates to me this particular guy isn't a fit here or there, we have a conversation about it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.