EDITOR’S NOTE: This book review also appears in this week’s issue of TimeOut Chicago, as part of our weekly web-to-print partnership.
My sympathies are with Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey.
Trying to form Ozzie Guillen’s logorrhea into a coherent philosophy comes close to sitting a million monkeys down at a million typewriters and hoping they’ll whip up an explanation of the balk rule. But Morrissey was the one who signed the contract, so he knew what he was wading into.
“Ozzie’s School of Management,” Morrissey’s new book, is not bad or unentertaining. It has plenty of juicy stories about Ozzie’s divorce from the White Sox, plus other tales from his life. It’s a reasonable depiction of the man himself. If listening to a full press conference with Ozzie doesn’t give you a migraine, it might be the book for you, but it’s not one you would give to a mildly interested reader who wants to learn more about management or baseball.
Morrissey’s description of Ozzie’s early years as a hungry young player who asked questions constantly is told with the most relish. John Kruk, his teammate in the minor leagues and his teacher in the art of profanity (good job!), compares him to his own four-year-old with the insistent questions.
The constant striving gave the Venezuelan kid with middling skills and no bat a solid major league career. His hiring by Kenny Williams (Ozzie interviewed while hung over after the Marlins won the World Series the night before) was a huge leap of faith, and things worked for a while. Distilling their relationship to a sibling rivalry for owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s affection is one of a few sportswriter clichés Morrissey falls into, though he doesn’t belabor the point. More thorough analysis and a stronger editorial hand might have cut this filler from the book, but after a point, it hardly matters. Life is short, and spending extra time analyzing Ozzie might result with your spouse finding you squirreled away in a shack like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”, with scissors, paste, and a look in your eye like a cornered wolf.
Morrissey explains in his acknowledgements his agent suggested skipping a straight bio and writing Ozzie’s story as a kind of management book. Using the book as a guide would be dangerous, mainly because there’s not a single “tenet” described here that Ozzie doesn’t both employ and ignore as the tides change. Some of them—“Promote Serenity in the Workplace” and “Get Rid of the Clutter in [The Players’] Heads”—are plainly laughable. Morrissey admits he’s goofing on those management books found in airport bookstores. While not a bad premise, the temptation to let Ozzie’s rants drive the book guarantees mixed results. The only consistent things about the man are:
— he insists players “play the game like it’s supposed to be played,”
— he shields his players from criticism, and
— he feels he is both unappreciated and irreplaceable.
You can see how this combination doesn’t make him Sun Tzu.
The most comically tragic of the chapter tenets is “Don’t Confuse Team and Family.” The White Sox organization is famously clannish, usually in a good way, but the Guillen clan demanded more attention than the Kardashians. If the patriarch had only kept Huey, Dewey and Louie—I mean, Ozzie Jr., Oney and Ozney—away from the team and from Twitter, he might still be manager. (What kind of 24-year-old man tweets to Chet Coppock about giving Coppock’s mom a facial?)
The best chapter by far is “Play the Odds,” which describes an insightful manager impatient with scouting reports and statistics. The Ozzie here makes use of his years of playing, asking, prodding, and pushing in his daily dugout decisions. Here he’s the impassioned sibling of Tony LaRussa, the Ozzie we all wanted to show up more often, but as repeated ad nauseam through the book, Ozzie comes as a complete package that you can’t compartmentalize.
While the book’s emphasis on the disaster of 2011 makes for salacious reading (which coach did he accuse of being Williams’s bitch?), it also keeps the book from reaching its potential. The unlikely success of the 2005 season is given too little analysis. A novice trekker to OzzieLand might wonder why anyone would consider this volatile man with a record barely over .500 a skilled manager. But it does reflect Ozzie’s tenet that ball players win ball games, and the manager is just there to keep them happy. It sounds good when the team’s winning.
Some Sox fans, myself included, are glad the Ozzie era is over but are still trying to make sense of it. How did things go right in 2005? How did they go so disastrously wrong in 2007 and 2011? Was Ozzie a babbling baseball savant, deflecting serious consideration with the motormouth persona while his coaches administered his master plan? Or was he just a firewall standing between his players and the fans and media, a jester who was in the right place at the right time?
Like Mike Ditka, another entertaining old-school coach who seemed on the verge of forging a dynasty, Ozzie was a genius until he became a caricature, and the persona became too much for everyone to bear.