© 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
CLEVELAND -- One after another, the recorders were placed on the desk in front of him, right next to the pipe he had been smoking while walking around the clubhouse in his underwear.
Ozzie Guillen saw this day's cavalcade of reporters waiting to document every detail of this pregame conversation in the visiting manager's office at Progressive Field and seemed momentarily surprised by the size of the assembly.
"All these people," the White Sox skipper muttered. "I feel like Obama talking about taxes."
The recorders are always powered on when Guillen speaks, for no one is ever quite sure what bit of wit or wisdom might pour out of his mouth at a given moment. Lately, though, the focus of the questions that precede those words has been less about this sub-.500 Sox team and more about Guillen himself.
Reports abound that, given the shakiness of his relationship with general manager Kenny Williams and the paltry performance of his players, Guillen might be in the waning days of a White Sox tenure that began in 2004. It would be no ordinary ending, because Guillen, perhaps more than any skipper currently in the game, has become the most identifiable component of his club, thanks in no small part to his not-safe-for-work sound bites.
This was an all-in season that went all wrong for the South Siders. How much blame you feel Guillen deserves for the disappointment is directly tied to how much impact you feel a manager can reasonably have when two of his most highly compensated regulars, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, double as two of his biggest lineup liabilities and the supposed X-factor in his rotation, Jake Peavy, is only a year removed from tearing his right lat muscle off the bone.
Yet for Guillen, who is under contract through 2012, to use this post-mortem period as a point to tell the public -- and the White Sox -- that he wants an extension
seems, well, a bit lacking on the timing front. It's like a fry cook asking for a raise while his customers are fighting food poisoning.
That's Guillen, though. Ask him a question, and he'll answer it honestly.
"So I want an extension?" Guillen said. "So what? Everybody does. It's not just me. Everybody wants to know what's going on. That's a normal thing in life. That's why the president wants to run again for president. He wants more years. Obama wants an extension, too."
Still, like most things Guillen divulges publicly, these latest requests for some kind of long-term certainty serve a calculated purpose. One of the worst-kept secrets in baseball is that the Marlins would love to reel in Guillen as their skipper as they transition to a new stadium and start a new era next season. If there is any leverage to be gained from that situation, Guillen might as well milk it for all it's worth. And should the Sox cut him loose, as some think they might, Guillen would be free to go get that long-term love from the Marlins or -- who knows? -- maybe even across town from the Cubs.
But when it comes to a South Side extension, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has very little reason to act on Guillen's demands. He has Guillen under contract for another year, and, to put it plainly, the Sox have made but one brief postseason appearance since winning it all in 2005. The staggering resources Reinsdorf poured into this '11 club went unrewarded, both in the standings and at the gates. Fair or not, the manager often falls on the sword when seasons go astray, so this would certainly be an odd time to give Ozzie a contractual pat on the back.
Perhaps the Marlins will pursue Guillen through the trade front, as they unsuccessfully attempted to do last winter. But how much can they reasonably be counted on to give up for a skipper? A Logan Morrison-for-Guillen swap would be a tantalizing trade of Twitterati, but it doesn't feel particularly realistic. If the Fish would give up only, say, a Class A guy, the Sox might be more inclined to stand pat.
And if that's the case, what is Guillen's move? Refuse to abide by his contract and instead spend a year in the broadcast booth? That seems doubtful, if we are to believe the words coming out of his mouth.
"I love this organization," Guillen said. "I always will love this organization. This organization gave me my first shot as a player, my first shot as a manager. I will always respect that. Meanwhile, as a player, I gave 100 percent. As a manager, I give 100 percent. Any time I put this uniform on, I was ready to fight."
Say what you will about how the fights have turned out in recent years. Fact is, for all the off-color quotes he brings to the equation, Guillen has succeeded in what might be the No. 1 responsibility of a manager in a major market -- taking the heat when things go wrong.
For proof of that, look at what Guillen said when asked recently what grade he'd give himself for 2011.
"Z," he said.
If that's Guillen's grade, then we need a new alphabet to find a suitable selection for Dunn and Rios. But Guillen understands it's his job to accept responsibility for all that happens under his watch.
"You're the man," Guillen said. "You make the lineup. So many things are on your shoulders. You have to be honest with yourself. I don't think this team went where it was supposed to be. I don't see why not give myself a Z. I don't play to be a second-place or third-place team."
As Guillen has taken to saying, only Reinsdorf can decide the next step, and the two are expected to discuss the situation during the club's season-ending homestand, which begins on Friday night. Reinsdorf need look no further than division-rival Detroit to see how Guillen's status ought to be approached. Jim Leyland entered this 2011 season on the hot seat, in the final year of his deal. When the Tigers won, he was rightly extended. Had they not, it might have been a different story.
But the once-brotherly Guillen-Williams dynamic is the wild card in the stack. Is the pairing as irreparable as some reports would lead you to believe? And if so, how much does that disharmony bleed into baseball?
Those are questions for Reinsdorf to answer. And when it comes to his future, Guillen has made it clear he wants an answer soon. Guillen and his wife are leaving for a vacation in Spain a couple days after the end of the season, and Guillen hopes to hear something definitive before then.
Whoever is at the helm of this club in 2012 is going to have his hands full, as the club's fate will once again be tied to the underachieving likes of Dunn and Rios and Gordon Beckham, among others, as well as the health of Peavy. Given all the money invested into the 2011 team, outside reinforcements appear unlikely.
It's a tall order for a manager. Then again, there are more difficult jobs out there.
"If I was Obama," said Guillen, "I wouldn't want an extension."