Ozzie Guillen elated to be studio analyst after time away from White Sox

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Former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen greets fans during the baseball team’s convention Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Chicago. | Patrick Kunzer/Daily Herald via AP

If they drug-tested at major-league baseball fan fests, everyone would test positive for joy. Everybody — fans, players, managers, front-office types and possibly even media members — is happy at these winter events. A pitch hasn’t been thrown, a trade hasn’t been a failure yet and hope hasn’t been run over at home plate. It’s all good.

But nobody in the history of fan fests has been happier than Ozzie Guillen was at SoxFest in January. I can risk overstatement here because I know Guillen, the loud, ever-chatty former White Sox player and manager, will take whatever statement I make to another level.

There was good cheer at SoxFest, but not in Guillen quantities. His oldest son saw it right away.

‘‘Ozzie Jr. said, ‘Dad, you’re so excited,’ ’’ Guillen said. ‘‘I said: ‘Look at it this way, buddy. It’s like you were in jail for 10 years, and you knew you weren’t guilty. All of a sudden, the judge finds you not guilty. That’s the way I feel right now.’ ’’

Ozzie Guillen, uncaged.

‘‘I’m gone for seven years, then all of sudden I’m back with my people,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe I deserved that [separation]. I don’t blame them. It was a time we both were wrong and we both were right.

‘‘When they announced me at SoxFest, I was nervous. When I saw the standing ovation from the fans, they cannot take that stuff away from you.’’

Last month, NBC Sports Chicago announced Guillen would be a studio analyst before and after Sox games this season. It brought him back to the Sox, to where he belongs, to where he started and to where it ended so badly. He said the most important thing to him is that the pivotal people involved with the Sox gave their blessings to his new job. That included vice president Ken Williams, who clashed often with Guillen toward the end of Guillen’s tenure as manager. The tenure brought a World Series title to the South Side.

After months of turmoil and with a year remaining on his contract, Guillen left the Sox two games before the end of the 2011 season and soon after was hired by the Marlins. Since then, it has been a long road, filled with controversy, good times and emptiness. The Marlins suspended him for five games after he was quoted as saying he loved Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, a comment he continues to deny making. The team fired him after one season.

He was working with a team in Mexico before ESPN Deportes hired him in 2013. All of it was good, just not good enough.

‘‘That covered up the emptiness a little bit,’’ he said. ‘‘Patched it. I was on the field with Dave Stewart. I was doing stuff. Then when the season started, I got the gig with ESPN. It covered up a lot. The Mexican team really helped me a lot mentally. People say, ‘You’ve got money and you’ve got years.’ But that’s not all there is. I don’t think that’s all.’’

He managed three seasons in the Venezuelan winter league. He liked that, too, but he knew what was lacking. It was there in black and white, the Sox’ colors.

‘‘I wasn’t happy enough to make it through life,’’ he said. ‘‘I think my kids, my wife, my friends made me realize that that’s part of life, especially my kids. But I still felt like I’m missing something. Going to SoxFest, I was like a kid the first time going to Disneyland.’’

This being Guillen, who never has shied from an opinion, the question is how open he’ll be before and after Sox games. It’s a very real issue. If he holds back, it’s not really him. If he says too much . . . what’s the phone number for the Federal Communications Commission?

Can Ozzie be Ozzie without being Ozzie? You can feel the predicament when he’s asked about it.

‘‘I’m just going to be honest,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s how do you want to be honest. Before, I was like: ‘Wow, we’re crazy! Why are we doing this?’ Now my job is to explain why. . . . I have to think about how four or five different people think. I have to think what [general manager] Rick Hahn thinks. I have to guess what Kenny thinks, what [chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf thinks, what the PR department thinks, marketing, the manager. I’m going to put everything together in one philosophy and say, ‘I think this is what they’re doing.’

‘‘But they hired me to be myself. . . . I want to work for the White Sox, but I want to work for the fans. The fans want to see the real Ozzie: ‘OK, Ozzie, don’t tell me that b——- when we know that that’s not right.’

‘‘I’m going to find a way to say it without being brutal.’’

So, yes, this is going to be interesting. Very interesting.

Unsolicited at SoxFest, Hahn said the 55-year-old Guillen should be managing in the big leagues. He’s right. It’s something Guillen very much wants to do. He says that he’s changed, that he’s more willing to listen to other opinions than he was in the past. He sees analytics as helpful where he had little use for them before.

He has been outrageously outspoken at times, but he’s a very smart baseball man with a World Series to his name.

He thinks there’s a perception of him that doesn’t match reality.

‘‘I’m like, ‘What did I do wrong with my life?’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve been married to the same woman. Never had a problem with kids in the streets. I never had a fight with anybody. Nobody said they saw Ozzie drunk in the street, fighting with people, Ozzie drinking and driving. I don’t have the best sons, but they all got a college education and they live their own lives. So I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ People see crazy Ozzie.

‘‘I don’t want to say I’m a perfect guy, but, goddamn, I’m better than a lot.’’

He is, indeed. 

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