Q&A with manager Ozzie Guillen

Q&A with Sox manager Ozzie Guillen

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A World Series title has not changed Ozzie Guillen. If anything, the taste of a championship has made him a little edgier and even sharper.

The White Sox manager still is as irreverent and infinitely entertaining as always, whether Guillen finds himself speaking to the media, his players or a group of fans at the ballpark. Guillen says what he feels or thinks, never leaving a doubt for his players as to where they stand.

Maybe that's why the White Sox won their first World Series title in 88 years during Guillen's second year at the helm. Now, Guillen doesn't want any space in between the franchise's next title.

Guillen sat down with MLB.com for 15 minutes prior to the start of the 2006 regular season. He addressed various topics from the past championship, to his present team to his own future.

MLB.com: It has been a little more than five months since the White Sox won their first World Series title in 88 years. How has life been different or how has life changed for you during that time?

Guillen: The biggest change is that, right now, a lot of people recognize [me]. The only difference between last year and this year is I can't go anyplace now because all of a sudden they know me. It's kind of no fun.

But otherwise, I don't change anything. I enjoy it. It's been great. It can be one of the biggest thrills of my career. Playing, coaching and managing, I have fun in my careers. But this is one of the top notches in my career.

We all enjoyed it. My family enjoyed it. My country enjoyed it. I think there's nothing better than this. That's why you work so hard, just to get to the point of being a world champion. Believe me, I wouldn't change anything that's happened in the last five or six months.

MLB.com: What do you still remember from the last few outs of the Game 4 clincher in Houston?

Guillen: The first thing that goes through my mind was Jerry Reinsdorf. He's the one thing that goes through my mind. And finally we did it for the Chicago people. Besides that, I think it was great for baseball. Having the White Sox not win it for so many years and all of a sudden, we have. I think it was great for everyone, not just for Chicago fans. Even Yankees fans. Boston Red Sox fans.

A lot of people congratulate me and they are happy. They were happy we did it. That was the most important thing. You go out and you feel like you did something for baseball. You feel good about yourself.

MLB.com: How long did you allow yourself to celebrate and bask in the glory, before you started thinking about the 2006 season?

opening day 2006
Battle for the Division Titles
• American League: East  |  Central  |  West
• National League:   East  |  Central  |  West

Guillen: Well, I was thinking 2006 as soon as we [got] in the bus from Houston's ballpark back to the hotel. I talked to Kenny (Williams) about it. We talked together about stuff for next year. Kenny asked us to think about how we can get better for next year and see what we want to do.

We had a couple of minutes to celebrate, but we went right to 2006. That's our job. That's my job and Kenny's job, to get this team better and have even more success.

MLB.com: Both Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf talked about getting letters from people who visited gravesites of loved ones who were White Sox fans after the World Series win. [Pitching coach] Don Cooper mentioned that people would stop in their cars on Michigan Avenue just to congratulate him when he was walking with his family in downtown Chicago.

Did you have one or two personal interactions with fans like those after the World Series?

Guillen: It's a lot of different things. People look at me and say, "Thank you, because my dad and grandfather didn't have the opportunity to see this." Another thing is I have kids saying, "Thank God I only had to wait six years and not 88."

When I go back to [Venezuela], I see a lot of White Sox shirts and hats and people who are White Sox fans. They thank you and the appreciation is always there for what we did, the great job we did. But when you have people crying and smiling and being so happy, we changed a little bit of life for the White Sox fans. We changed a little bit of life for my country.

You just look back and say, "Thank God it was me and not someone else." When you work hard and when you get into this thing and have this success, you thank the people who work with you and you thank God for giving you the opportunity to be in that position.

MLB.com: How do you respond to the people who thank you or even want to buy you meals and drinks at restaurants?

Guillen: I haven't paid for dinner in a little while, especially in Chicago or Venezuela. I just respond to the people and tell them I [didn't] do anything. I get paid to do this. The players did it. The only thing I tell the guys is, "Thank God we don't have to wait any longer." The way the people were taking this, I never thought the people would be this happy and this grateful to be a White Sox fan.

MLB.com: You talked about the strength of the American League Central for most of last year, before anyone else really gave the division credit. You talked about how it was underrated and about all of this great pitching. Do you feel the Central is even stronger in 2006?

Guillen: There's no doubt about it. We compete against one division that they always say is weak. But when you face those sort of pitching staffs, when you are going to face those guys and fight all the way from the beginning ... Even in July, when people thought we were going to run away with this, I said this is not easy. I thought it would be all the way to the end, and it was.

I expect the same thing this year. Whoever keeps the team healthy, whoever plays better baseball is the team who is going to win.

MLB.com: For about three of the final four weeks of the 2005 regular season, you heard about nothing but Cleveland -- how the Indians were on this great run and were going to catch your team. They were suddenly the team to beat. Aside from the White Sox, is Cleveland the team to beat in 2006, or at least the next best team in the division?

Guillen: I don't know. I talk about Minnesota because they always have a great pitching staff. I talk about the Detroit Tigers, who are managed by one guy who is really big-time in baseball [Jim Leyland]. Even Kansas City got better. This fight is going to be the same way.

