White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who says he stops talking only when he starts sleeping, was in midseason form the moment he arrived in Florida for spring training. As a 21-year-old rookie acquired from San Diego in a controversial multiplayer deal for pitcher LaMarr Hoyt, Guillen (pronounced gee-jen, with a hard g) might have been well advised to let his performance speak for itself. Not Ozzie. "Hey, Tom," he said to the venerable Tom Seaver, "when you win your 300th game, I'm going to end it with an unassisted double play—and keep the ball." Seaver let loose his high-pitched laugh. On Aug. 3, the day before Seaver did win No. 300, Guillen predicted, "Tomorrow I'm going to drive in the winning run."
Right on the button. Although he didn't get his unassisted double play when Seaver beat New York 4-1, Guillen did drive in the winning run with a sixth-inning single. By the end of last week, Guillen was hitting .275 and fielding superbly, thus establishing himself as the solid favorite to become the American League's Rookie of the Year.
While the Sox have struggled to a 59-62 fourth-place record, 10½ games behind California in the AL West, Guillen has given Comiskey Park fans hope for the future. His play is in the tradition of some superb Chicago shortstops: Luke Appling (1930-50) and Ozzie's Venezuelan countrymen Chico Carrasqual (1950-55) and Luis Aparicio (1956-62, 1968-70). But Appling committed 42 errors as a rookie, Carrasqual 28 and Aparicio 35; to date Guillen has made 10, fewer than any AL shortstop with 100 or more games.
"Ozzie reminds me of Red Schoendienst when he came over to Milwaukee and solidified the defense in 1957," says White Sox general manager Roland Hemond. "We'd say, 'What a great fielder, what instinct, what knowledge of the hitters.' But Red was 34; Ozzie's 21."
Guillen was the first of five children in an especially close family. His mother, Violeta, a high school principal, and his father, Oswaldo, general manager of a refrigerator plant, still talk to him almost daily from their home in Guarenas. Guillen attended school in Los Teques, outside Caracas, while playing volleyball for the national youth team and learning baseball from Aparicio's Uncle Ernesto. "You grow up in a hurry that way," says Guillen.
So quickly that the Padres signed him to a pro contract a month before his 17th birthday. And so quickly that four years later Hemond acquired Guillen before he'd played so much as an inning in the big leagues. Although Guillen had only six years' experience in organized baseball, he had that volleyball quickness, and from childhood he'd been playing a Venezuelan street baseball game called pelota de goma, in which kids hit a large rubber ball with their fists and catch it barehanded. As that other shortstopping Ozzie, the Cardinals' Smith, has said, the first thing scouts look for in a middle infielder is soft hands. Guillen has barehanded a number of grounders this year, and they haven't all been slow rollers.
His glove hand isn't bad either. "All the great Venezuelan shortstops—Carrasqual, Aparicio, Dave Concepcion—use the same style as I do in fielding practice," he says. "They take a small glove and try to catch everything one-handed. That makes your hand strong." Guillen makes a fine one-handed pickup—but only, infield coach Eddie Brinkman insists, when he doesn't have time to use two.
"My body is young," says Guillen, "but my mind, no." His teammates agree. First baseman Greg Walker notes that Guillen throws only hard enough to get the runner. "Most young players try to air it out all the time," Walker says. Seaver was astounded when he heard Guillen yell "Go home" to third baseman Tim Hullet, who had just fielded a grounder with men on first and third and no outs. Hullet elected to start an around-the-horn double play and allow the run to score. "I asked Ozzie about that," said Seaver. "He said, 'John Wathan's the next batter; you'll get him to ground out.' And that's what he did. Ozzie has a sharp mind and great instinct."
Guillen is forever asking questions of manager Tony La Russa and Brinkman. In rare moments of silence he'll observe opposing infielders from the dugout. Guillen believes his own ready position resembles that of Tony Fernandez, the Toronto shortstop. "Tony bends low at the knees and moves forward on pitches like a dancer," says Guillen. He promptly demonstrated the Shortstop Mambo: one, two, three: stop.
"He could be hitting zero and still be helping us," says La Russa. As recently as June 10 Guillen was hitting only .210. Batting coach Mike Lum taught him to extend the bat by using more bottom hand, and Guillen has been slashing out lefthanded singles with greater frequency. "He picked it up like that," says Lum.
And he's impressing his opponents like this: Beginning a three-game series with the Yankees on Aug. 12, Guillen made a spectacular diving stop in the hole on a Don Baylor grounder and while rising threw him out. The next night Guillen went from first to third on a single to left because he knew the wet grass would slow down the ball, and that outfielder Billy Sample has a weak arm. In the series finale he hit his first major league homer, added two singles, then faked a bunt and slapped a go-ahead base hit to left. "People kept asking me about the homer, but the last hit was more important," says Guillen.
Last Wednesday night Guillen made great stops in the hole and behind second in a 2-1 loss to Kansas City. "He's got all the tools and the kind of Mark Belanger body [5'11", 150] that doesn't put on weight," said K.C. second baseman Frank White. "I'd like to say there's something he can't do, but I haven't seen it," added manager Dick Howser. "The thing I like best is that he doesn't pout."
On the contrary. Guillen dons his uniform, complete with old-fashioned low-stirrup socks, modern wristbands and personalized miniature knee pads, and begins to banter. He sees a writer and sticks his head into the notebook. "Who you going to do today?" he wants to know. He's as positive as Pete and as frolicsome as Fernando.
After drawing a walk in a recent game, Guillen tried to flip his bat away, but his hand caught on the pine tar. The bat went straight up in the air and almost conked him on the head. When he reached first base, coach Joe Nossek laughed and told him, "We better practice that, Ozzie, so you don't hurt yourself. Be out here early tomorrow."
"What time?" said Guillen.
Rookie honors may come bouncing Guillen's way.