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BANNED IN CORRUPT CHICAGO: THE CRUDE TRUTH ABOUT GUILLEN AND WHITE SOX
As workplace cultures are investigated throughout sports, the team and obedient local media ignore a history of in-house toxicity while a slur-tainted former manager is interviewed for his old job
We live in a world where prominent men in sports are routinely canceled, case after case, for sins far less egregious than those committed by Ozzie Guillen. Let us count the ways this crude, ignorant cretin has violated the employee handbook of any upstanding company, let alone the purportedly progressive culture of the Chicago White Sox and the woke ways of Major League Baseball.
During his tenure as White Sox manager, Guillen referred to a columnist — me — as a “f—ing fag.” I’ve witnessed him drooling over female reporters trying to do their jobs. During his playing career, he stood behind me in a Baltimore clubhouse and simulated anal sex, and when my editor informed the team’s publicist, I was blamed. The Blizzard of Oz slandered so many people with filth, it became an accepted element of Sox life. Later, in Miami, he was fired as Marlins manager not long after lighting a firestorm in Little Havana and throughout south Florida by saying he admired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. He admitted to being drunk during his original Chicago job interview and admitted to being drunk much of his baseball career.
“I go to the hotel bar, get drunk, sleep, I don't do anything else. I get drunk because I'm happy we win or I get drunk because I'm very sad and disturbed because we lose,’’ Guillen confessed one day to a CBSSports.com reporter. “Same routine, it never changes. It's been the same routine for 25, 28 years. It doesn't change. … I've got to be here early, and I go to sleep so drunk that I have to recover in time to go to the park.’’
All the while, the team’s chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf, has claimed to be a man of all people, having made significant minority hires through the years, including a Black top executive (Ken Williams) and Black manager (Jerry Manuel) at a time when other teams were remaining true to good-old-boy networks. That’s all well and good. But there isn’t a word in the dictionary strong enough for his alarming inconsistency — hypocrite works, somewhat — when it comes to pardoning Guillen for his homophobic comment, as he did, and excusing Guillen for most other stunts. Did Reinsdorf at all ponder damaged feelings in the gay community? In a Cuban community that extends to the team’s clubhouse? What happened to diversity and inclusion, ideals he has spoken about often? Only after the Blizzard ripped Williams, an attack inanely continued by Guillen’s son on social media, was a managerial change made in 2011.
Since then, the Sox have continued a 100-years-plus history of terminal failure. They are, by far, the most underperforming major-market franchise in American sports — even the Cubs won a World Series as recently as 2016 — and an aggrieved fan base clings to the only October glory the Sox have enjoyed since 1917. That came in 2005, almost flukily, when their pitching staff took a joyride to a championship. The manager of that team happened to be Guillen, though you sense anyone could have sat in the dugout and watched hot starters mow through batters. Seventeen years have passed. It’s time to move on to a fresh, current, tone-aware option, preferably one from another organization after the clueless, Mr. Magoo-like Reinsdorf insisted on Sox-family flops — Robin Ventura and, most weirdly, ancient Tony La Russa — during an excruciatingly dry and bitter period.
Joe Espada, by far, makes the most sense. He is currently occupied by the World Series, where he has excelled as Dusty Baker’s bench coach in Houston and was hired after the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal. He understands winning and has no link to the Sox organization, a very good thing. It was Reinsdorf, in an all-time brain fart, who attempted to rectify the team’s 1986 firing of La Russa by rehiring him in 2020. Having absorbed too many senior moments from a manager with a heart condition, general manager Rick Hahn insists that he and Williams will make the hire this time and not let Reinsdorf meddle with 86-year-old whims. “Yeah, I think this will be a different process than the last time around,” Hahn said weeks ago, as a youthful, low-payroll Cleveland team that shamed the Sox in winning the American League Central was pushing the New York Yankees to five games in the Division round.
Yeah, sure, the process will be different.
The other day, Hahn and Williams interviewed Guillen for his old gig. News was leaked to NBC Sports Chicago — the Sox’s flagship TV station, of which Reinsdorf owns 50 percent. There is no reason to think the Blizzard has matured to the point he won’t embarrass himself and the organization again. Five years ago, Reinsdorf said another managing run with Guillen “can’t happen.” Yet, only days before the new hire is announced, the White Sox interviewed him. If Reinsdorf is capable of doing something as wacky as hiring La Russa, he’s certainly capable of bringing back the Blizzard.
“Let me be cocky,” Guillen told NBC Sports Chicago, confirming interest. “Nobody in baseball knows this ballclub better than Ozzie Guillen.”
This after a studio season when Guillen coldly said of La Russa, after he left the ballclub with heart issues: “They don’t want a distraction. This is a distraction. … Are you in or are you out?” And still, he got an interview.
I can’t imagine Hahn or Williams wanting him anywhere near that dugout. If this is the work of Reinsdorf, a job interview is a hideous look. Is Jerry living in a 2022 world? The question answers itself.
