Ozzie, Sox celebrate 25 memorable years
Scrawny shortstop impressed his way to skipper, Chicago icon
CHICAGO -- The marriage of Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox, celebrating their 25th anniversary together on Friday, was destined to happen even before the two parties were introduced.
"It's a funny thing about it. When I was with San Diego [as a Minor Leaguer] and Ozzie Jr. was born, we [didn't] have money to make Junior a nice little room," Guillen said. "I remember we went to some store like TJ Maxx, and we go to the sports section to try to get Ozzie something to decorate the room.
"We were in Las Vegas, and the store had those banners, those pictures, saying 'Winning Ugly' [the motto of the 1983 AL West champion White Sox] and had a couple of pictures of a couple of players in the banner. One day I told my wife, I say, 'I wish I could play for those guys one time.'
"And a year later," Guillen added with a smile, "I was there."
Friday's anniversary celebrates the first regular-season game Guillen played for the White Sox. On April 9, 1985, in a 4-2 victory at Milwaukee during which Tom Seaver was the winning pitcher, Guillen, playing shortstop, led off and went 1-for-5 with a strikeout. But he also helped turn two double plays with second baseman Julio Cruz and first baseman Greg Walker.
Almost instantly, a star was born. Twenty-five years later, Guillen's status has been elevated to Chicago icon. Winning a World Series title, as Guillen did as manager of the White Sox in 2005, has that sort of effect.
Guillen joined the organization on Dec. 6, 1984, in a trade that raised a few eyebrows at the time. The Sox dealt 1983 Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt, along with two Minor Leaguers, to San Diego to obtain Guillen, Luis Salazar, Tim Lollar and Bill Long.
When Guillen showed up in Florida for his first Spring Training with the White Sox weighing all of 150 pounds, his teammates and general manager alike wondered just how one-sided this trade could end up being.
"Roland walked into the locker room, and Ozzie had his shirt off, and Roland looked up and said, 'We just traded for a jockey,'" said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf of the initial reaction to Guillen by Roland Hemond, then the general manager, who executed the trade with the help of Reinsdorf, White Sox vice chairman Eddie Einhorn and Padres general manager Jack McKeon.
"They tell the story of how [then White Sox clubhouse manager] Willie Thompson went to pick him up at the airport and he didn't recognize him as a player because Ozzie was so small," Walker said. "Ozzie showed up and he was so thin ... and you are saying, 'We just traded LaMarr Hoyt for this?'"
"Luis Salazar went there with me," Guillen said. "And Willie, he was always a funny and happy guy, and he came out to pick us up. The first thing out of his mouth is 'Where's the Guillen kid?' And I was next to Luis. He pointed to me and said, 'That's him?'
"You have to see that guy's face. It was like, 'Oh, my God, what is this? I thought it was your son.' People thought they would see someone like Alex Rodriguez when I put the uniform on, and all of a sudden, you see this guy at 150 pounds with my pants size was 28.
"One thing about it. When I [took] ground balls, they [knew] the reason why they traded for me."
Nevertheless, anyone acquired for a Cy Young winner faces pressure, and Guillen was no different. During an early Spring Training batting practice session against White Sox closer Bob James, who could rush his fastball up at 100 mph, Guillen didn't put one pitch in play.
Chicago media gathered near the cage wondered about this prized acquisition from San Diego, but as soon as they watched Guillen fluidly take infield, the questions were answered. Walker and Reinsdorf also sensed the special baseball instincts in Guillen, which made him an All-Star shortstop and now one of the game's best managers, pretty much from the start.
"I distinctly remember having slow-roller drills and Ozzie coming across the infield, picking up the ball with his bare hand and making the play," Walker said. "I thought, 'Wow, that's special. Now, I know why we got him.' He was a wizard at shortstop."
"I've never seen a kid, 21 years old, with instincts like that on the field," Reinsdorf said. "You could see the way he played the game. I remember one game he scored from second on a wild pitch or passed ball. The instinct was incredible for a kid that age."
Former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, who helped build that team's supporting cast around Michael Jordan, leading to six NBA championships, was the driving force in bringing Guillen to Chicago.
"Jerry Krause was a scout, and he was driving Roland crazy about, 'You have to get this guy,'" Reinsdorf said.
"Thank God I [didn't] make them look bad," Guillen said. "I'm glad they had the guts to trade for me, the guts to trade for a 150-pound guy for a Cy Young winner."
This "150-pound guy" emerged as the 1985 American League Rookie of the Year, the last White Sox player to do win that award, hitting .273 with one home run and 33 RBIs and committing only 12 errors. Guillen had a contractual clause paying him an extra $10,000 if he finished as the AL's top rookie, but Reinsdorf called Guillen into his office on the last day of the season and said he would give Guillen the $10,000 even if he didn't win.
Those who knew Guillen early in his career said he had managerial makings from the moment he started playing. And much like Guillen's wish to one day play for the White Sox, he also knew there would be a time when he would become manager of the team.
He played on Chicago's South Side for 13 years before finishing the final three years of his playing career with the Orioles, Braves and Rays. But he has considered Chicago his home 25 years ago, and it still is in 2010.
"Not when I start, but I [knew] I will manage the White Sox," Guillen said. "I never thought it would be this quick. I never thought my career [would] end sooner than I thought. I was 36 years old when they retired me, and I went right away to coaching and then managing. Not that many people have that luck. But I was lucky to surround myself with good baseball people, to start my career with great teammates."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.