With the All Stars leaving town, so goes a kinder, gentler, more sensitive version of White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen. We probably won't see Ozzie in person again around here for awhile, but you can bet we'll be seeing him in the headlines. He's been busy this season, between managing the defending the world champs and All Stars, and acting as self-appointed protector of baseball's unwritten rules.
Always controversial, first Ozzie chewed out and benched a young pitcher for not retaliating against an opposing batter by plunking him. This is just one of those sacrosanct unwritten rules: Not drilling an opposing batsman with a fastball damages the integrity of the game.
But the real peach of the summer was the fallout from Ozzie's rhubarb with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti. After Mariotti wrote a column critical of Guillen's White Sox, Ozzie called Mariotti a "fag." (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Nobody who has seen Mariotti's brand of tomfoolery on ESPN's Around the Horn could disagree with Guillen in principle. Mariotti's unoriginal self-promotion is tiresome, but Ozzie's justification for attacking him is so bizarre that you have to wonder what was going on underneath Guillen's cap.
Ozzie claimed that he wasn't homophobic because he goes to WNBA games. Seriously. And that's not even the strange part. It got really strange when he defended his comments by saying that he didn't really mean to say that Mariotti was gay; he meant to say that Mariotti lacked cojones, to use Guillen's native tongue.
In short, Guillen claimed that he was not upset about Mariotti's criticism; rather, it was that Mariotti wrote a critical column and did not then present himself at the White Sox clubhouse to get an earful from Guillen or any other member of the team who wanted to castigate him.
I doubt that all movie critics supplicate themselves before Tom Cruise after writing negative reviews of his films. (Though this might not be a bad idea: If Tom had to take time out of his schedule to cuss out an ever-growing chorus of film critics, it might keep him from shooting another film for many years.) And this all could have been avoided had Guillen simply said, "Mariotti's column stinks."
In the world of ballplayers, though, juvenile personal attacks rule and calling somebody a fag is tantamount to calling him a coward.
The biggest irony, of course, is that Ozzie's ruckus generated more publicity for Mariotti than a year's worth of appearances on The Sports Reporters could have. It all could have just gone away with swift and stern action from the commissioner's office, perhaps mercifully taking Mariotti with it. With steroids tainting everything at the moment, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig really didn't want a headache from one of the most fun and productive guys in the league.
Even so, it's preposterous to let baseball managers persist in this peculiar brand of Cro-Magnon thinking. Selig had the chance to address the root of the issue by letting managers know that ad hominem attacks would not be tolerated. It's not just the language Ozzie used that's so offensive it's also the thinking that he's entitled to extract a pound of flesh from anybody critical of him. This kind of thought is rampant in baseball.
But Ozzie's so popular and charismatic that Selig was moved to inaction. So instead of doing something substantive, King Bud sent Ozzie to sensitivity training. Sensitivity training? Is this a professional sports league or an episode of South Park? Neither, really. It's just Ozzie being Ozzie and Bud being Bud.
Let me see if I've got this straight (so to speak): Baseball writers are not allowed to criticize unless they submit themselves for scolding, and the only manly conflict-management approach on the diamond is beaning batters. We really have come very far from the days when we lived in caves, and bashed each other over the head with clubs.
I guess that's what happens in a league where the commissioner allows the inmates to run the asylum. I'd make my way over to Selig's office to be chastised for that remark, but I'm waiting for the personal invite.