All-Star Game business as usual
Guillen says Tuesday's outcome no laughing matter
PITTSBURGH -- Ozzie Guillen sat on the dais in the Westin Hotel Monday morning, looking dignified and downright presidential following a glowing introduction from Jackie Autry, the honorary president of the American League.
As the American League manager, Guillen was on stage to introduce his starting lineup and field questions from the media in regard to his involvement with the 77th All-Star Game to be played Tuesday night at PNC Park. But as Guillen reached the end of reading off his starting nine, a little of the colorful White Sox manager briefly emerged.
"Mark Loretta, the second baseman, and Kenny Rogers is going to be my starting pitcher," said Guillen, going through the eighth and ninth hitters in his lineup. Guillen paused for a moment, displaying perfect comic timing, before adding of Rogers, "And he will pitch 10 innings."
Of course, Major League Baseball prevents any All-Star hurler from working more than three innings, but Guillen had been joking all week back in Chicago about the uproar he would cause by trying to throw Rogers five or six. Rogers is the ace hurler for Detroit, which leads the American League Central by two games over Guillen's White Sox.
Aside from a few other good one-liners scattered among the question-and-answer session, which also included Rogers, National League manager Phil Garner and National League starter Brad Penny, Guillen stuck primarily to talk about baseball. In fact, his day was filled with baseball events, from having lunch with Cal Ripken Jr. to countless interviews in preparation for Tuesday's contest.
Some of those interviews centered on Guillen's high level of respect for Roberto Clemente, the late, great Pirates Hall-of-Fame outfielder. A handful of national interviews brought up questions relating to Guillen's recent derogatory comments relating to Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti. Guillen handled each and every situation without even the hint of controversy.
"So far, there has been no political incorrectness," said Oney Guillen, one of the manager's three very proud sons. "But it's early. We have two more days here."
From the first moment talk started concerning the talent making up the American League All-Star team, some time after the first pitch of the 2006 season, Guillen has made it clear that the outcome of Tuesday's game was no laughing matter. His team benefited from having home-field advantage in the 2005 World Series, produced by Terry Francona's AL squad claiming victory in July, and Guillen intends on returning the favor in 2006.
Modesty and humility prevented Guillen from pointing out that an AL win might give home-field advantage to the White Sox once again.
"Somebody in our clubhouse is going to be in the World Series," Guillen said. "Hopefully, what the people did for us last year, we can do for them this year."
Guillen appears to have enough star power to shut down Garner's squad, much like the White Sox did to the Astros last October. His lineup reads Ichiro Suzuki in right, Derek Jeter at shortstop, David Ortiz at first base, Alex Rodriguez at third base, Vladimir Guerrero in left field, Ivan Rodriguez at catcher, Vernon Wells in center and Loretta and Rogers to complete the starting nine.
Managing the White Sox has been a dream come true for Guillen. But it would be hard to imagine a better team for Guillen to put on the field. Replacing Manny Ramirez in the outfield was the only question facing Guillen entering Monday, and Guillen opted for a natural center fielder such as Wells, as opposed to his own standout right fielder Jermaine Dye.
There also was a brief moment of levity involving Guillen and the absent Ramirez, who couldn't participate in the All-Star Game because of a sore right knee, but played all 19 innings Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field.
"I tip my cap to him, because I think he finished 0-for-6," said Guillen of Ramirez, who actually was 1-for-8 in Sunday's series finale. "You know what, I respect his opinion, I respect the Boston Red Sox.
"It's different when you go to defend a ballclub and they are in a pennant race, and Manny Ramirez is very important for that ballclub. Everybody has different opinions and you can say whatever you people want to. But I think we have to respect what Manny's decision was. I got a chance to bring [Magglio] Ordonez to be on the American League team, and I think it's well deserved."
Ordonez's addition brings an interesting subplot to the AL team, as he reunites with Guillen on the same squad for the first time since 2004. Their differences played out in the media early last year and are long since settled. It will be an important contest in Venezuela, with Guillen running the AL squad, and Ordonez, Johan Santana, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Zambrano all competing.
But Ordonez believes the Venezuelans will pay special attention to his interaction with his charismatic manager.
"A lot of people will see this game, and they look forward to seeing Ozzie and myself together," said Ordonez, with a wry smile, after talking about the phone conversation he had with Guillen, officially announcing his addition to the team. "They know what happened.
"It's going to be exciting. I look forward to being next to Ozzie when the game starts."
One main concern for Guillen is how to handle his pitching staff, with hurlers such as Toronto's Roy Halladay having started Sunday and closers Bobby Jenks (2 2/3 innings, 31 pitches) and Boston's Jonathon Papelbon (two innings, 29 pitches) having extended themselves on the final day of the first half. Guillen said Papelbon only would be used in a late-inning emergency.
Francisco Liriano already was added to replace Jose Contreras, when the White Sox right-hander felt some soreness after throwing 114 pitches Sunday. It's a concern Guillen will tackle once the game begins, the favorite part of the All-Star experience, as pointed out by a slightly sarcastic but honest Guillen.
Business should go pretty much as expected for Guillen. He can't help but be entertaining, and he can't help but try to win every time he competes.
"It has been busy but fun," Guillen said. "I'm having fun but I have to make it clear that I'm here to manage this ballclub."
"I expect Ozzie to be himself," added Cabrera, a close friend of the Guillen family. "He's the first Latin American manager to win the World Series and now, he is the [first Venezuelan] All-Star manager. That's a good thing. We need to win this game, the National League. So, I wish him luck, but I want to win."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.