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Cubs should hire Ozzie Guillen if they want a real game-changer

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OZZIE’S MARK

Ozzie Guillen’s managerial record with the White Sox:

Year W-L Per. Finish

2004 83-79 .512 2

2005 99-63 .611 *1

2006 90-72 .556 3

2007 72-90 .444 4

2008 89-74 .546 **1

2009 79-83 .488 3

2010 88-74 .543 2

2011 ***63-63 .500 —

Totals 663-598 .526

* Won AL Central, ALDS, ALCS and World Series

** Won AL Central

*** Through Monday

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:30AM



One of our city’s baseball teams is the creator, star and overseer of a long-running exposition called A Century of No Progress. The 2011 exhibit fits right in with the traditional themes of hopelessness, despondency and stomach pumps.

Tickets to games, once as hard to get as a minister’s daughter, can be had for cheap. The franchise just whacked its general manager and is likely to give its manager the boot after the season. The hotshot young shortstop looks as though he could use some direction, if not an occasional electric jolt.

Does this situation not scream for an infusion of Ozzie Guillen?

You read that correctly. The man who has swung his tongue at Wrigley Field like a wrecking ball might be the answer for much of what ails the Cubs.

You want a manager who knows how to win a World Series? You want a manager who can shock a franchise out of decades of institutional inertia? You want a manager who has a history of developing young players? You want a manager who, if he isn’t bigger than any curse, at least can talk over one?

Then you want Guillen.

Crazy talk? Isn’t crazy talk what Guillen is all about? No, he’s about more than that.

Hiring the Excitable One might be the smartest move the Cubs ever made, which, OK, isn’t saying a whole lot. But it makes so much sense that it’s difficult to believe the idea hasn’t at least crossed Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts’ mind.

And now, with the topic out there for public consumption, thousands of pro-Ozzie White Sox fans are reeling at the thought of the ultimate betrayal: their iconic manager heading from beloved Bridgeport to hated Wrigleyville. And thousands of Cubs fans are reeling at the idea of the foul-mouthed, say-anything desecrator of all that is good and right in the world (Wrigley) living in their midst.

Jarring Cubs out of stupor

But Guillen might be the one man who could handle something as big, onerous and impossible as the Cubs. One of his best attributes is the ability to deflect negative attention from his players. There isn’t a franchise in baseball that has to deal with more negativity than the Cubs have. If you saw the ball roll through Alex Gonzalez’s legs in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series and experienced the heavy silence inside Wrigley that night, then you know the oppressiveness of which I speak. So does Guillen. He was there as the Florida Marlins’ third-base coach.

Is he Ricketts’ kind of guy? I’m not sure any of us knows enough about Ricketts to know what a ‘‘Ricketts guy’’ is.

But we do know that the culture so many Cubs fans seem to cling to — the whole Harry-Ryno-Ronnie sentimentality thing — hasn’t produced much in the way of winning. It’s time for everyone to move on. It’s time for something that jars the senses.

Most managers arrive on the North Side saying they’re up to the task and leave saying they had no idea the scrutiny would be so piercing. Guillen has been in Chicago as a player and as a manager for more than 20 years. He might not always handle criticism well, but he’s not surprised by it.

A lot of ink and airtime has been devoted to the possibility of Ozzie going to the Marlins, who named 80-year-old Jack McKeon their interim manager in June, purportedly to keep the seat warm for a certain Sox manager.

The reasons for the Marlins’ interest in Guillen seem obvious; the reasons for his interest in them seem less so. He was a Marlins coach for two years, including in their 2003 World Series season. He owns a home in Miami. His mere presence might help raise attendance, especially in such a Latin-heavy area. The Marlins would show him love, and he might be in need of it after a difficult couple of years in Chicago. And everybody here is tired of the Ozzie-Ken Williams dynamic, even though no one can seem to take his eyes off it.

Ozzie sets the tone

But let’s deal in logic for a moment. Where would you rather manage? In Miami, where the baseball buzz sounds like a mosquito? Or in Chicago, where a raucous baseball argument goes on all summer? Attendance for Marlins games is the lowest in baseball for a reason: Nobody cares. The franchise moves into a new ballpark next season, and the idea is that Guillen would help raise interest even more. Perhaps, but people don’t go to a baseball game to see a manager.

Then there’s this: He and his family like living in Chicago more than they do in Miami.

No, if there’s going to be a discussion about where Guillen might be working next season, it should include the Cubs. And — who knows? — maybe the Sox and/or Ozzie think it’s time for a change. He has a year left on his contract after this season.

(Full disclosure: I’m writing a book about Guillen. At no time in the discussions I’ve had with him has he brought up an interest in managing the Cubs, nor has he suggested he’d like to leave the Sox. And I don’t have a dog in any fight over where he ends up — Chicago, Miami or Bald Knob, Ark.)

I suspect most Cubs fans understand that most of what Guillen has said about Wrigley and its rat population was uttered in fun. I also suspect they eventually would embrace him.

There are Sox fans who would like to see Guillen go elsewhere — and the farther, the better. They wanted him gone when the team got off to a horrendous start this season. They don’t like his chattiness, his opinions, his decision-making. Some of them didn’t like him even when he was helping the Sox win the World Series in 2005.

Be careful what you wish for.

The people who live and die with the franchise on the North Side are preoccupied with possible replacements for former general manager Jim Hendry. It’s an important decision.

But the manager sets the tone. And no one sets a tone quite like Guillen.



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