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'Odd Couple' more than meets the eye

'Odd Couple' more than meets the eye

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Picture any situation where Paul Konerko and Ozzie Guillen could be found together. Maybe it's out at U.S. Cellular Field before a game, or maybe it's in the clubhouse after a victory.

If you listen closely enough during these many specific moments shared by this particular duo, the theme music from "The Odd Couple" almost can be heard in the background.

Konerko, 31, has become the face of the White Sox as a competitive unit. He's a quiet leader, an eloquent and articulate speaker, possessing a dry sense of humor.

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Guillen, 43, has become the face of the entire organization and one of the most notorious characters in all of baseball. He's boisterous, brutally honest, sometimes profane, and a shoot-from-the-hip entertainer, who leaves very little understated in his brand of comedy.

Yet, the White Sox captain and the White Sox manager have formed an integral bond during the team's high level of success reached over the past three years marking Guillen's tenure. On a personal level, the two seem to be a very unlikely blend, so why has this pairing worked so well together on the South Side?

It's actually a very simple answer. Both are dedicated professionals who love, understand and appreciate the game of baseball. They also hold one overriding goal of winning championships.

"They are both very intelligent guys," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker. "Actually, they are both brilliant guys, very smart. They just have completely different personalities."

"I know he has been good for me," added Konerko of working with Guillen. "Look at the years he has been here. It's not a coincidence that my last three years have been my best years with the White Sox. There's no question."

During the 2003 campaign, the season prior to Guillen's hiring as the 37th manager in franchise history, Konerko finished with his worst results as a Major Leaguer. His .234 average, 18 home runs and 65 RBIs arguably stand out as the only subpar numbers in the eight years of All-Star-caliber baseball the first baseman has put up since coming to Chicago via a trade with the Reds.

That troublesome year left Guillen with a few questions about Konerko as he researched his new players after taking over. Guillen recently relayed a story of an early warning he issued to Joey Cora, his newly hired third-base coach, concerning misconceptions relating to the player who eventually would become his extension on the field.

"One of the first things I told Joey when I got this job is we have to keep our eyes on Konerko because what I hear is not good," said Guillen, shaking his head as if he almost couldn't believe doubts existed concerning Konerko's impeccable character. "It's negative. It's selfish. It's all about him.

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"All of a sudden, he was the complete opposite of what people told me. I respect the way he goes about his game and respect the game, the way he puts himself in position to respect his teammates and the way they respect him."

When apprised of the incorrect information Guillen received about Konerko, general manager Ken Williams took great umbrage with the selfish characterization and wondered aloud who would ever make such a statement.

"I would classify it as being too hard on himself, thereby taking him away from his ability, but never ever selfishness," said Williams of Konerko. "Ozzie has a way of bringing a certain amount of levity to guys who are struggling.

"Ozzie's coaching staff has all been there, done that, so they understand the players. So, Ozzie has helped him in that way, just as Konerko has helped the entire team other than just with his play on the field."

Konerko's on-field contributions over the past three years certainly shouldn't be overlooked. He has 116 home runs and 330 RBIs during that period, along with a .291 batting average. Konerko also has become an extremely steady defensive presence in the field, a top five American League Most Valuable Player candidate and has missed only 21 games out of a possible 486 during this time frame.

Through his intense preparation and leadership, Konerko sets the clubhouse tone for the team. He was the individual who calmly preached how the White Sox not only would survive their September fade in 2005 but also would be a different team once they clinched the American League Central. A 16-1 finish and the club's first World Series title in nine decades made Konerko a baseball prophet, of sorts.

Making that bold prediction as he did was not exactly going out on a limb for a player who studies all aspects of the game. It was a similar approach taken by Guillen as a player.

But where Guillen always was as loose as he is presently, Konerko not only was his own worst critic but also a much harder judge than he ever needed to be. That approach changed almost immediately after Guillen became manager.

"I remember the first Spring Training with Ozzie," Konerko said. "He came up to me and said, 'Listen, this is the way you have to do it. Otherwise, you won't survive in this game for a long time. You can't just keep killing yourself.' It's a good match for me. He knows when I'm ready to go off the deep end and kind of brings me back."

"He's a real leader, and the good thing is he's the same guy day in and day out," added Guillen of Konerko. "Is he too hard on himself some days? Yes. So, it's my job to make him smile. I think maybe that's why we get along real well."

Guillen compares Konerko to Robin Ventura, one of Guillen's favorite teammates from his playing days in Chicago and still one of his favorite people. Konerko is quiet, according to Guillen, but "every time he says something, it's funny."

"We have different personalities, but we almost have the same attitude," Guillen said.

Thoughts of these personality differences caused Guillen to laugh when asked if he ever could see himself hanging out with Konerko on a daily basis. Guillen said a round of golf and a few drinks was the more likely scenario.

Then again, Guillen has nothing but the utmost respect for his team captain. It might explain why a somewhat emotional Guillen explained to the media how happy he was to have Konerko return via a five-year, $60 million contract as a free agent, because Guillen wanted to watch Konerko's family grow.

Their personalities rank on opposite ends of the outgoing spectrum, but much like the television show of the same, this "Odd Couple" should run successfully for many years to come. And as Konerko astutely points out, whether he's quiet or not, almost nobody can match Guillen's energy.

"From the fans' perspective, they think Ozzie has an on and off switch," Konerko said. "But he does not. He's on all the time. You can wake him up in the middle of the night and you are going to get Ozzie. What you see around the field, he's like that with his family, at a restaurant, on the plane and anywhere you find him. He's that much of a maniac all the time.

"That's why he can hack it. I changed some things because of him and it's for the good. How I approach the day, he's made it easier for me to play the game and get through the season. He really helped my mental approach."

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

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