If not Ozzie, who?

By Chris De Luca
Updated: June 4, 2008

CHICAGO — The same critics who avoid ever stepping into the White Sox’ clubhouse are calling the Chicago media soft for not skewering manager Ozzie Guillen. They want Guillen fired yesterday. Sounds tough, but the rhetoric comes up a little, well, soft.

Problem is, they never mention who would do a better job managing this team.

Come up with one name.

OK, we’ll help the process. Buck Showalter? Good luck getting that move to fly in the Sox’ clubhouse. Cito Gaston? Guillen blew him out of the water during his interview after the 2003 World Series. How about Jerry Manuel, considered the next in line for the New York Mets’ managerial job? He couldn’t handle this group.

You can’t fire one manager without having another lined up. Especially when it’s the first week of June and your team is spending its 44th day in first place.

Besides, Guillen was the best man for the job 4½ years ago, and he’s an even better man for the job now.

Not any managerial job. His act wouldn’t survive under the Steinbrenner regime running the New York Yankees. He would be a bit too volatile for the tastes of Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who once had Guillen on his radar but backed way off. He would wilt in a small market like Kansas City. And Wrigley Field would drive him crazy.

Really, the only place Guillen fits is right here on the South Side, working for his close friend Ken Williams and a chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf, who always will admire his passion and that World Series trophy parked in his display case.

Does Guillen have his faults? Absolutely, just like the 29 other managers in the majors. Does he use salty language? Come to think of it, he does. A little secret: That’s the way they talk in the big leagues. The Atlanta Braves’ Bobby Cox is one of the most revered managers in the majors. His vocabulary would put Guillen to shame — just ask any of the umpires that have ejected him a record 137 times. No one calls for Cox to be canned for his choice of words.

Guillen’s latest crime is a doozy. He ripped his team for not producing after it scored a grand total of four runs during three consecutive losses to the Tampa Bay Rays.

”That’s like when your kids show up at 5:30 in the morning,” Guillen said Tuesday. ”You don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s OK.’ You tell them that’s not OK.”

In his distinct style, that’s exactly what Guillen did when he snapped Sunday. And be certain: Guillen knew exactly what he was doing. Everything he does is calculated — he’s not the raving lunatic his critics portray.

This is what Guillen was talking about on the first day of spring training, when he warned us he no longer would make his biggest mistake of 2007 — waiting too long to nudge his team back on track.

He knows this team has a tendency to be complacent. He knows the two big veterans who were supposed to enliven the clubhouse — Orlando Cabrera and Nick Swisher — are not currently equipped to tackle the job.

Guillen must have the loudest voice, or the Sox sink in the standings.

Rewind to 2003.

Williams had just fired Manuel. In his search for a new manager, he talked to Wally Backman, Buddy Bell and Terry Francona — yes, that Terry Francona, who was snatched up by the Boston Red Sox and went on to win two World Series in his first four seasons.

Turns out, Francona would have been a nice choice. But Williams had his heart set on Gaston, who had traveled to Chicago twice for interviews. The job was essentially his, Williams will tell you. Guillen got an interview as a favor to Reinsdorf.

Williams expected it to be a brief meet-and-greet. Then as soon as Guillen walked out the door, the Sox would introduce Gaston as their next manager.

Except Guillen threw all his passion on the table. He told Williams exactly how he would do the job. He used a lot of profanity. After a few hours, Williams had his man.

Here’s the reason Guillen is a better man for the job now than the day Williams interviewed him: He knows this Sox team better than anyone — and they know him. His outbursts might scare outsiders, but they don’t rattle any players in that clubhouse.

”As far as what Ozzie does, the bottom line is Ozzie cares and it’s his team,” veteran Jim Thome said. ”We are all frustrated. Ozzie’s the manager. He is outspoken, he wants our club to win. He wants us to swing the bats better. You know what? We’re in first place. We’re in a lot better position now than we were a year ago.”

Fire Guillen? Maybe last season, when he didn’t live up to his word.

Not now. Not when he is doing exactly the kind of thing that dazzled Williams 4½ years ago.