I think we have a good team. Cleveland is missing Kevin Millwood and Coco Crisp and it makes me think they will be easier to handle. They also miss [Bob] Howry and a couple of guys that did a tremendous job for them last year. But I tell you right now, I think Detroit and Cleveland are the ones we have to look out for.

MLB.com: Is Cleveland a big rivalry now for the White Sox?

Guillen: Cleveland has been a big rivalry since I was playing. First of all, it's not too far away from Chicago. They always have a good ballclub. But I think you look at us last year and people talk about Cleveland and Detroit, but we had a tough time beating the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins. We played good baseball in Cleveland and in Detroit.

We are always going to play pretty good baseball against them. They will be real close games, and whoever pitches better is going to win.

MLB.com: Let me give you a few names and just throw out one or two thoughts that come to your mind. First off, Jerry Reinsdorf.

Guillen: The most loyal man I've ever seen in my life. Anything he does is so underrated. People in Chicago don't appreciate what Jerry has done for the city. People in Chicago don't always care what Jerry did for the city. If Jerry Reinsdorf didn't own two teams, sports in Chicago would be real bad. He won with [the Bulls] and he won with the White Sox.

People still don't thank him and appreciate him the way he is. Some people think Jerry is a bad person, but look around -- Jerry has some employees from the 1920s. That shows you what kind of person he is. People have to tip their hat for him. He wants to win, he wants to show Chicago as a winner.

MLB.com: Kenny Williams?

Guillen: Crazy. He hired me as a manager. Kenny is a guy who also is underrated. Anything he does since he got the job is because he's trying to win. You look around at the players Kenny brings here and the trades he made, he just wants to win. Kenny and myself will both tell you the truth, whether you like it or not, and I think I can live with that.

This man did a lot of things in his power to get this ballclub better.

MLB.com: How about Frank Thomas?

Guillen: He's the best player ever to play for the White Sox. That's it. He was one of the best hitters I've ever been around. People don't appreciate him in Chicago, and maybe that's his fault. But he did a lot of good things for the city.

MLB.com: Finally, A.J. Pierzynski?

Guillen: A.J.? I love him. People hate him. I think I saved his life. You play against him, you hate him. You play with him, at least if you play on this ballclub, you like him. He's a big kid in a big body. This kid [has] fun. He always jokes around, but he's a gamer and he always shows up to play.

MLB.com: Why have you been such a natural as a manager, even though you never managed an inning before Williams hired you?

Guillen: First of all, when I got this job, I'm not afraid of the media. I'm not afraid of the fans. I was not afraid of the players. I'm going to treat the media with respect and great communication. I will respect the fans and my players. Communication is real important in baseball, especially when you are managing. Sometimes, communication between the managers and some of the players is never there.

Sometimes, players try to stay away from you or criticize you or don't like you. But everyone has their own way to manage a team. To me, communication with the players and loyalty and [showing] the players I will always be the same, no matter what, that thing works for me.

MLB.com: When you look at the upcoming 2006 season, are there one or two keys for your team to repeat its World Series championship?

Guillen: I think we need to pitch the same way we pitched. The key now is don't believe in 2005. It's a new season. It was great to have 2005, but players have to be ready because we are going to be the target. Forget about 2005 and play the 2006 season.

MLB.com: You have three great sons, Ozzie Jr., Oney, and Ozney, who have been helpful to the media, to the players and really are a part of this team. Are they more important, your family, than any two or three World Series titles you could ever win?

Guillen: Oh, there's no doubt about it. My kids are more important than anything in life. They are my kids. They are the only things that I have that are mine, my three kids. Even my wife, she can leave whenever she wants [he laughs]. But my kids, they are going to be there forever. When you get fired and nobody even cares about you and you go back to your house, your kids still care about you.

To me, family is more important than baseball. Family, that's yours, and when you leave this game, people forget about you.

MLB.com: Is Ozzie Guillen controversial?

Guillen: They make me controversial. I'm not controversial. In my career, my life and managing career, I throw the wrong punch once and I regret it. Besides that, I just don't like people taking advantage of me or my ballclub or my organization.

This game survives by a lot of politics. This game survives by people [who] don't tell the truth. I'm different. I'm not afraid to say the way it is. You look from 2004 all the way to now, and I think the only wrong code I have is talking about Alex Rodriguez. Besides that, I don't regret anything I say because I have the right to do it.

MLB.com: Final question for you: Where is Ozzie Guillen going to be 10 years from now?

Guillen: Managing the White Sox.

MLB.com: Okay. Where is Ozzie Guillen going to be 20 years from now?

Guillen: I might be dead [he laughs]. In 20 years, I'll be 62. One thing some people say, 'I wish I would live 100 years.' But if I'm going to live 100 years and not be good for anything, I would rather be dead.

One thing I always pray, the biggest thing in my life, is to watch my kids' kids growing up. God gave me a lot of nice things. God gave me good stuff, great living, great family, great job. But one thing I always ask God to give me is to make sure I'm alive long enough to see my grandchildren growing up.

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