Ozzie Guillen’s handling of Gordon Beckham has been masterful.
It’s been a work of baseball managerial art, comparable to the likes of Van Gogh or Picasso, or rather, LaRussa or Cox.
In this instance, Guillen played the media like it was a Wii. He took pressure off Beckham by pretending to dislike him. Some people—I’m talking to you Black Jack—fell for it like those unsuspecting saps in Bruno.
But I could see what Ozzie was doing from the start.
(Okay, after that first “I’m not going to talk about f-ing Beckham” comment, I was slightly taken aback. But, after reading a Chicago newspaper the next day, I quickly figured out what the old Ozzeroo was doing.)
When Beckham was first brought to the majors for the Jun. 4 game against the A’s, the hype surrounding him was immense. He got standing ovations from the crowd when he stepped to the plate.
He had the media following him like his first name was Victoria or David.
But Ozzie refused to buy into the hype. He defused the situation by making it seem like he didn’t want anything to do with the Sox’s top prospect. The media, in turn, stopped asking questions about the new Sox third baseman.
I saw the hype-machine go into overload firsthand. On the day after Beckham’s first major league appearance, the entire back page of the Chicago Tribune sports section was dedicated to "The Chosen One".
It featured a minute-by-minute diary of Beckham’s activities on Jun. 4, from the time he woke up in the morning to the time he left the ballpark after the game.
It was sickening.
Ozzie, who reads the papers, probably saw that too, and knew something had to be done. But remember, Ozzie thinks quicker than any 24-hour news cycle. He immediately witnessed the attention being paid to Beckham.
"That kid will be all right," Guillen said to reporters in his post-game press conference Jun. 4, after the Sox lost 7-0 and Beckham went 0-for-3.
"But I'm not going to sit down every day and answer questions about Beckham. It's like Maradona going to the World Cup. It's another player. He had a bad day, like everyone else did."
Just two days before the ex-Georgia Bulldog was called up, Guillen was quoted as saying that, “If we have Beckham here, we're in trouble.”
I could see where Ozzie was coming from at the time. If Josh Fields didn’t produce, the Sox would continue to struggle. And bringing up a kid with less than a season of minor league experience is a rather bold move.
But maybe Ozzie’s “trouble” statement was actually a preemptive take-pressure-off-Beckham strike. I guess Ozzie’s masterpiece started early, before the Gordon-Beckham-on-the-South-Side era even began.
Even on the day of Beckham’s promotion to the big club, Ozzie quipped to reporters, “Now he’s here. I hope he can save us.”
Hidden in that sarcasm is Ozzie’s genius at work. By refusing to feed the publicity monster Beckham had unwillingly become, Guillen announced to everyone else that they shouldn’t either.
If the manager of the White Sox doesn’t think this kid is going to be any good, people must have thought, maybe he won’t be. And after a few days, the media and fans turned their attention elsewhere, and the expectations died down.
Ozzie’s attitude also allowed Beckham to not believe his own hype, to not get overly-cocky, and to realize that it takes hard work—and not just a name and a history—to succeed at the big league level.
Guillen’s quotes also relayed the message to the other 24 players on the Sox that it’s up to them, not a 22-year-old rookie, whether the team makes the playoffs or not.
Any thoughts of Beckham as a baseball god were quickly dismissed by the Sox’s manager.
But some people—most notably former White Sox ace Jack McDowell—saw things differently. They thought Ozzie didn’t like Beckham, that he was mishandling him. They were completely blind to Guillen’s master plan.
Because, for whatever reason, even though Ozzie has won a World Series and has been one of baseball’s winningest managers since 2004, people still seem to see Guillen as a caricature, and not what he truly is—a savvy-as-hell baseball lifer.
People look at Ozzie’s personality and quirkiness and his cuss-filled rants and see a whacko...a cartoon character.
But what they don’t see is an honest, thoughtful, and intelligent baseball mind. And, in the process, they’re missing out on one of the great modern-day baseball managers.
Now, back to Black Jack.
He took a lot of flak from Sox television personalities Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, as well as Guillen himself, for these comments he made on ChicagoNow.com Jun. 11.
“First off, it seems manager Ozzie Guillen is not a big fan of Beckham's. Every time the kid's name has been mentioned throughout the year, Ozzie has never uttered a positive word publicly about him.”
Obviously, McDowell hadn’t been paying much attention to Guillen over the years. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such a media-savvy (at least with local media) manager in any sport. He respects the media (unless you disrespect him, Jay Mariotti) and tells his players to do the same.
He knows how to put the right message out there, and give the media exactly what they want, but on his terms.
Beat writers love the guy.
But, alas, none of this would have mattered had Beckham not produced. On Jun. 26, the third baseman was hitting .183.
As of Jul. 19, he’s hitting .289. His average in the month of July alone is .340. He also has three homers, 22 RBI, and a couple of stolen bases.
Sure, his defense needs work, but we’re talking about a guy who has been a shortstop his whole career, and who only made the move to third because the Sox already had a shortstop in Alexei Ramirez.
So, in my best Ozzie Guillen circa-early-June impression: Enough (about Beckham) said.