By Matt Spiegel-
CHICAGO (WSCR) Stepping into U.S. Cellular Field in the fourth inning or so, on the night news broke that a man was managing his final game, was downright creepy. Eight years of drama, all validated by that one magical season, will end this way.
It’s a rainy, dreary autumn night, with a team guaranteed to finish under .500 for the third time in his career, and there are about 2500 people in the stands. This is the way Ozzie Guillen goes out.
Most managers exit like this, on some innocuous, forgettable game day. But few get to play out that last three hours as a true lame duck. Dead Man Walking.
Ozzie got his wish. More years, more money, and it comes away from Chicago. He was tired of all of it, as much as any of us were. It was time. Even healthy manager/GM relationships have an expiration date, and this rocky one was approaching its own. But Ozzie hastened his exit, with his constant noise and clamor to win the power struggle for the chairman’s affection. He made this day come. He made it clear that a full season with no extra contract years looming would have been unbearable.
In the ninth we made our way downstairs to the lobby, not far from that 2005 trophy, and watched Sergio Santos nearly Marmolize himself into one final blown save under Ozzie’s watch. The room filled with player’s wives and children. Rachel Dunn seems nice. I neglected to share my thoughts on her husband’s season and off-season work ethic. After Santos barely held on, we filed into an interview room full of beat guys, radio people, and the late arriving TV hordes. I wasn’t alone in heeding the call of the death rattle.
The secret of the innards of any ballpark is of course the people; you actually deal with people. The elevator guys were sad tonight. The security guys asked me who the next manager would be (my money’s on Sandy Alomar Jr.). These people, they loved Ozzie. He was fun. And they’re all clearly going to miss him.
Ozzie Jr. is there, shooting personal video on his phone. It’s a historic night of course, so no reproach from PR. Later, I wish him good luck, assuming he’ll go to Florida with pops. No, he says, this is home. See you around. Ozzie Jr. wants to be his own man, for better or worse, and seems to be ready for some life outside dad’s shadow. We’ll see if Florida becomes inviting or not.
I want to ask the outgoing manager: “Is this what you want and how long have you wanted it?” But the guys who have been here with him forever deserve to ask the questions. In time they ask the two or three I would have.
He wanted years and money. From which organization, well, that was perhaps less important than we’d assumed it was. That’s a bit of professional detachment fans won’t take well on his way out. Ozzie himself will be just fine, with a new fandom to woo, and a legendarily apathetic sports town to try and jump-start. They’re gonna love Ozzieball, finally unleashed in its full National League glory.
Ozzie tells PR man Bob Beghtol to F off. “This is my time,” he says. The man has always been great theater and good copy. In this, the last presser, it feels a bit like we’re playing ball in glorious dwindling twilight. No one really wanted it to end.
After Kenny Williams’ uncomfortable, clipped, and clearly agitated few minutes, I head to the locker room. Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski are the vets who have taken it upon themselves to remain for comments. My radio partner would have loved Konerko’s Led Zeppelin 1977 USA tour t-shirt.
For me, the final image regarding Ozzie Guillen, White Sox manager, is his office. This last night saw Ozzie inside, at his desk, chattering away. And outside, assembled media waited for one final laugh, one more money soundbite. Many perhaps were waiting just to say goodbye to the laughing bully, the strutting loudmouth who made their jobs easy and fun for eight years.
It’s goodbye to the best entertainment value this baseball town might ever see.