The Hurt Locker: Sports Grievances and Rants

Contrary to popular belief, Chicago was not dubbed The Windy City because of its weather.  Though there are plenty of gusty days, the nickname was borne out of a rivalry with New York City and referred to the perceived political bluster emanating Chicago’s leaders.

In other words, it was believed that Chi Town had a big mouth (note that this doesn’t reflect any personal opinions).

So it is fitting that at the helm of the city’s south side baseball team sits Ozzie Guillen, the manager with perhaps the loudest yap in the majors.  But it is also increasingly embarrassing.  Recently, sports columnist Jay Mariotti wrote a reaction piece  on Guillen’s continued employment, and much to my dismay I found myself nodding as I read along.

Yes…I agreed with Jay Mariotti.

I realize how unlikely and terrifying that is, but it’s true nonetheless.  To summarize his article:  The White Sox need to fire Guillen.  It is a move that is long overdue.

Now I’m not privy to all of the sordid details that pass through Mariotti’s ears, but I hear and see enough of Guillen to form an opinion that is very much in line with what Jay wrote.  Instead of railing against the colorful manager or pointing out his foibles, I’d like to address the Chicago fans who seem unwilling to abandon their love affair with Guillen.

To those folks, I pose a simple question.

Given Guillen’s level of success and propensity to embarrass himself and the organization with outbursts across multiple media outlets (now including Twitter…), why do you continue to support his employment?

Now I can imagine what many of you might say.  You’ll point to the 2005 World Series Championship and say, there- for the first time in nearly a century, my team won.  And Guillen is the guy who led the Pale Hose to rings.

Fair enough- nothing in sports is more endearing than winning it all.  I get it.  But at some point, the shine wears off, does it not?  At some point, doesn’t the clowning and the mudslinging dim the halo?

I can further imagine another counter from the fans.  Ozzie’s behavior is no big deal.  As long as the team does well, who cares?

Guillen's antics should have gotten him a pink slip by now.

Again, fair enough.  But when a manager becomes a lightning rod for controversy, when a manager becomes bigger than the team and now seems ready and willing to openly question and criticize his bosses, that’s a problem.  It’s a distraction for an organization that, playing in a fairly weak division, has a chance to compete for a playoff spot every season.

And aside from all that, Ozzie isn’t that good of a manager.

Yes, he won a title, but he did so with a lot of luck and good timing…having to face the Astros, a weak National League team that sneaked its own way into the title round, was extremely good fortune.  A full analysis of the 2005 season is another article entirely, so I’ll turn my attention back to Guillen.

Let’s consider the following bodies of work compiled during three 6-year periods.  This comparison shows where the manager finished in the final divisional standings along with the team’s payroll rank relative to the other major league teams:

Manager A Manager B Manager C
Finish Payroll Finish Payroll Finish Payroll
Year 1 2nd 18th 2nd 15th 3rd 17th
Year 2 2nd 24th 1st 13th 1st 13th
Year 3 1st 26th 3rd 4th 1st 8th
Year 4 3rd 14th 4th 5th 3rd 5th
Year 5 2nd 18th 1st 5th 2nd 5th
Year 6 2nd 22nd 3rd 12th 2nd 3rd

Admittedly, these numbers ignore post-season performance, but they are still useful.  Given the relative amounts of money each was working with, which of these three guys had the best stretch?  Tough to say.

How about if we factor in their actual winning percentages?

Manager A: .515
Manager B: .526
Manager C: .529

Is there a clear favorite now?  Is the difference between .515 and .529 enough to declare one manager more successful than another?  Personally, I’m not sure.  But for the purposes of this example, let’s skip to the big reveal…

Ozzie Guillen is Manager B.  For half of his tenure, the White Sox have been a Top 5 team in terms of team payroll and yet , aside from the 2005 title, his performance has been largely mediocre.

But wait, this gets better.

The soft-spoken Manuel was let go despite a comparable record earned with far fewer dollars.

Manager A is the guy Guillen replaced!  Jerry Manuel, working with much lower payrolls, had comparable success.  The White Sox fired him in favor of a guy who has won an extra 12 games over six seasons.  Whatever Manuel’s faults he is, at least, professional.

Even better, Manager C- the guy with the best overall winning percentage?  Ok, ok…they’re two guys: Gene Lamont and Terry Bevington, who managed the White Sox over the six seasons prior to Manuel’s arrival.  Lamont actually had a .551 winning percentage on his own before being canned in 1995.  Bevington was slightly less successful but still over .500.

The ChiSox payroll ranks back then were comparable to what Ozzie has enjoyed in recent seasons, and the win rates have been pretty similar as well.  Yet Lamont and Bevington were both given their walking papers.  They never created controversy.  They never had anger issues.  They never openly bucked their own management or spread wild conspiracy theories about the way the team was being run.

Guillen is guilty of all that and more, and yet retains his post.  He’s resting on his laurels, enjoying the afterglow of a 2005 title that should have faded by now.  That flash of playoff success is keeping his employment alive, but it’s time to pull the plug.  If GM Ken Williams and owner Jerry Reinsdorf have any self-respect, they’ll make the move.

To be clear, I rarely side with owners and have zero love for Reinsdorf.  Zero.  But team management is all about the good outweighing the bad.  In Guillen, they’ve got plenty of bad, but the numbers tell us that overall, he’s been no more successful than his predecessors.

Despite having more cash to work with, Guillen has essentially mirrored the achievements of the previous decade, failing to consistently elevate the White Sox to a higher level of success.  During that stretch the Royals and Indians have suffered through some down years, opening the door for teams like Chicago to assert and maintain their dominance.  But that hasn’t happened.

If any team in the division has become a perennial contender it’s the Minnesota Twins.  Detroit has had a couple of successful years as well, but in general, the A.L. Central continues to be a crap shoot.

Ozzie was brought in to do more than the guys before him.  Not only has he failed to do so (in the big picture) but he’s been worsening trouble along the way.  It’s time for both sides to move on.