Let's start out with a premise: When Ozzie Guillen says, "I am not a hypocrite," truer words have never been spoken. Up or down, win or lose, he is a baseball original. You can admire him and laugh with him, or you can detest him and shake your head, but you can't say that he is a phony.
Guillen went through what might be gently described as a learning process last year. Just three seasons ago, the White Sox were World Series champions and Guillen was the American League Manager of the Year, widely regarded as a breath of fresh air, in possession of a unique brand of managerial genius.
Last year, the White Sox went 72-90. There were injuries and unbelievable simultaneous off-years produced by presumably reliable veteran players. Another manager, in looking back, would sum this all up by saying something like: "We struggled in some aspects of the game."
But with Ozzie Guillen you get the truth, unpleasant as it might be.
"Last year, we were a drum," he says. "Everybody was beating on us.
"It was boring. It was bad. Even to cover this ballclub, it was pathetic. I mean everybody -- fans, us, ownership, beat writers, everybody -- it was boring. It was awful."
It ought to be said before we go any further that there are all sorts of reasons to believe that the 2008 White Sox should be more like their legitimate expectations and less like 2007. The veteran core should return to a better level, and the White Sox have made some important acquisitions, such as Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera and highly productive outfielder Nick Swisher.
Before better things occur, the memory of 2007 will not fade. Lessons were learned then -- some useful, and some downright unpleasant. That is why Guillen, sitting in his office at Tucson Electric Park on Tuesday, was expressing some ambivalence about his career choice. On the one hand, this is a terrific job, working with the game he loves, working for the team for which he played 13 years. On the other hand, this job can be a pain in the posterior.
"I want to have a career as a manager like Bobby Cox, I want to have a career as a manager like Tony La Russa, Mr. Joe Torre, Lou Piniella," Guillen said. "That's my goal. But, it's not a good job.
"It's a fun job for me. I feel proud to be a manager on the big league level; I feel so honored to be one of those guys. But unless you're winning, you're ..."
Baseball is not necessarily a helpful family lifestyle. Guillen calculates that, in the case of his 22-year-old son, he has missed the equivalent of 11 of those years with him. The money is obviously good, but, Guillen says, it can't be about that.
"People don't realize how much you have to love this game," he says. "One thing about baseball that's great is that every day is different. You're not sitting in your office, typing stuff, sending it to your boss. It's different, that's what makes this so great.
"That's why I feel blessed to have this job. Meanwhile, it's not an easy job.
"Believe me, to manage in Chicago, you know, a lot of people talk about New York, Boston, Philadelphia; ask Lou Piniella, ask Dusty Baker, ask them. It's not easy to go out there and take it. Lou Piniella last year went from zero to hero, and I told him: 'Be careful with the zero again.' Early in the season last year they wanted to kill him; they wanted to run him out of town."
Last year, with the White Sox flailing, the high-profile manager became a high-profile target. The manager is always blamed in these cases, and Guillen, a most public manager, took more than his share of lumps. White Sox management pointedly did not agree with the criticism, giving him a contract extension through 2012. All in all, Guillen picked up some valuable, if painful experience.
"Last year was a good year for me to see how much I love the game," he said. "To get up every day and get beat but still get up with the same enthusiasm, the same attitude, that's not easy.
After a while, when the media defines you as a controversial character, it's a designation you can't escape. When Guillen made the comment that he had to be himself as a manager, it was seen as a disaster in some quarters. When Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees and Trey Hillman of the Kansas City Royals make similar comments, they are seen as true individualists.
"I said that stuff and I got murdered," Guillen says. "Why is that? I never killed anyone. I pay my taxes. I respect my wife. I don't abuse my kids. I don't do drugs. I think I'm a good citizen."
So this job, for this man, is, at the same time, ideal and really aggravating. It does not have to be a contradiction, if you realize that you can be a baseball manager and still be a man of more than one part.
"I don't need the aggravation," Guillen said. "I just do it because I have a love, a passion for the game. The best job is when you manage, but this is the worst job, too. I made the comment: 'The best day of my career in baseball was when I was named manager of the Chicago White Sox. But it will be a better day when I'm fired because then I'm going to relax in my house and enjoy my family.'
"I want to do this because I know that I can. You know what? It's so much fun when you're managing the team you love, not managing the team you have to manage because that's your job. I love this ballclub. I grew up here. I take the losses worse than anybody."
It's a better job when you're winning, for anybody. For Ozzie Guillen, win or lose, whether the job seems terrific or terrible or both, he'll let you know for sure.