Last night, the Miami Marlins were on the tail end of a frustrating 10-2 defeat at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Late in the game, Ozzie Guillen put closer Heath Bell in for the ninth inning to get him some work amid a 1-8 home stand that did not include many save opportunities. After Bell allowed two hits, he was able to get to the potential final out with a strikeout of Will Middlebrooks. Then Guillen pulled Bell from the game, and Bell did not seem happy about it, figuring that he could have gotten that final out.
Now, it turns out that this was just a "misunderstanding," as Guillen wanted Bell to throw about 20 pitches and he had already 19 after striking out Middlebrooks. The two patched it up, but this is a quote that caught my eye.
"He wanted to give me some work, but not too much work and it was basically like two bulls just hitting the head," Bell said.
This certainly was not the first time these bulls have smashed heads. If you recall, Bell was critical of Guillen questioning his pitch selection in an almost-blown save in May as well. Bell's struggles had been frustrating Guillen, and the manager had a very short leash on the closer for a while, so it is understandable that they would butt heads a little bit.
Normally, I would not bring any of this up. But I found an interesting headline over at Big League Stew that said that Guillen was voted by 100 random major leaguers as the least respected manager in baseball in a survey done by the magazine Men's Journal (by the way, you can check some of the rest of the survey results here). Now, that is one survey from 100 random big leaguers who may or may not know anything about Guillen, but it is not as if his reputation does not proceed him. After all, Guillen managed a World Series-winning team. You would think that would earn some respect.
So is Ozzie Guillen really cantankerous and boisterous that a group of 100 players would actually respect him less than, say, Fredi Gonzalez or Bobby Valentine? If you think about it, that is not all that surprising, nor does it say much about Guillen.If you have read my stuff over the last three years, you will know that I am no big supporter of managers as a whole. The group consists of baseball men who think they know the game so well that they will disrespect others' opinions on the game on that basis alone. So it is rare for you to see me praise any manager for the things that he does on the field. But the off-the-field game is different, and I recognize that managers play a big role in that department. And from what I gather, Guillen is like any other "player's manager" in that regard. MLB.com's Richard Justice mentioned something about that last month with regards to Guillen's handling of Heath Bell this season.
Heath Bell is learning what it’s like to play for Ozzie. That is, Bell is finding out that Ozzie doesn’t abandon his players, that he gives them every possible chance to succeed. If things go south, he’s going to stick by a guy as long as he possibly can. He’s not going to punish the other 24 guys on the team, but he’s virtually always going to take the long view.
Now, some might call sticking with Bell when he was struggling so badly a mistake. I am among those people. But I do not know Bell's psyche, and I do not know the clubhouse's atmosphere. Ozzie Guillen does, and you presume that he knows just enough about Bell to stick with him and keep him confident when he needs to be. He certainly showed an ungodly amount of loyalty to a player who seemed to have lost all control of his game for a little while.
Maybe it is that sort of confidence that makes the players who play for Guillen stay loyal to him. When the Marlins signed Mark Buehrle, he had nothing but good things to say about Guillen, and the two are clearly good friends. Guillen himself said that a number of his former players stay in contact with him and come by to chat him up when the Marlins play them.
"The best thing about me as a manager is when I go out and see another team and my [former] players come out and hug me and say ‘Hi.’ Ninety percent of the players I’ve managed come over and say, ‘Hi.’ They ask about my family, they still have contact with me," he said.
I would have to take his word for it, but I can totally buy that. It would seem to me that, aside from the players with whom Guillen has publicly or privately clashed, his own players would respect and admire him. His loyalty seems legitimate, and his demands are always with the team in mind. The little that I have seen from him in the HBO series The Franchise at least shows that Guillen respects his players enough to let them do their thing and let him worry about taking the heat and blame from media sources. For the most part, he has been out there protecting his players, and I would imagine players respect that.
But here lies the problem with a random 100-player poll: not everyone picked is going to a member of your team. And I can totally see that, if you were not on Guillen's team and were not subject to him on a day-to-day basis, you would probably be annoyed by his antics. During games, you can see him being cantankerous and surly, you can see him getting into it with umpires in a big way, you can see many of the negative features that have long been associated with him. And when you add his ridiculous, tone-deaf comments to the media along with the nonsense that he may pull on the field, you can understand why other players who are not involved with him do not respect him.
The result of this poll might have angered Ozzie Guillen, but I have to agree with him when he says this:
"A lot of people are wrong about me. Very wrong. If you want to talk about me, be around me a little more often. Then you will find out who really I am," Guillen said. "I treat my players the way they should be treated. I never treat my players unfair."
It is probably true. In order to understand what Guillen brings to the clubhouse, you may have to be around more often. When you are not, boy does he look like an unlikable figure. But when you are, maybe he ends up looking like the sort of manager who gets paid as well as he does. I will give him the benefit of the doubt there.