Ozzie accepts heat for Thome decision
Reiterates slugger 'did not fit' with White Sox roster
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ozzie Guillen has a message for those White Sox supporters who are still bemoaning the fact of Jim Thome's offseason uniform change within the American League Central.
Actually, the White Sox manager's message in full has to be edited a bit for family viewing. But the gist of the statement is that he will take the sole responsibility for not bringing the popular Thome back, and he doesn't really care what others think.
"I'll take that blame. Why not?" said Guillen, during a 10-minute pregame diatribe before Wednesday's game, falling just short of Guillen classic standard. "Believe me, Jim Thome isn't here because I didn't want to. It's because I didn't see him fit in this ballclub in Spring Training with what we wanted to do.
"For all those people there saying it was my fault about Jim Thome, yes it's my fault. If those people don't like that ... I'm not afraid. I [couldn't] care less what people think.
"We're in second place," Guillen said. "When Jim Thome was here, we finished third [two] times out of four years. We went to one playoff because he hit a home run to go to the playoffs. We finished third, almost fourth, three times. Listen, I don't make that decision, we made that decision. It was hard for me to do this."
When the White Sox came up short during three of Thome's four years in Chicago, obviously the affable slugger was just part of the equation failing to push the South Siders to the playoffs. Intimating he was somehow a bigger part of the issue is like saying Thome's mammoth home run in the famous Blackout Game No. 163 in 2008 was the only reason the White Sox reached the postseason.
All of this Thome talk has come to the forefront once again over the past two weeks, with the Twins surging to a four-game lead entering Wednesday and Thome playing a part in that success. Thome hit a titanic walk-off clout off All-Star reliever Matt Thornton in the 10th inning on Tuesday, giving the Twins nine wins in 13 games with the White Sox this season.
As Guillen pointed out, Thome has received more playing time of late because of Justin Morneau being sidelined by a concussion. But anyone who knows about Thome's work ethic and talent understands the powerful designated hitter will hit 20 home runs and drive in 50 or 60 runs just by habit if given enough at-bats.
The bottom line is that as popular and talented a contributor as he was in Chicago, Thome is now part of the Twins and has been since Spring Training. Pining for his return with 43 games remaining almost seems like wasted energy.
"If they are in our clubhouse, they are White Sox guys. Jim is over there now," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, a close friend and great admirer of Thome. "That's the only professional way to look at it. I have some great memories. It's one of the perks of my job to be around special people like Jim. It's very much a privilege to be around him.
"But I just don't get involved in that stuff because it's not my decision to make. They know how I felt about Jimmy. Everyone feels that way. I never heard a cross word said about the man in my life. We all know how talented he is and when he's hot, he can carry a team. He's come through in big moments his whole career. That's why he's a Hall of Famer."
During Guillen's pregame comments on Wednesday, he pointed out that it was Thome who waived his no-trade clause last August to go to the Dodgers. It was a move made to give Thome a chance to win that elusive World Series ring, with the White Sox going nowhere in 2009.
There's no question Thome wanted to come back to the White Sox in 2010, but Guillen and the White Sox had a different vision for this club. It was a more athletic and more versatile viewpoint, with less reliance on the home run. That change meant using the designated hitter in rotating fashion, which has paid off for veterans such as Paul Konerko, who have received days off while by being moved to that spot.
This decision certainly was not personal in regard to Guillen's view of one of Chicago's favorite sons. Thome now simply is limited to the designated hitter slot.
"I wish I hated that guy. I love that man and he knows it," Guillen said. "But in the meanwhile, all those people in Chicago and all those people around the world that want to blame somebody for not bringing Jim Thome to this ballclub, I'll take the blame.
"I'm not going to hide from people when we made that decision. I say we because I'm the only one who faces it. I talked to him before I made that decision, I told him why I didn't see him fitting here. And believe me, I love Jim having a season like that because I look up there and he's very close to 600 home runs."
Guillen had no problems with Thome beating Thornton, a matchup he would take again. Guillen joked that if it was Nick Punto who hit the game-winner, then he might still be crying. He also sardonically commented that if Matt Capps and Jon Rauch could have held the White Sox down, Thome never would have been an issue.
Thome will be an issue for the final six weeks, as long as these two teams battle for the division.
"He had all three hits against lefties. Is it my fault we can't pitch against [him]?" Guillen said. "I feel proud of him, to be honest with you. When I see him hit that out there all the way to the building out there at 98 [mph], I don't see that for the last three years with us. Good for him.
"A lot of people talk about the home run from Jim Thome. How about the eight or nine runs before that? But that's OK. I'll wear it. I'll take it. I'll take the heat."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.