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posted: 9/28/2011 4:00 AM

The unfinished legacy of Ozzie Guillen

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

Managers and head coaches come and go in professional sports. Usually in short order. The popular expression in major league baseball is that "managers are hired to be fired," and there is truth to that notion.

Sadly, most end up as footnotes.

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They are managers hired in an unjustified but unrestrained spat of jubilant optimism and then ousted in the gloomy despair of unmet, albeit usually unrealistic, expectation.

Consider two recent examples: Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella -- celebrated as miraculous geniuses when they walked through the door for the Cubs, denigrated as lethargic incompetents a few years later when they left.

Despite being big names, despite successful managerial careers, despite division titles on the North Side, Baker and Piniella shrunk into footnotes, small type at the bottom of the long page of Cubs history.

Such is the normal destination of dugout leadership. Footnotes.

And then there is Ozzie Guillen.

In the annals of White Sox history, Guillen is an era, not a footnote.

Out of the multitudes, there are a handful like that. We think of names like Bobby Cox, Tommy Lasorda, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver. Love Ozzie or hate Ozzie, that is the company he keeps.

What is it about him that made him such a force, that made him the face of the franchise beyond any marketing attempt to do so?

It's not that he deserved to become a legacy. If niceness was the criteria, then they'd still be talking about Jerry Manuel on the South Side.

To the contrary, Guillen could be mean, homophobic, manipulative. And he often was childish, gutter-mouthed, self-absorbed.

As Clint Eastwood's character in "Unforgiven" said, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

To be sure, Guillen led the White Sox to a World Series championship in 2005, an elusive accomplishment that has escaped all other Chicago baseball managers still living and most of those now dead.

But his legacy is more than that. It's that intangible that only a few have to capture the room the minute they walk in.

Guillen seized the limelight with his passion, his boyishness, his willingness to say whatever popped into his head, his love of the camera and his love of life. He was colorful, not gray.

And he seized our hearts with, we all thought, his undying devotion to the White Sox. He loved the Sox the way the fan loved the Sox. Or so we thought until Monday.

He often said he hoped to end his career as the field manager for the organization. He sometimes said he hoped some day they'd put his statue out there with the rest on the outfield concourse, his number out there on the outfield wall.

That's what we find somewhat tragic in his unnecessary departure.

He, unlike all but a few others in White Sox lore, had a chance to reach those rare high honors. He was that close. All he needed was to invest a bit more time into his legacy.

That, and perhaps another flag or two.

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