Ozzie Guillen’s heartfelt tirade against actor/director Sean Penn headlined many sports and media sources a few weeks ago. Penn visited Guillen’s native Venezula and returned praising the beautiful country and the excellent leadership of Hugo Chavez. Guillen, always known for his straight-forward opinions, stated that Penn was “a loser” for making such a quick judgment, and that if he had lived in Venezuela for any length of time “he probably woulda’ been shot,” referring to the country’s political and military turmoil, a coup in 2002 and the deadly influence of drug cartels.
For anyone familiar with the shortstop-turned-manager, this is not the first time Guillen shared a dissenting opinion. Famously, he remarked that the secret 2003 steroids list , which details players charged with using the performance-enhancing drug, should be released to the public. He also referred to Jay Mariotti using a homosexual slur, which he immediately apologized for, but not before it made the airwaves and newspapers. He defended the rights of illegal immigrants, stating that these immigrants performed the “hard work” in the United States.
To his credit, Guillen remains one of the best players in White Sox history, and one of the greatest shortstops in professional baseball history, with a lifetime .974 fielding percentage in that position. More recently, his leadership in 2005 won the White Sox the World Series, for the first time since 1917 (for a frame of reference that was BEFORE the fixed 1919 series). In Chicago, the man is a walking, talking legend.
Although sometimes his outspokenness can be borderline thoughtless, honest players and managers like Ozzie Guillen keep the game fresh. Eliminating the constant PC rhetoric with the occasional jab and jeer lets us remember that, despite its corporate trappings, baseball remains a rough and tumble sport. Hot afternoons, spitting into the dirt, cursing and periodic fist fights…that’s baseball. Although the newer, softer side of MLB fills stadiums and product endorsements, I think players like Ozzie Guillen remind us that men like Mickey Mantle and the infamous Ty Cobb. Not always pretty and not always right, men like Ozzie Guillen keep baseball honest. It reminds us that men like Cobb once sharpened their cleats before sliding into second base.