In July 1986, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times profiled Guillen at a time when, as he wrote:
The mere mention of the name “Ozzie” stirs images of a shortstop diving to his right to snag a line drive or ranging far to his left to field a grounder and throw a runner out.
Guys named Ozzie are defensive wizards. They make the spectacular plays seem ordinary. They save as many runs with their gloves as they knock in with their bats.
But with the name comes the responsibility. If your name is Ozzie, you’d better be good.
That’s what the Chicago White Sox organization figured when it packaged second-year shortstop Ozzie Guillen on the cover of its 1986 media guide with former White Sox Hall of Famers Luke Appling and Luis Aparicio.
Guillen was coming off a fine 1985 season that included a .273 batting average, just 12 errors in 150 games, and rookie-of-the-year honors in the American League.
It was Guillen who led all major league shortstops with a .980 fielding percentage last season.
He was at it again Monday night. In the fourth inning, Guillen fielded Rob Wilfong’s one-hop smash to his right and, from the outfield grass, threw Wilfong out.
After Dick Schofield walked, was balked to second and stole third, Bob Boone ripped a grounder that was headed for the hole between Guillen and third baseman Wayne Tolleson, who were playing in. But Guillen dived to his right to stop the ball, got up, and threw Boone out, holding Schofield at third. Ruppert Jones then flied out to end the inning.
With the Angels trailing, 4-3, Wilfong led off the eighth with a shot up the middle, but Guillen fielded it behind second base and threw Wilfong out.
“I saved a few runs and killed some rallies tonight, but no one can see that but management,” Guillen said. “They say Ozzie Smith only has 30 RBIs a year, but they don’t know how much he helps the team with his defense. I can help this team a lot more with my glove than with my bat.”
His bat didn’t hurt Monday night. Guillen, with Chicago trailing, 2-1, cleared the bases with a triple to center field off Kirk McCaskill in the fifth. The ball sailed well over the head of Gary Pettis, who was playing Guillen shallow and toward left-center field.
“I think he played me in a good spot,” said Guillen, who moved from the No. 8 spot in the order to No. 2 when Fregosi became manager eight games ago. “I got lucky and hit the ball in the gap. There was nothing he could do.”
Julio Cruz, Chicago’s second baseman, said: “He has this aura about him. He plays like a guy who has been in the big leagues for 10 years. He has this air of confidence. He’s cocky in his own way, but he doesn’t show it to opponents.”
I don’t remember this cockiness being expressed when Guillen was a player, but then, I wasn’t paying much attention. In March 1986, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson was quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times article:
“Ozzie may be the most unique player I’ve ever encountered in this game, and I’ve encountered all kinds. With Ozzie, it’s, `There’s the field! There’s the ball! Go play!’
“He doesn’t need instruction, but don’t ask me why.”
Looking toward heaven, Harrelson added, “Maybe He said, `I’m going to bless this kid from Venezuela.’ Or maybe his mom and dad had something to do with it.
“Whatever, he’s an enigma, and I use that word in the most positive way. To me, enigma means someone who should be able to do something, but for some reason, can’t or doesn’t. Ozzie already can and does.”
Late in the season, Harrelson said Fernandez was the only league shortstop physically better than Guillen, and he included Detroit’s Alan Trammell and Oakland’s Alfredo Griffen.
“But I wouldn’t trade Ozzie for Fernandez,” Harrelson said. “He has the best over-all talent at shortstop I’ve ever seen.”
Better than Luis Aparicio, whose uncle Ernesto taught Guillen the fine points of shortstop? Off rookie seasons, yes. Aparicio committed 35 errors as a freshman.
“With his skill, instincts and attitude, and with the Good Lord willing, he can only get better,” Harrelson said.
“Suppose you get a shy, retiring type who doesn’t have the confidence Ozzie has,” LaRussa said. “A kind like that would get buried.
“Now take Ozzie. He’s going to be a real treat if he doesn’t change. You know he won’t.”
Sox coach Eddie Brinkman calls Guillen’s freshman year “exceptional.” “To be that poised that young stuns me,” Brinkman said. “Ozzie keeps his feet on the ground when he throws, and he’s accurate from all over the field. Usually, a shortstop going into the hole has to throw in the air, but somehow, Ozzie gets his feet planted.
“It didn’t take him long to learn runners’ speeds, and he knows what to do with the ball before it’s even hit to him. And sneaky? I’ve seen him sneak in behind runners who have no idea he’s there. They never hear him – until it’s too late.”
For all his range and instincts, Guillen does not have a classic shortstop arm. To make up for it, he plays shallower than most.
“I don’t think I ever saw him throw one to first base that wasn’t a rainbow, but somehow, he always got his man,” said Tim Hulett, whose 23 errors at third base almost doubled Guillen’s total.
“Oz can make anybody look good. He brings out the strong points in you. Besides, he loves to play the game. He makes it fun for everyone around him.”
Just before winning his 300th lifetime game last summer, Tom Seaver was asked whom he would think about on the last out. He said his parents and family, some coaches and managers, and Ozzie Guillen.
“The first day of spring training last year, this kid ran up and said, `I’m going to make the last out of your 300th game, and I’m not going to give you the ball.’ And he ran away.
“I didn’t even know who he was, but it didn’t take long to find out.”
A few years later, in 1990, Guillen offered some quotes to the San Diego Union:
“I hope to try to be a matador after my career is over. I want to learn. I don’t know if I have the guts to see the bull in the face and do it. But I just want to dress like that and be in the bullring. Bullfighting is, how do you call, real elegant. It’s something real nice to see.
“A lot of people play third base; it’s tough. You’ve got to be tough to play third base. In the outfield, you’ve got to be big and quick. And catcher, you’ve got to be an animal. To be a pitcher, you’ve got to be mean.”
“Shortstop is kind of nice. You have to do everything relaxed to be good. It’s elegant.”
“Should I be an All-Star? Of course.”
“I can be from the best to worst in one inning, maybe two pitches. I can go out and make plays that Ozzie, me and Templeton can’t even make in the big leagues and then, after that, they hit me a ground ball anybody can catch and I miss it.
“I like volleyball better than baseball when I grow up. That’s why I make so many errors then, because I really don’t care about baseball that much.”
Finally, there’s this interesting note in the Chicago Sun-Times of July 14, 1991:
White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen can’t become a free agent until after the 1993 season. But he knows where he would go if he could.
“If there’s any place I want to go if I leave Chicago, Miami would be the first one,” the All-Star shortstop said.
Miami will start play in 1993 as a National League expansion team and Guillen, the native Venezuelan, says the area has very good Latin American ties.
“It’s too early to talk about (leaving) right now,” he said. “That is in (board chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf’s hands. I feel comfortable in Chicago, but when you’re in baseball, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”