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Covering ground, lots of it, with Ozzie

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- You usually know when Ozzie Guillen is the room.

If you somehow don't notice him bounding about in constant motion and a swirl of smiles, you almost always can hear him. Volume is not something he is concerned about controlling.

During a memorable 16-year career in the majors, there hasn't been much Guillen, 37, hasn't seen or done, and even less he hasn't talked about. He has been a star and an All-Star for the White Sox, has been in the World Series as a role player for the Braves, has been a valuable asset to the Rays, on the field and in the clubhouse, since joining them in April.

A native Venezuelan, Guillen has become one of the most popular and beloved players in the game. In a wide-ranging interview with the Times, he talked about everything from his favorite player (you'd be surprised) to Bill Clinton to his own presidential ambitions to the problems facing children today to what's really wrong with baseball.

Here are some excerpts:

Q : You're commissioner for a day; what's the first thing you do?

A: Shorten the season to 150 or 155 games. It's too long for everyone. And you could get the World Series in nicer weather.

Q : What else?

A: Quit paying the kids that never played baseball before. Players working for 10 years make less money than kids signing contracts right out of high school or college.

Q : Who's the greatest player you ever saw?

A: The best hitter I've ever seen is Frank Thomas. Best all-around player has to be Roberto Alomar. But the one I would pay to see play is Rickey Henderson.

Q : If you were starting a team today, who'd be the first player you'd pick?

A: Greg Maddux.

Q : Who are some others?

A: Ivan Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Alomar, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones ...

Q : What do you think of Alex Rodriguez's $252-million contract and Derek Jeter's $189-million deal?

A: God bless them. They sign a contract like that because the owners obviously have the money. If they didn't have the money, they wouldn't sign anybody for that type of money.

Q : What did you think of Frank Thomas and some of the others whining about their contracts?

A: It's not fair to the image of the game. I'm not saying whether it's fair for Frank or not, but it's the image of the game. Baseball's tried to bring people back and we've done pretty good the last couple of years, and it's a shame the way people are talking about that situation.

Q : You've starred in a Venezuelan soap opera. What do you think of acting?

A: You don't have to be born to be an actor; they can make you one. And if you make a mistake, they can cut and do it over until you do it right. In baseball, if there's two outs and bases loaded and you pop up to shortstop, you ain't coming back to do it over. The game's over.

Q : What's something, non-baseball related, you want to do before you die?

A: I wish I could say I want to be my country's president, but that's a hard thing to do. My country's not going anywhere and everybody they put in there as president people hate. I don't want my people hating me. What I really want is for God to give me enough time to see my grandchildren growing up. I want to see my kids' kids. That's the only thing I really want in life. Q : What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

A: Getting married when I was 18.

Q : What, no sky-diving or bungee jumping?

A: I've done some bullfighting. A little bit, with little bulls. I don't have the guts to sky-dive or jump. I respect the people who do it.

Q : What was your take on the whole Florida election mess?

A: It's a shame that a country like this country held the world up for two or three months due to a political situation. A lot of countries, especially my country, look up to this country. And when they see that type of problem, they say if the United States had it why can't we have it, and that makes everything worse for everybody. The best political country in the world is the United States and they should be an example for the other countries.

Q : What do you think of Bill Clinton and his legacy?

A: Controversial. I like the way he handled the country. I think a lot of people were against him, even himself, but he had a lot of success. I think he did a good job overall. He kept the country free and there weren't a lot of problems around the world. That's all you can ask: He kept the country free and safe.

Q : How about George W. Bush?

A: I loved his daddy. He has experience and he comes from a good family. He should do good.

Q : Who's on your speed dial?

A: My kids. Nobody else. Not even my wife. They're the only three, because I want to keep in touch with them. My kids (sons Ozzie, 16; Oney, 15; Ozney, 9) have beepers or cellular phones. They know when I beep them they have 10 minutes to be in the house or one minute to call me.

Q : What's the biggest issue facing parents and kids today?

A: Don't lie to your kids. I tell my kids the truth. I tell them why people get pregnant, why you get AIDS, what happens when you do drugs. They have to respect their parents. That's the most important things. If you don't respect your parents, if you don't care about them, then you'll do stupid things. But that's the parents' fault.

Q : What's something people don't know about you?

A: I can get mad real quick and nobody knows about it. Everyone thinks I'm always having fun and stuff, but I can get mad real quick and I get over it real quick. Like a match.

Q : Let's try some word association. Michael Jordan?

A: Best I've ever seen.

Q : White Sox/Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf?

A: Everyone judges him wrong. He's a great guy.

Q : Bud Selig?

A: He should have more power in the game. A lot of people don't let him do what he wants to do.

Q : Cal Ripken?

A: The Ironman. His record is the one thing in baseball no one is going to touch. Those games are going to be there forever.

Q : Mark McGwire?

A: Great for baseball. This game was going down when McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit those home runs. McGwire is one of the big reasons Alex Rodriguez and those guys got their contracts. McGwire is the Muhammad Ali of baseball.

Q : You've operated as your own agent. What kind of negotiator are you?

A: I'm fair. I'm not greedy. I think I get what I deserve at that particular time. I think I'm getting what I deserve right now (about $550,000). I'm happy with what I did money-wise in my career. Real happy with it. A lot of people ask me, "If you were playing right now in your prime, do you know how much money you would make?" I don't care. I made a lot of money. People who say they'd be making this much now, that's jealousy. Too bad you were born at the wrong time.

Q : What else bothers you about the game?

A: Any player who says they want to be on winning team before they get the money, they're full of it. I hate it when a player says, "I want to be traded here because I want to win." You want to get traded here because you want to make more money. You want to win after you get the cake. That ring won't buy food. That ring won't get your kids through college. That's why I think Mr. Jeter and Bernie Williams, they are blessed to have a ring and have the money.

Q : Anything else?

A: I don't like it when a manager says, "My door is always open." If I ever manage, I'll say, "My door is always closed." That door is for my media people and my coaches. There's no reason you can't talk with players on the field, on the golf course, in the clubhouse, at the bar.

Q : Do you want to manage?

A: I really do. Hopefully I'll get a chance. I don't think you can be a good manager without good players. Managers give you a chance to win games, they don't win games. A good manager gets along with his players and knows how to get the best out of them. If you don't let the players have fun, you'll have trouble. They'll talk about you behind your back and talk to players on other teams about you. If I manage, I want a player come to me and say, "I don't like this."

Q : Do you think you'll make it to the Hall of Fame?

A: I wish I could. But if Davey Concepcion is not going to make it, why should I make it? I think I'm a step further because I get along with all the writers (who do the voting). But I probably don't think my numbers are good enough to be there. One thing about playing baseball, with all due respect to the Hall of Fame, but I want to be secure and I want my kids to be secure when I'm done playing, and I've done that real well.

Q : How much longer do you want to play?

A: As long as I can help a team win games. But I'm not going to kiss anybody's a-- to stay in the game.

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