Since the annual SoxFest winter get-together back in late January at Chicago's Palmer House Hilton, Ozzie Guillen has talked about a special feeling he's had concerning his 2010 White Sox.
That feeling has survived during March controversies surrounding Twitter, the potential development of Guillen's Web site and then Twitter again, not to mention another losing Cactus League record for the South Siders. In fact, Guillen's feeling has grown stronger for the team he will be leading into action on April 5 in Chicago.
Simply put, Guillen believes the White Sox will win a competitive American League Central if his team stays healthy. That particular belief was just one of the topics addressed by the White Sox manager during a 10-minute, question-and-answer session with MLB.com, taking place during the final days of Spring Training.
Guillen also talked about the early comparisons being made between this year's team and the 2005 World Series champions, as well as the player he expects to have a highly productive 2010, among other topics during this chat.
MLB.com: Compared to your previous six Spring Trainings as manager, has this one been harder for you?
GUILLEN: No, easier. Maybe harder because the stuff off the field. More uncomfortable, put it that way, not harder, because the decision I made with my kid was my decision. That's why I don't think it was harder.
It was uncomfortable. My heart was broken because of what happened. My heart was broken because I fired my own kid. That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life to my kids. But I think it was an easy one because I don't have to pick that many guys to make the team.
This is my job. My job is to pick the best team we can pick to take it to Chicago. I know from the beginning of Spring Training, I have an idea how we are going to play and who we are going to play. I don't have to pick any of my starters. I might have to make a decision who is my 25th guy. That is easy to do. Sometimes, you have to make a decision on who is No. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and the rest. This one was very easy.
MLB.com: What do you like about this 2010 team, in particular?
GUILLEN: I think the unity we have. People out there don't believe how close this ballclub is. It showed me through a period of one week, when all the stuff, the last thing we were talking was baseball, and this team never, never, never turned back and said anything about it. They stayed together and didn't make any comments about it. They don't even care about it, and our clubhouse was the same.
That keeps us more close. I have a few leaders out there, and they are very professional. A lot of people say you have better outfielders or better defense. The best thing we have is the unity, and we really believe we can win.
MLB.com: There already have been many comparisons made to your 2005 team, basically because of the great starting staffs for both. Is it fair to compare any team to one with 110 victories and a World Series title, before the first pitch of the season even has been thrown?
GUILLEN: Well, if you put those two teams together, this team we have now is better. The experience, the balance.
SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
Early schedule If preseason prognostications mean anything, then the White Sox appear to have a fairly easy start to the 2010 season. But appearances can be a bit deceiving.
They have nine games against the Indians, eight against the Blue Jays and six against the Royals combined during April and May. All three teams are not considered playoff contenders, but 13 of those 23 contests are on the road. The White Sox have winning records at Progressive Field and Kauffman Stadium over the past three years, but they try to forget about recent disastrous visits to Toronto.
At the Rogers Centre, where the White Sox open their road portion of the 2010 schedule from April 12-15, the South Siders have a 1-11 record over the past three seasons. The White Sox actually are 5-17 overall against the Blue Jays during this same time frame.
Interleague Play The first games circled by White Sox fans when the official schedule comes out are the six clashes with their Chicago rivals from the North Side. Although the rivalry doesn't have the same exact meaning since the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, these games against the Cubs from June 11-13 at Wrigley Field and from June 25-27 at U.S. Cellular Field are as close to playoff atmosphere as you can get in the regular season.
Florida (May 21-23) and Atlanta (June 22-24) come to Chicago, with Guillen getting to manage against his mentor, Bobby Cox, one last time. The White Sox visit Pittsburgh (June 15-17), playing the Pirates for a fifth straight season, and take on the Nationals in Washington, D.C. (June 18-20), where the White Sox first fan, President Barack Obama, might take in a game or two.
Key home dates:
April 9-11, vs. Minnesota The return to Chicago of Jim Thome, a White Sox fan favorite and productive slugger on the South Side for parts of the past four seasons.
June 25-27, vs. Cubs Bragging rights currently belong to the White Sox with the slimmest of margins, at 37-35. The White Sox are 21-15 against the Cubs at home.
Sept. 27-30, vs. Boston Coming off of a six-game West Coast road trip to Oakland and Anaheim, this four-game set between two projected contenders has the potential to go a long way in deciding respective playoff berths.
Look at 2005 and you have [Tadahito] Iguchi. Well, we didn't know how Iguchi is going to play. We got [Juan] Uribe, and he was a backup player for us the year before.
We didn't know how [Jose] Contreras is going to pitch. A.J. [Pierzynski] and [Dustin] Hermanson, they just got to the ballclub. [Scott] Podsednik had a bad year the year before with Milwaukee. We traded great players like Carlos [Lee] and Maggs [Ordonez], and there were a lot of question marks in our group. But I think that's what made that team unique.
[Aaron] Rowand and Joe Crede were playing every day for the first time. Our backup catcher was playing softball beer league, Chris Widger, the year before. So many crazy things happened that year, but they believed from the first day they played that they had a great chemistry and they took it over. They handled themselves pretty well, plus our pitching staff was pretty good.
