Carrasquel on Guillen's mind

Carrasquel on Guillen's mind

CHICAGO -- Alfonso "Chico" Carrasquel, the Venezuelan legend and former White Sox great, was the man. Still is, if you ask Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen.

When asked about his departed countryman and mentor before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Angels, Guillen paused, released a deep sigh then admitted, "You're going to make me cry here.

"Chico was one of my best friends in Chicago," an emotional Guillen said after a moment to gather his thoughts. "I think I know where he is right now. He would feel proud."

Guillen would not elaborate. On the verge of tears, he rushed out of the interview room.

In May, Carrasquel died of cardiac arrest at his home in Venezuela. Two national days of mourning followed. The White Sox responded by honoring their former shortstop with a video tribute before a game at U.S. Cellular Field.

Guillen took Carrasquel's death hard.

"Personally, I think I hurt more than a lot of people, because I had a great relationship with Chico, and he was special to me," Guillen said shortly after Carrasquel's death. "I spent a lot of time with him last year, my first year as the manager. When I was playing, he was broadcasting, and we saw each other every day for four or five summers."

Starting in 1990, Carrasquel spent seven seasons as a color commentator for Spanish-language broadcasts of White Sox games and worked with the club's community relations staff. In a sign of unity among countrymen, he joined Luis Aparicio and Dave Concepcion in a congregation of Venezuelan infielders in support of Guillen, the first manager from Venezuela in the history of Major League Baseball, at his first game at U.S. Cellular Field last season.

"There is a not a bigger funeral in my country, no matter who dies, than Chico Carrasquel, because the way he was and the way people loved him," Guillen said. "He always wanted to die in Venezuela and he did, and I think he went back there to do it."

Carrasquel was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, but was sold to the Chicago White Sox before the 1950 season for $35,000. There, he became the third Venezuelan to play in the Major Leagues behind his brother, Alejandro, a pitcher for the Washington Senators in 1939, and Jesus Ramos, an outfielder for Cincinnati in 1944.

Carrasquel was a four-time All-Star with the White Sox. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians after the 1955 season, and also played for the Kansas City Athletics and Baltimore Orioles before retiring in 1959 with a .258 lifetime average, 55 home runs, 1,199 hits, and 474 RBIs.

He cemented his place in history by becoming the first Latin American player to start in an All-Star Game in 1951. But he is also remembered for his expansive range, his sidearm relays to first on double plays and his undeniable flair.

"In those times, it was not easy to come to the United States and play the game," Guillen said. "He opened a lot of doors for us. He is one of the biggest reasons people make a lot of money and come from other countries to play. You can say Chico Carrasquel was a big part of that."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.