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The Turncoat Mon May 24 2010
Chicago is fortunate in that we have not only two baseball teams, but also that each team has a manager that does a great job embodying the spirit of their respective teams. This is important to Chicagoans. We like to identify with our teams. The Cubs have Lou Piniella: the sleepy old codger, with not quite enough pep to make it to the finish line these days. The White Sox have Ozzie Guillen: the feisty ball of anger, full of scorn for the media, his players and the North Side. Despite all the trouble both teams are currently having, we should at least take solace in that fact. As someone who spent a few decades on the Cubs managerial merry-go-round, with its Trebelborns and its Rigglemans, I can appreciate the Piniella's and Guillen's of the world.
I was excited when the Cubs hired Lou. Like all Cubs fans on the smarter side of Addison, I really wanted Joe Girardi to replace Dusty Baker when the Cubs finally wised up and showed the toothpick-noshing whiskey lover the door (I am well aware he is having a good year, get off my back), but the Cubs got Lou and Girardi fell into obscurity. Lou was a good second prize for the Cubs at the time. He had won a World Series; but more importantly, he had intensity. Sports fans, like the American public when electing a new president, tend to want a leader who is the opposite of the guy who failed last. The bookish, hyper-educated, smooth talking Barack Obama was an easy pick to contrast the seemingly dimwitted, speech and grammar pillaging George W. Bush. Similarly, the brash, base-throwing, ump-hating Lou was easily embraced by the Cubs fans tired of the sleepy dog, rotation-mismanaging, mediocrity-begetting Dusty Baker. With Lou came the promise of fire and brimstone for all that stood in the Cubs way. No longer would the talent on the Cubs slack off and let the team slide into third place behind the Cardinals and Astros. Lou was going to set things right.
Well, obviously, that's not what anyone got.
Lou came, he saw, he forgot his players names in post game interviews. He went from yelling like an angry Teamster to mumbling like a Thorazine-addled Edward G Robinson. He shuffles out of the dugout as if he is guided by his omni-belly to sleepily debate with umpires. There is no base throwing. There is seldom yelling. It was months before he ever even got ejected from a game, in a season that the Cubs started out terribly. In 2007, when the $136 million dollar man, Alfonso Soriano, was making the fans miss Juan Pierre, Lou Angrily declared that Fonsy was a superstar, and superstars don't sit, so there.
Who is this guy? Has Jim Hendry been slipping him muscle relaxers? He was off for a year; did he receive anger management from enema Buddhists? Did the Cubs grab the wrong guy from the old-folks home? This was not the hell-raising ball of rage that was going to whip this team into shape. The Cubs had replaced one doddering mumbler for an even more exhausted veteran. I don't want Lou to manage a baseball team any more than I want my grandmother to run a marathon. I just want to bring him some cocoa and a blanket so he can get some rest. He looks like he needs it.
And he probably deserves it. Lou reached the apex of his managerial career when he won the World Series with the Cincinnati Reds. That was 20 years ago. He was pushing 50 then, so he should probably be retired now. Not poor Sweet Lou. He has been tasked with finally freeing the Cubs of their futility. Asking him to do this is the equivalent of asking Reinhold Messner to climb Olympus Mons sans space suit. It is cruel, unlikely to happen and you wouldn't expect him to survive the journey.
Then, on the other side of town, is Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie is awesome. Even when I was a Cubs fan and Ozzie was on the news talking trash about me, I had to admire the man. He was the kind of manager I have waited for: pissed off and ready to win. The Phil Jacksons of the world can take that zen stuff out West where it belongs. I am from Chicago where we have road rage and mayors made of flop sweat. I want a manager full of piss and vitriol. I want a guy who will hold the pets of under performing players ransom. Ozzie is that anger. Ozzie is fire and brimstone and they both need shock therapy.
He openly taunts fans. Not just here in Chicago, but all over his division. He is universally reviled by every other baseball fan in the Majors, and by some who root for his ball club. There has never been another human who cares less what people think about him.
Remember when he had his feud with the despicable Jay Mariotti? Mariotti was long known for finding nothing positive about any of our beloved teams, basing his career on being hated. Granted, Ozzie used a lot of words grown men shouldn't use during the episode and was rightly fined, but you had to respect the man for standing up to the professional troll. When it was over, his apology consisted of conceding that Mariotti was "garbage" and he would "die garbage." That was his apology. He was sorry he used a disgraceful word to describe the man, but Mariotti was still trash. Awesome.
Not only is he not afraid to bench whoever he wants, he openly chastises his players all the time. If Lou is this town's Papa Smurf, Ozzie is our Sensei Kreese, showing all that mercy is for the weak. Contreras? Dismissed. Beckham? Benched. Anderson? Ha! Pierzynski? Dissed. All have felt the wrath of Ozzie for not doing their jobs to his standard. Ozzie sweeps the leg.
A lot of people don't like Ozzie, not even on the South Side. They probably shouldn't. It's just that after years of questioning whether the man running the team is sleeping in the dugout or not, it's nice to have a guy you're absolutely sure is alive.