Okay, right off thebat, let me be clear: Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, ismy favorite person in baseball. He's hilarious. He's the best skipper in thegame. He had only an eighth-grade education in Venezuela yet is one of thesmartest men you'll ever meet. And he's done a whole lot better in Chicago thanI ever would've done in Caracas. My only question is, what the hell did he justsay?
I mean, you wannatry it?
Ozzie: "Mang,eet don't take no geenus to play bazebool. Eet don't take no Bay Roo. Jew jusfukkus."
DeOzzified:"Man, it doesn't take a genius to play baseball. It doesn't take Babe Ruth.You just focus."
Ozzie: "We hadthe heeng-and-rung goeeng, but da bitcher he naw give us a cood bitch."
DeOzzified: "Wehad the hit-and-run going, but the pitcher didn't give us a goodpitch."
Wait! Don't go! I'mnot making fun of him! I'm just saying I wouldn't want to be the beat guy forthe Chicago Tribune trying to understand him. Or the rookie just in fromShreveport. Or his accountant. Because even though the man has been working inthis country for 26 years, his accent is thicker than Chita Rivera'smakeup.
Me: Who taught youEnglish?
Me: Joan Kroc? TheMcDonald's lady?
Ozzie: No, no, JoanKroc. Bazebool player.
Me: Oh!! JohnKruk!!
Ozzie: Yes, JoanKroc. But eet ees naw so cood, seence Joan Kroc come from West Virhinia. So Iwas talkeen like heem.
As a publicservice, Kruk taught Ozzie to swear, and Ozzie has taken it to heart. The otherday he gave a five-minute speech, and backup catcher Chris Widger used a pitchcounter to keep track of the f bombs--26.
Under Ozzie, theWhite Sox are the Babel of major league baseball--Spanish, Japanese, Englishand whatever Ozzie speaks.
Me: You have anytrouble talking to Tadahito Iguchi? You know any Japanese?
Ozzie: Well, I loveSoo Chi, so I know a few.
Me: Soo Chi?
Ozzie: Yes, SooChi.
Me: Who's Soo Chi?His interpreter?
Ozzie: No, no, eesnaw a person! It's--Soo Chi! I love soochi food!
Ozzie: Yes, yes.Soochi.
Of course, Ozziethinks it's racist that I'm even bringing it up.
"Jew are racisson of a beech," he insists. "If I was black, could jew be sayeengthese theengs? An beside, Spaneesh ees groweeng so fas een thees country. Whyno writers lur Spaneesh?"
Good point. Butdoesn't his warped English keep his players from understanding hisinstructions?
"With Ozziethere's no mistaking what he's feeling," says pitching coach Don Cooper."You don't have to understand the words."
Third base coachJoey Cora never wants Guillen to improve. "If Ozzie knew English better, hewouldn't be Ozzie. He tells you what's in his heart, not what you want to hear.Maybe if his English were better, he wouldn't do that. Maybe he'd tiptoe aroundthe truth more."
Besides, saysOzzie, "I don't got to understang them. They got to understang me!... And,anyway, Eenglish ees naw so cood at makeeng sense. Why jew drive een parkwayand park een driveway?"
Just then, firstbase coach Harold Baines walks up, hand extended, smiling. "Hi. I'm HaroldBaines, Ozzie's interpreter."
Ozzie could've usedBaines recently when he called Alex Rodriguez a "hypocrite" for sayinghe might play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Ozzielater said he didn't quite know what the word hypocrite meant. Oh, my God....You think he was calling A-Rod a ... hippopotamus?
Telling you, thisguy is the most eccentric, bizarre and lovable skip since Casey Stengel.There's nobody like him. At Ozzie's orders the music blares in the White Soxclubhouse, win or lose. No phony brooding necessary. He doesn't do computers,either. Has everything he needs to know about a team on a two-by-three-inchlaminated card in his back pocket.
One day I ran intoOzzie's boss, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who is 70 and whiter thanmayonnaise.
Me: Can youunderstand him?
Reinsdorf: Iunderstand him pretty well. Until he asks for a raise.
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"Ozzie tells you what's in his heart, not what youwant to hear," says a coach. "Maybe if his English were better, hewouldn't do that. He might tiptoe around the truth more."
RIFFS of REILLY
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PETER READ MILLER