But that's the difference between this ballclub and then. Balance, balance. I can't say anything about 2005 because obviously, it's the best team I've ever managed. But by personnel, one by one, this ballclub we have now is pretty good.
MLB.com: What worries you about this team?
GUILLEN: Health. That's it. If we are healthy and we get hot, we are going to be a great team. If we are not healthy and have to battle here and there, we are going to be a good team to survive and overcome a lot of things.
MLB.com: You've talked about some of the positive intangibles standing out for this team: pitching, unity, depth. So, do you think this group will win the American League Central?
GUILLEN: That's our goal. I don't care what people predict. I don't really pay attention to it. It's in our hands to predict ourselves. Before you break camp, every manager's prediction is we are going to finish first. But I have a lot of respect for Detroit, Minnesota, they still have great ballclubs. Cleveland is going to come hungry and Kansas City got better.
That's why we are not in an easy division. It showed the last couple of years, because we had to play the extra game to decide who is going to win. Our starters are good, the bullpen is there, our club is there.
I respect every team in my division, but we should -- I don't say we will, but we should do it.
MLB.com: You have one of the game's top young players in second baseman Gordon Beckham, playing his first full season after a stellar rookie showing. Do you have to watch out for him to make sure the demands and pressure don't get too overwhelming?
GUILLEN: This is my job. This is [Mark] Kotsay's job. This is [Paul Konerko's] job. This is my coaching staff's job. Make sure those kids out there don't think they are that good or they are that bad. Just go out and play the game right.
It's time for us, and I talk about baseball now, to start playing the game right. Get those veteran guys to teach those guys how to play and get the kids to listen. The veteran players have to be leaders by example. You are not a leader because you have a couple of drinks with the guy or take him to dinner.
You are a leader by example. That's an easy way to lead. Be a leader like Harold Baines, Robin Ventura, Tom Seaver or Carlton Fisk. Those guys were leaders by example, not by friendship.
MLB.com: Do you have in your mind how much longer you want to manage? Is it something you want to do 10 or 15 more years, or maybe win one or two more World Series titles and then walk away?
GUILLEN: I wish I could win as many titles as I can. I want to be in the Hall of Fame as a manager. It's the only shot I have because I never will be as a player. Right now, the game has changed. Not the game on the field, but I think a lot of things around baseball has changed.
Maybe it's because the way I am. People want to know more about me than a lot of people. It's kind of a weird situation. Someone else does or says something, and it goes by. I say something or do something, and all of a sudden, they are making a big deal. That happens when people follow you and have respect for you.
I always say this. I will always be managing the White Sox as long as [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] wants me to do it. There's no money out there or city out there good enough for me to leave Jerry as the owner. I'm happy where I am. I'm very excited managing in a good city, a tough city, with unbelievable fans that know about the game.
As long as my wife and my three kids support me and want me to do this, I'll go for it. It's not easy being without the kids, without your family.
MLB.com: Do you ever get tired of all the attention, especially after this Spring Training?
GUILLEN: No, but it makes me wonder, kind of like, 'Wow.' I'm at home and everything is cool, and all of a sudden everybody on TV is talking about the situation when half of the people don't know exactly what's going on. That's the thing that bothers me, when I hear people talking -- TV, radio, writers -- they talk about me when they don't really know exactly what's going on.
I always say, 'Listen, you want to know me or know what's going on? Come to me and talk to me.' That's easy.
One thing about it: a lot of people think me and [general manager] Kenny [Williams] hate each other. Hey, we each have our own way and the only thing we think about and talk about is having a winning team, that's it.
MLB.com: We do this part of the Q-and-A every year. Give me one or two sentences about each name I mention. Let's start with Alex Rios.
GUILLEN: Awesome year. I think Alex is going to have a tremendous year. He has a lot of confidence. He likes it here. I predicted that last year. I said, 'Wait until Alex Rios get to a Spring Training with us and you are going to see the difference.' It shows now. He's smiling. He's having fun and swinging the bat well.
It's easy to have fun when you swing the bat well. I think Alex will be fine.
MLB.com: Carlos Quentin?
GUILLEN: Better attitude right now. Carlos Quentin is a unique man. If everybody played like Carlos, maybe not too many people would have fun but they would play hard.
MLB.com: What about the 2010 season possibly being the last with the White Sox for Paul Konerko and Pierzynski, who could become free agents after the year ends?
GUILLEN: I hope it's not. That's up to the guys upstairs. I've really enjoyed those two guys playing for me, and I hope it's not the last year managing them or them playing for me.
MLB.com: How about Kenny?
GUILLEN: Kenny? Awesome. He's great to me. He supports me in everything I do in my career as a manager. I have so much respect for him. He's doing his job and I'm doing mine. We respect each other's job and that's all you really care about.
MLB.com: Finally, do you think there's a chance you will be managing in the World Series this year, instead of broadcasting, as you did during last year's World Series?
GUILLEN: I swear to God, I would rather wear a baseball uniform than a suit. When you wear a suit during the World Series, you are not really part of that. I want to be part of that again.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.