Say what you will about Ozzie, but don’t dare criticize his family
JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org February 15, 2011 11:38PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
TEMPE, Ariz. — Ozzie Guillen was out of his comfort zone.
No easy accomplishment, considering this is a man who has walked through the most dangerous prisons in the world just to visit a friend and gets a laugh out of reading over-the-top hate mail calling for his job and even his life.
But this was different.
This was not Ozzie Guillen, the say-anything White Sox manager. This was Ozzie Guillen, the father. And his heart was breaking.
It was during the ‘‘Ozzie Guillen Roast’’ last month that middle son Oney — no stranger to controversy himself — was asked at the last minute to take the stage as a roaster. It didn’t take long for a portion of the 800 people in the room to turn on Oney, making it so that he couldn’t even finish a sentence without interruption.
Some thought Oney deserved it. After all, he had put himself in the fray with a Twitter account that has called out Sox general manager Ken Williams and former closer Bobby Jenks, among others.
Ozzie, however, sat on stage, expression stoic, temper rising, before security calmed things.
‘‘I just kept thinking that he wasn’t even supposed to be up there,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘You don’t want people to call your kids names like that.
‘‘Look, I never get caught doing stupid [bleep] in Chicago. People can’t wait until I [bleep] up. So instead, they look for my kids to. But know this: If anyone says anything about Oney or my family in front of me like that, I will have to kill them.
‘‘Now if Oney, Ozzie Jr., Ozney do something wrong or deserve it, I will kick their ass myself. But I have no problem spending 20 years in jail for my kids. I will die for them.’’
Grew up fast
Born in Ocumare del Tuy, Venezuela, in 1964, Guillen didn’t have an easy childhood. By the time he turned 9, it got much harder.
His father, Oswaldo — for whom he was named — split, and his parents soon divorced. It’s a topic Guillen rarely discusses.
‘‘It was hard for me,’’ he said. ‘‘My dad always looked out for me and made sure I was OK. We moved to a different town, and at that age . . . That’s why I think I matured very quickly — because they divorced. I pray every day that my kids never go through it.’’
That also explains much about Guillen in his family life, from the way he allows his players to let their kids in the clubhouse after games — win or lose — to the comments he makes in defense of his kids.
‘‘[His childhood] had everything to do with it,’’ said Ozzie Jr., the eldest of the three Guillen boys. ‘‘The way he snaps, the way he protects us, it was because of that. My dad always says that besides an education, the most important thing you have around you is your family.
‘‘People don’t realize that the two biggest incidents he’s had with the Sox are because of us. The first was the Terry Bevington thing, when [the former Sox manager] said we were in the clubhouse when we shouldn’t have been. Then years later, it happened again with his kids this past year. That’s one aspect you don’t want to mess with as far as Ozzie Guillen — his kids.
‘‘He uses his childhood as an example. He’s overcome so much and tells us, ‘You have no excuse [for not] accomplishing anything in life because look what I overcame.’ That’s why he’s not afraid of anything.’’
Keeping kids humble
Growing up Guillen wasn’t as glamorous as it would seem. While Ozzie Jr. jokes that he is a member of ‘‘the lucky sperm club,’’ he also admits his father and mother, Ibis, made life a lot tougher on the three boys than people think.
‘‘My dad and mom did a really good job of trying to keep us humble when we were growing up,’’ Ozzie Jr. said.
That means gifts were earned, not just given. None of the boys was allowed to drive until turning 18, and they still must check in at night with at least a phone call, even though Ozzie Jr. is 26 years old, Oney is 25 and Ozney is 19.
‘‘My first car was a Lexus,’’ Oney said. ‘‘But it wasn’t from my dad. [Former major-leaguer] Ugie Urbina felt bad that our friends had all these nice cars. He was getting rid of his Lexus, so he just gave it to us to use.’’
Guillen said his philosophy of raising his kids was simple.
‘‘Every parent wants to make sure their kids have better than what they have,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘Sometimes that’s a mistake. Sometimes you overdo stuff. I was away a lot, so you want to overdo it. We made sure we didn’t do that. I know I don’t have the perfect kids, but the thing about my kids is they respect their mom, they love their mom and they respect others.
‘‘There are a lot of kids that had dads as athletes and have the excuse, ‘Oh, you were never home.’ My kids had to earn everything they had.’’
Guillen’s balance as father/manager came into question for the first time last season, when Oney’s tweeting made headlines.
Oney had been working for the Sox and became critical of the organization. He made those feelings public via Twitter. When his father’s plans to launch a website were vetoed, Oney turned up the heat.
Last March 19, Guillen fired Oney from the organization, then left the spring facility that day without talking with reporters. Meanwhile, upset with the perceived role Williams played in Oney’s departure, Ibis got into a 10-minute ‘‘discussion’’ with him outside the facility, sparking a cold war between the manager and general manager that wasn’t resolved until last month.
Oney then grabbed headlines after he ripped into Jenks on Twitter. That came after Jenks signed with the Boston Red Sox this offseason and told Boston reporters, ‘‘I’m looking forward to playing for a manager who knows how to run a bullpen.’’
Oney tweeted that Jenks once cried in his dad’s office a few years ago, which in the eyes of some Sox players crossed the line of manager/player privacy.
‘‘I grew up in a clubhouse my whole life,’’ Oney said of the incident. ‘‘I’ve seen a lot of things and had one problem with what one player said in 25 years.
‘‘I read how people say my dad should spank me or have a talk with me, but there’s a reason behind everything I say. What I say is the truth and what I believe.’’
Oney now will stay out of the Sox’ clubhouse. But as far as halting his tweets or having his dad read him the riot act, that’s not how the Guillen family works.
‘‘Kids do things they regret later,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘I fired Oney because I didn’t want anyone in the organization, period, saying he could get away with [bleep] because it’s Ozzie’s kid. I wanted to show [board chairman Jerry Reinsdorf] that everything starts at the top. Was it right or wrong? I don’t care. It was my decision.
‘‘What has pissed me off is people [with] the White Sox thinking he was getting stuff from me. People [with] the Sox were calling and saying, ‘How did he get this?’ I was telling them, ‘Call Oney and ask him.’ Oney has more friends in the clubhouse than people think.
‘‘I want to make it clear: Oney can tweet whatever the [bleep] he wants to tweet. He has nothing to do with the White Sox. For me, he’s staying away from the ballclub and [not tweeting] stuff like the Bobby Jenks thing. He promised me he wouldn’t.’’
Arriving in Arizona
The Guillens arrived in the Phoenix area Tuesday. The traveling party featured Ozzie, Ibis, Oney and their bulldog, DH. Ozzie Jr. stayed back in Chicago, and Ozney is in college.
Considering the events of 2010, all eyes will be on the family this season.
‘‘When the Sox won the World Series [in 2005], we were all in the dugout,’’ Ozzie Jr. said. ‘‘The first people my dad hugged after that last out were his children. You don’t see many managers do that, if any. That’s my dad. No one matters more than family. Family comes first.’’