Last year the
White Sox were family, and they won it all. This year the Sox are off to
another scorching start (49--26), but for most of the season they've been
looking up at the Tigers, the arrivistes of the AL Central, and maybe Ozzie
Guillen was feeling his family wasn't quite as tight as it should be. Perhaps
that is why he decided to play some beanball, a game within the game governed
by a set of unwritten rules supposedly unknowable to those of us who never
played in the bigs. It's a game managers play to turn 25 ballplayers into a
family, to restore meaning to hoary phrases like "I got your back" and
"We police ourselves."
So in a June 14
game against the Rangers, Guillen sought a little payback. His catcher, A.J.
Pierzynski, got bopped twice, and the manager wanted one of Texas's big sticks
to feel some pain. But things went wrong, and it's not hard to imagine where
Ozzie's head might be now:
If that kid
pitcher we called up had hit the Rangers' guy the way I wanted him to, I
wouldn't have had to ream him out in front of everybody, and then that ass----
from the paper [ Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times] wouldn't have ripped me,
and I wouldn't have called him a "f------- fag," at least not in front
of a bunch of reporters, and then that man [commissioner Bud Selig] wouldn't be
making me go to goddam sensitivity training, whatever the hell that is.
The White Sox can
play beanball the "right way," as they showed a week after rookie Sean
Tracey failed to hit Texas's Hank Blalock and incurred Guillen's wrath. On June
20, reliever David Riske hit the Cardinals' Chris Duncan--in the back--after
two Chicago batters were hit. (Riske was suspended for three games and Guillen
for one. Riske appealed his suspension, as one of the unwritten rules of
beanball is to acknowledge nothing, while Guillen, who hasn't admitted ordering
Tracey to hit Blalock, served his last Thursday.) But maybe Guillen doesn't
really know the code of beanball, with all due respect to his 6,686 at bats in
the majors, not to mention the code of decent public discourse, with all due
respect to the macho Venezuelan heritage he cites. A fundamental of managing is
to put your players in situations where they can succeed. If the wrong player
for a job fails, the responsibility falls to the manager, the designated adult
on every team.
Rangers, Guillen called in Tracey, 25, a hard-throwing righty appearing in his
third major league game, to face Blalock in the seventh inning. Both teams had
received warnings from the umpires that the next hit batsman would lead to
ejections. Nevertheless, Guillen's instructions were simple: Hit this guy. If
only it were that easy. As with many young pitchers, sometimes Tracey's guess
about where his ball is headed is as good as the hitter's. In 2004 he led the
Carolina League in wild pitches and hit 23 batters, nearly all of them
unintentional. In his first year as a minor leaguer Tracey hit a batter in the
helmet and watched the hitter stagger to the backstop when he thought he was
trotting to first base. It made Tracey feel sick.
accounting Tracey's pitch sequence to Blalock was textbook: high and tight
brushback; low and away; back inside; swinging strike; weak ground ball out.
Not good enough for Ozzie, who flew out of the dugout, yanked Tracey, then
berated him in the dugout (and on TV) while the pitcher, obviously shaken,
pulled his jersey over his head. Two days later Tracey was sent back to the
Knights. The White Sox say the demotion was already in the works. And Freud
said there are no coincidences.
Last week, four
days after throwing his first shutout as a pro in his return to Charlotte,
Tracey spent two hours in a Charlotte Applebee's dissecting the ramifications
of the Blalock ground ball. He's a bright kid, a few classes short of a
psychology degree at UC Irvine. He said he believes in the beanball code, as
long as the injurious pitch is merited and below the shoulder, and insisted
that he did try to hit Blalock. "I didn't get my job done, and I made my
manager look like an ass," said Tracey, who hasn't spoken with Guillen
since his dugout upbraiding. He's lean and strong and was drinking water.
"He needed to make an example out of me to make the team feel more like a
family, and I'm fine with that. I've learned from it." Tracey's watch was
still on Chicago time. He plans to pitch his way back to the big club, and
maybe he will.
that he was saying what needed to be said to redeem himself before his
employers and teammates. But young Tracey has one thing wrong: It's not the
player's job to make the manager look good, but the other way around. Ozzie
Guillen made a bad pitching move and took it out on the wrong guy and in the
wrong way, and that's no way to build a family. Who says? It's right there, in
the manager's unwritten handbook. Ozzie should read it.
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