I’ve got to get a few things out of the way, in the interest of objectivity. One, I’m a Chicago White Sox fan. Two, I’m not an Ozzie Guillen fan. Three, at the very first Major League Baseball game I ever attended, Guillen, responding to my mother’s entreaties for an autograph, told her, “Shut up you crazy bitch!” with an ever-rising, kinda-sorta awkward, English-as-a-second-language annunciation.
Now if I were Rick Morrissey—and trust me, as a guy who likes sports and words and words about sports, I certainly wouldn’t mind being a successful columnist—I’d tell that story and follow it with something like this: Most baseball players would love the opportunity to sign an autograph for a young lady—Ozzie Guillen was not ‘most baseball players.’ Look, I’m going to draw a line: to the left, I’ll put the 699 baseball players active in 1995 on Major League Baseball rosters who would have loved to sign an autograph for a young lady; to the right, I’ll put Ozzie Guillen. Not to belabor the point, but Ozzie Guillen is D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T. And explicit.
In Morrissey’s Ozzie’s School of Management: Lessons from the Dugout, the Clubhouse, and the Doghouse, most stories follow that formula: Ozzie does something crazy, Morrissey tells the reader just how crazy Ozzie’s being, then fit it into an overall motif about Ozzie’s purposefully crazy attitude.
As a White Sox fan, I’m familiar with Guillen—first the light-hitting, decent-fielding shortstop, then the maddeningly average manager. Given that Ozzie’s School of Management is mainly, and perhaps rightfully, focused on Guillen’s larger-than-life personality—sweeping his managerial shortcomings under, uh, first base?—many of my quibbles aren’t worth addressing on a book blog.
But much of Ozzie’s School of Management deals with how Guillen came to leave the organization he spent over a decade with as a player and almost a decade with as a manager, so it’s kind of impossible for me to totally divorce my feelings for/about him from Morrissey’s portrayal of both the man and his exit from Chicago. And given that the 2011 season was a 180-day-long dry socket for White Sox fans, it’ll be difficult to set my feelings aside. I’ll do my best.
Ozzie’s School of Management is divided into ten sections—Morrissey calls this a “Ten Commandments format” in the acknowledgements—that represent Guillen’s baseball philosophy. The problem with this construction, and this is likely to be the case when you’re dealing with someone as inconsistent and hypocritical as Guillen, is that it provides the reader with a false expectation for rigidity. One would assume these ten lessons are the manager’s unbreakable rules.
As Morrissey’s willing to admit throughout Ozzie’s School of Management, Ozzie will break his own rules all the time—which wouldn’t be so annoying if it weren’t for Morrissey’s constant insinuations that Ozzie’s inconsistency, blowups, and generally brute behavior were engineered to foster a winning baseball culture. Guillen’s no mad scientist. He’s just a mouth.(And probably a drunk.)
Some of these lessons include banal, managerly tropes about all men on the 25-man roster being equal, keeping team and family separate, protecting your players from the media by taking the blame, and keeping your guys’ heads clear.
Just like in real life, Guillen talks a lot in Ozzie’s School of Management—his long, stream-of-consciousness diatribes forming much of the narrative. (This includes quotes from Ozzie’s eight-year stay in Chicago and never-before-read snippets from Morrissey’s work during the 2011 season.) And along the way, he says some funny things, cops to not really liking Paul Konerko, longs for a football-style substitution system in baseball (yes, seriously), and takes credit for putting Adam Dunn on the field for most of 2011 (which was, for non-baseball fans out there, one of the worst offensive seasons ever).
The few gratifying moments come in talks about Guillen’s early career, from his early days in the San Diego Padres organization to his debut in Chicago in 1985. It’s not difficult to trace the origins of the World Series–winning manager’s love for the game (his philosophy is a little more difficult to follow or understand). As someone who grew up with the White Sox, hearing stories about the days before I was born—which include Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson’s turn at general manager—is a treat, especially from someone as candid as Guillen. Credit Morrissey for the research and willingness to reach out to guys in all corners of the baseball world.
Morrissey’s other contributions, however, are not so stellar. Befuddling, cliché-packed similes—“Guillen…is to subtlety what Hugh Hefner is to abstinence…” / “…fire can stand next to a tree, but it won’t become a tree…”— are packed in around each fiery quote from Ozzie, a side-by-side that makes Morrissey’s writing seem even more inessential. And this raises a question: Why not write the book in conjunction with Guillen, rather than shadow him and fill the text with entries from the Handy-Dandy Sportswriters’ Guide to Metaphor? While sporting pseudo-autobiographies have a rich history of boring the shit out of everyone ever, a book written with as dynamic a figure as Guillen—rather than about him—surely would have more potential.
The more I think about this book, the more I’m bothered by how hurried it all feels. Morrissey compiled quotes and information during the 2011 season, and after Guillen walked away from the White Sox in late September, a spring release in 2012 made perfect sense for Morrissey and Times Books. But what are we—the readership—left with? A book organized around ten commanding principles that aren’t so important, apparently, that the guy who owns these principles—this is his school of management, right?—can’t seem to follow them on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis. It’s a structure that confuses. Shouldn’t an editor at Times Books, at some point along the way, stepped in and said, hey, maybe it’s not a great idea to organize the book around clichés that are kind of pitched aside in pithy sentences halfway through the chapter. Maybe it could have been called Ozzie’s School of Being a Lunatic or Ozzie’s Guide to Losing a Fan Base in Six Seasons—anything else, really. I can’t help but think a looser timeline might have helped out. Or a willingness to publish better writers who know more about the subject.
Most bothersome, however, is the total lack of original or not completely pig-in-shit lazy thought that pervades the book. Morrissey is willing to go along with whatever Guillen says about baseball—he knows about it because he played it!—no matter how stupid. Morrissey’s approach creates an echo-chamber wherein a totally mindless approach—gut not brain!—to baseball is promoted as being somehow against the grain or old school.
Take my favorite example, Guillen’s approach to scouting reports. As Morrissey tells us, Guillen does one thing with advance scouting reports on upcoming opponents: throws them away! Aside from how disrespectful this is to members of the organization charged with writing/distributing such information—and it’s quite—who wants to know less about their opponent? And does Morrissey point out the insanity of the practice?
Nah. It’s just Ozzie being Ozzie.