Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Quote Machine

Ozzie Guillen’s answer to the first question I ever asked him gave me a pretty good idea of what a unique person he is. He went on for two and a half, maybe three minutes, exploring various tangents, recounting a minor-league homer he once hit in Salt Lake City, talking about how you can teach various skills but you can’t teach heart, and discussing the physics of baseball at high altitude.

Great answer. Very quotable. It’s especially remarkable, though, when you know my question:

“Excuse me, Ozzie. Got a minute?”

That encounter was two seasons ago, but I’m happy to report that the stream of consciousness hasn’t slowed a bit. Guillen’s pregame media sessions are more like performance art, with a 20-person audience. Give him a question -- or even a three-word phrase -- and stand back. He is forceful, candid, and as entertaining as David Letterman. He uses his hands (or a bat) for emphasis. He poses questions to himself, he grows angry and then amused as he speaks, and he is capable of shocking you with his frankness. (He also works a little blue, if you know what I mean.)

Take his answer on Tuesday to a question about teams that are responding to the death of Josh Hancock by banning alcohol from their clubhouses. Guillen said he had no plans to do so, though if ordered to, he would. And why won’t he initiate a ban? (He answered without being asked, naturally.) Because, he said, Josh Hancock wasn’t drinking in the clubhouse. Very few players do. And to make a knee-jerk reaction that has very little actual effect “makes it look like we feel guilty about something. And I don’t feel guilty about anything.”

Whether you agree or not, just hearing such honesty in an era of carefully chosen, say-nothing quotes makes you appreciate the guy. Yeah, he has some opinions that aren’t admirable. But purely in the service of battling blandness, Guillen holding court is a show worth seeing.

-- Phil Miller