This weekend’s Tigers-White Sox series is huge.
For the White Sox, at least.
Win the series, and they’re still in the playoff hunt — at either 4.5 or 2.5 out with three more games left against the AL Central front-runners.
Lose the series, and they’re most likely toast — at either 6.5 or 8.5 games out with just 25 to play.
Either way, the three games at Comerica Park, in front of what’s likely to be a trio of crowds measuring 40,000-plus, could be huge in determining White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s future in Chicago. Especially considering the intriguing stories that have been told this week in the Chicago newspapers, namely the Sun-Times, which chronicled the crumbling relationship of Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams.
Guillen, for one, didn’t call the chatter nonsense; he just didn’t make it seem that bad, either.
Here’s what he told the Sun-Times, when asked if he could continue working alongside Williams in a partnership that now is in its eighth year:
“I don’t see why not. We played together and we grew up in the organization,” he said. “I don’t think (Tigers manager) Jim Leyland is hugging and having a drink with the general manager (Dave Dombrowski). They work together. They work for the team. We’re still good friends, not great friends like we were. But we can (work together).”
There’s definitely been some hard feelings between Guillen and Williams, especially in recent seasons. One of Guillen’s sons, Oney, resigned his minor league duties with the White Sox in March 2010 after blasting Williams in the Twitterverse. Guillen, himself, went off after the ballclub waited until the 22nd round to draft his other son, Ozney, last summer. Guillen and Williams reportedly almost came to blows in the dugout over that one; no wonder, then, that the White Sox didn’t even waste a last-round pick on Ozney in this June’s draft.
Still, Williams, the GM since 2000, is sticking to this story: That all is just fine, even if he’s not going to commit to extending Guillen’s contract beyond next season — or even to Guillen being the manager for the final year of his contract, 2012.
Williams, also to the Sun-Times, about Guillen’s future in Chicago:
“If I’m asked that question one more time, I’m going to throw up.”
He just might, literally, if the White Sox lay an egg in this weekend’s series, which starts Friday with a major test: Cy Young and MVP candidate Justin Verlander.
What this will all likely come down to, of course, is not the never-ending drama, but rather the wins and losses, and in Williams’ view, the White Sox can’t have had nearly enough wins since Guillen was the toast of the town in 2005 — after guiding the White Sox to their first World Series championship since Woodrow Wilson was president. Chicago has won one division championship and zero playoff series since.
This year, working with a $128 million payroll that was fifth-largest in baseball on Opening Day, they’re an underwhelming 68-66, 5.5 games back of the Tigers. They’ve spent a whopping 17 days over .500.
Mostly because their offense has been as productive as the July employees of the month at this Chrysler plant.
Now, certainly, a lot of that has to fall on Williams’ shoulders. After all, he gave Guillen the lineup duds that are Adam Dunn (for $56 million) and Alex Rios (for $60.2 million). And rather than add at the trade deadline, when the White Sox were closer to first than they are today, he got rid of power pitcher Edwin Jackson — and didn’t make his team a lick better. That decision probably came down to payroll; they knew they were over-extended after they extended Paul Konerko’s contract (for three years and $37.5 million) this winter, and fans haven’t responded at the gate (Chicago is just seventh of 14 AL teams in attendance).
So if owner Jerry Reinsdorf does, indeed, decide to order a serious shakeup this offseason, there’s a very strong case that it should be Williams out the door and not Guillen.
Even Williams seems to agree with this, at least publicly, again to the Sun-Times:
“At this point in time, we’re an underachieving club. So that means players, coaches, the manager and myself, we’re all under review. This is professional sports. Am I telling anybody anything you don’t know?”
That said, Guillen might actually be positioning for his own exit. He made headlines this week, when he told an ESPN reporter he can’t see himself managing the White Sox on Opening Day 2012 unless he’s given a contract extension before then.
And unless Mike Ilitch buys the White Sox tomorrow, an extension likely isn’t in the cards.
One interested party in this whole mess on the South Side: the Marlins, who have an 80-year-old interim manager in Jack McKeon — who’s as likely to be managing in the major leagues next year as Alan Trammell. And Florida owner Jeffrey Loria apparently has such an infatuation with Guillen — a Miami home owner who also was a coach on the Marlins’ world championship team in 2003 — that the Marlins and White Sox have reportedly (and repeatedly) talked about a trade.
Of course, given a choice, Guillen, 47, no doubt would have reservations about leaving the White Sox. It’s the franchise he broke into the major leagues with as a swift and skinny shortstop in 1985. Interestingly, it’s also the organization Williams, 47, back then an outfielder with a little pop, was drafted by and debuted with just one season after Guillen.
Clearly, there’s a lot of love and passion for the team — from both men.
But maybe, just maybe, all these years later, something’s finally gotta give.
And, who knows? It just may happen this weekend, in Detroit.