A Chi-town sit down

By Scott Merkin
Updated: December 6, 2010

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When Ozzie Guillen requests your presence at dinner, it means more than simply he has run out of food at home or has a free night to kill.

“It means I respect and want to hear what you are going to say,” said the White Sox manager, while speaking to a group of Chicago writers after his Monday interview session at the Winter Meetings. “I want you to hear me, what I’m going to say.”

That latest dinner of significance took place last week with Guillen and White Sox general manager Ken Williams. It was significant in that Williams informed Guillen at that moment of the Adam Dunn free-agent signing, a pleasant surprise for Guillen if there ever was one.

But the extra significance came from the new bond forged between the one-time friends and longtime co-workers while consuming a few calories.

Anyone who follows the White Sox or Major League Baseball or studies dysfunctional relationships probably remembers Guillen and Williams didn’t exactly get along great throughout the 2010 campaign.

There were times when it looked as if Guillen would leave by season’s completion, there were times when it looked as if Williams would depart and there were times when it looked as if they both might take off.

According to Guillen, he couldn’t really enjoy one single game of the White Sox amazing 25-5 run last season because of their off-the-field problems. This dinner last week was designed to avoid a repeat in 2011, a campaign which is shaping up, at least in December, to be a special one for the South Siders.

Williams and Guillen spoke what was on their mind, without worry of offending or hurting the other party’s feelings. From the tone of Guillen’s comments and the relieved yet encouraged look in his eyes when talking about it, the dinner served as a positive and almost freeing experience.

“I said, ‘Listen, we have to say what we have to say, no matter if we hurt our feelings right now,'” said Guillen. “I would rather hurt feelings in two hours than hurt feelings for six months. I was very, very excited about the conversation, and so was he. We treat each other like the way it was. We have to build little by little to get where we want to get, because we want to get there.

“We want to make it work. We got better because we talked about the team more after that dinner than in the past. It’s like when you make mistakes and look people in the face — both sides were very hurt and both sides were very, I don’t want to say confused, but kind of disappointed.”

“The thing is those days have to be over with and [we have to] move on and be the same guys. And [we have to] work for this organization and make this thing work.

“After the dinner, we are in or we are out, and we are in. We talked about all kinds of stuff. The conversation was great.”

Being “all-in” seems to be the natural marketing theme for the 2011 White Sox. With the addition of Dunn, the return of A.J. Pierzynski and the possible return of first baseman and captain Paul Konerko, the White Sox are looking at their highest payroll in club history, checking in between $110 million and $115 million.

The current makeup of this team has Guillen excited for the upcoming season, even though it’s his last guaranteed contractual year, with the White Sox holding a 2012 option.

Guillen reiterated Monday that he doesn’t need a contract extension before the season begins, already having put out there how he wants to return and knowing he is an elite big league manager in any future locale.

All Guillen wants is to enjoy baseball again and return some level of harmony to his relationship with Williams. Guillen told a story Monday how this summer he told his wife, Ibis, about counting down the days until 2011 because ’10 was such a miserable year. He readily admitted Williams felt the same way.

Last week’s sitdown together should go a long way in avoiding a repeat of those tumultuous times for the White Sox leaders.

“Everything is moving forward,” Guillen said. “I don’t think it could be worse than it was. We were very clear about it. We talked about it. We talked about the team and what we want to do.

“We talked like grown-up people. I said, ‘Listen, if we’re going to get divorced, then just get divorced. But otherwise, we’ve got to clear up everything and move on.’ We decided to do it and we are doing it. I promise [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] and [Williams], on behalf of my part, I will do the best I can to make this thing work.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t working — just to make this thing better, to make this thing the way it was. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what my wife and family are looking for. Even if you don’t want to, I always leave the problems on the field, but those problems were not on the field. That’s a personal thing.

“Kenny can’t live like that. I can’t live like that. I’m pretty sure, and I’m not going to say I’m 100 percent, but I think things will move on and be better. The way we talk right now, back to normal, I need that. I want to clear my mind to say what I want to say and do what I want to do, to do what we did in the past.”

Williams acknowledged the outstanding five-course meal put together by his friend, Chef Jackie Shen, at Red Light on Randolph St. in Chicago, and how Shen enjoyed having Guillen there and Guillen enjoyed the meal.

He added the conversation was like old times between himself and Guillen, and then made it abundantly and forcefully clear this particular Guillen-Williams topic had been permanently removed from his future agenda to address.

“Talking about it, all it does is stop you from moving forward,” Williams said. “I am tired of talking about what was last year and what is old news.”