The optics are even worse, as I’ve noted repeatedly, amid two disturbing lawsuits that have sunk the organization below Guillen’s tasteless level. After 20 years of service, the team’s head trainer said he was fired after management learned he is gay. Would that surprise anyone, recalling how Reinsdorf brushed off Guillen’s “f—ing fag” slur? Brian Ball’s action last spring was followed by a predictable strong-arm response/threat from the Sox: “It is extremely disappointing that a former colleague, who was supported, developed and promoted over two decades, chose to attack the club in this way. It is also surprising to many who know Brian, and supported him throughout his career, to read the allegations included in his lawsuit.”
As the case slogs through a Chicago legal system influenced by Reinsdorf, the White Sox were dealing with the grotesque details of a lawsuit filed in Alabama. I first wrote about it last spring, keeping it on my paste mechanism so I periodically could remind disinclined Chicago media that they were negligent in their civic responsibility. In August 2021, the White Sox were sued by an autistic batboy who worked for their Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons. In his civil suit, the 23-year-old man accused the team’s manager, former major-league star Omar Vizquel, of “sexually aggressive behavior” on multiple occasions during the 2019 season. By then, it was known in baseball circles that Vizquel had personal issues. Yet the White Sox had been impressed enough to place him in a role that might have led to consideration for a Chicago position.
Those details alone should have prompted an outcry in Chicago. These details, too, as I wrote then: At least five times — as alleged in the sexual harassment suit that targeted Vizquel and accused the White Sox and Barons of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act — Vizquel “deliberately exposed his erect or partially erect penis” to the man in the clubhouse. On Aug. 22 of that year, as alleged in the suit, Vizquel had an erection when he ordered the man to wash his back with soap “for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.” Why did the batboy comply? Because he feared for his job, stating he was “humiliated, intimidated and frightened of what would happen if he disobeyed.” He eventually resigned and took the case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and ruled that the batboy had been “subjected to sexual harassment and disability discrimination” and “constructively discharged” due to a hostile workplace environment.
Quietly, this past summer, the lawsuit was settled. The White Sox argued the batboy wasn’t their employee — the Barons are owned by retired Alabama media executive Don Logan and his family — but the Sox did have oversight duties as the parent organization. The story is sickening, accompanied by a cover-up attempt. As I also wrote last spring, anyone who doubts Ball’s credibility should know how the White Sox responded to the batboy’s allegations. They tried to cover up the story, investigating privately with the Barons that summer but mentioning nothing publicly about the magnitude of the accusations. Three months passed before an “amicable” parting with Vizquel was announced via a published story written by a team-friendly MLB.com writer, in which a Sox personnel executive wished Vizquel “well” and called him “a positive influence” during his Barons tenure. In a Nov. 20, 2019 piece headlined, “Vizquel, White Sox amicably part ways,” the team allowed director of player development Chris Getz to be its public voice in an interview with reporter Scott Merkin. Not Hahn. Not Williams. Not Reinsdorf. No, Chris Getz — who has remained a key figure in the hierarchy and also was involved in last week’s Guillen interview.
“Listen, Omar, ultra-talented player, very good instructor, created a good environment for our players,’’ Getz said then. “We just felt with where things are at, our player development system, that it was time to go separate ways. But not only for himself, but for the organization as well and we wish Omar well. He was a positive influence while he was here.’’ Whether Getz fibbed to take one for the team or didn’t know the vile aspects of the case, for him to describe Vizquel as “a positive influence” who “created a good environment for our players” is a direct commentary on why this franchise cannot be trusted. If The Athletic hadn’t included the batboy’s accusations in a wider expose of Vizquel, the White Sox might never have come clean about the probe and firing.
Many months later, not a single Chicago media outlet — not the Tribune, not the Sun-Times, not one TV station, not one radio station, not one legit website — has followed up with an investigation or even obligatory coverage of the Ball and batboy stories. And until one does, I’ll keep demanding that these charlatans stop bowing to Reinsdorf’s power and long political tentacles. Throughout sports, toxic workplace environments have prompted recent league and Congressional probes and potent media exposes. Daniel Snyder and Robert Sarver are just two owners under siege, with more to come.
Why not Jerry Reinsdorf? Why not now?
Oh, in part because one Chicago columnist wrote Guillen’s book. Another is too connected to baseball’s crony network. Another is an unabashed fan of the team. The talk hosts are protecting paychecks. And upper management? At newspapers, at TV stations, at radio stations, executives are brainwash-intimidated by all things Reinsdorf. Or, they’re also fans of the team.
At some point, a credible national publication — Washington Post, New York Times, The Athletic, Sports Illustrated, investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. at ESPN — will detect the odor from the South Side of Chicago. What I write here generally is banned in that city’s media, though traffic numbers indicate my pieces are well-read.
We are reaching an inflection point. The curve goes wildly off course if the Sox rehire Guillen. It’s inevitable he would add to the trail of trash, and this time, it would become an unavoidably explosive addendum to a heretofore silent plague. They should feel very fortunate that Joe Espada is interested, assuming he still is.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.