Book review: Ozzie’s School of Management

When the weather warms up, that means it’s baseball season. And when it’s baseball season, that means its baseball book season in the publishing world. Among the offerings this spring is the first book written by veteran Chicago sportswriter Rick Morrissey, Ozzie’s School of Management: Lessons from the Dugout, the Clubhouse, and the Doghouse.

This caught my eye because I’ve always had some interest in managers, and as a Chicagoland native, I’m aware that Ozzie Guillen can be a memorable subject.

First let’s begin by describing what the book is and isn’t. This is a book written by a local sportswriter about a subject he has quite a bit of access to, the volatile former White Sox (and current Marlins) manager. Aside from covering Chicago sports for a long time, Morrissey spent a ton of time with Guillen in 2011, asking questions, and getting Guillen’s candid thoughts. From there, Morrissey tried to understand and explain what makes Guillen tick.

Which is to say, if you’re expected a work of statistical analysis, my, oh my, are you checking the wrong book. It isn’t that. Nor isn’t it any kind of dry academic work on Guillen’s psyche. In fact, it isn’t even a history of Guillen’s time in Chicago.

It’s what you’d expect a sportswriter to write. For better and for worse, it reads like a sports column that goes on for over 250 pages.

Morrissey frames his observations in the style of a management book. Aside from a brief introduction, there are 10 chapters. Each delves into one of “The Ten Commandments of Ozzie”—the main guidelines and notions that explain the manager and how he operates.

And that’s where the book runs into some trouble. The problem isn’t in the concept, but the execution. The chapters don’t often seem to have much of a payoff or, frankly, a point.

Look, I can understand some looseness in the chapters. Guillen makes good copy because he provides so many unvarnished statements and you can find plenty of good stories to tell about him. Occasionally veering away from the official point of the chapter is fine.

But if it gets to the point where you frequently aren’t even sure what the point of the chapter is, that’s a problem. If the stories seem to cut against Ozzie’s Commandment, that’s bad. And these things happen a bit too often in Ozzie School of Management.

Take, for example, the last pair of Commandments: “Manage Up” and “It’s Better to Be the Matador Than the Bull (Usually).” I’m not sure what either title means.

Oh, there is some referring to the titles in each chapter, but you don’t really spend much time on what those titles mean. The first one comes from some management-speak idea, and the latter refers to Guillen’s interest in bullfighting. But the chapters are really about Guillen’s fall in Chicago. One focuses on Guillen’s deteriorating relationship with Sox GM Kenny Williams, and the other on his departure from the team (followed by his immediate hiring by the Marlins).

On the one hand, these chapters are among the most satisfying in the book because it’s the one time Morrissey goes into clear narrative. In the previous chapters is was stories and quotes and points intermixed together. While it’s nice to have a narrative, the way the book is set up you’re expecting a bigger point, and . .. . .. it’s better to be the bullfighter than the bull? Uh, OK.

Well, at least in those chapters the stories Morrissey gives don’t undermine the point he’s sorta making. The same can’t be said for Ozzie’s Seventh Commandment: “Don’t Confuse Team and Family.”

This is an interesting topic because the Guillen family has provided much of the drama during Ozzie’s tenure as White Sox manager. And sure enough, Morrissey recounts it.

You get the times Guillen’s sons make inflammatory tweets about team issues, and then Ozzie wouldn’t criticize them for it. You read about how Guillen was irked that the Sox didn’t draft his son Ozney until the 22nd round (and doubly irked because he knows a few years earlier they grabbed Kenny Williams’ son in the sixth round).

Yeah, you get all the stories about Clan Guillen. There’s just one problem: How does this show that Guillen know how to avoid confusing team and family? It seems like just the opposite is true. Morrissey quotes Guillen saying, “I didn’t want Ozney to get picked [in the draft] just as a favor” but if there were any other reason he wanted his son picked I’d love to hear it.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

I guess the point is that Guillen prioritizes loyalty to his family over that of his team—and while that’s a nice sentiment, it isn’t really making him a good manager. It’s one thing to have your priorities, but it’s another thing to let your kids publicize clubhouse issues. Morrissey even notes, “When you hire Ozzie Guillen to be your manager, you’re hiring his family, too.” This is a man who knows not to confuse family and team?

To be fair, those are the most problematic chapters. There are some interesting points your learn about Guillen along the way. There are stories of his upbringing and personal background. A particularly nice chapter on the need for a mentor goes to Guillen’s minor league days, when future ESPN talking head John Kruk served a mentoring role for the lively kid who was learning how to speak English.

The chapter on Guillen’s tactical decisions begins with a trend about Guillen I found a bit surprising. Before every series, when the advance scouting report on the next opponent arrives on Guillen’s desk, he typically throws it in the wastebasket, sight unseen. Guillen thinks that the more he relies on that, the less need there is for Guillen himself. So he prefers to just go it alone most times. Besides, Guillen notes something many out there in reader-land will agree with—match-ups are overrated.

He’ll make exceptions for interleague series because he has so little knowledge of those squads, but otherwise scouting reports go into the wastebasket. It’s an either-or thing with Guillen. Either the team uses Guillen or other information. It’s a bit different from the depiction of Joe Maddon in The Extra 2 Percent by Jonah Keri, where the manager collects info to do his job.

That said, while the book has its pros and moves along crispy and easily, it left me a bit wanting. Among other things, it was a bit repetitious as many of the same points—Guillen is honest, he is demanding, he believes in tough love with his players—are made again and again.

There’s another issue with the book. It’s based on Morrissey’s access to Guillen so we can learn the inner thoughts of the then-Sox skipper. Well, here’s the thing: With a person like Guillen, we already know his core thoughts. He isn’t really shy about expressing them (as Morrissey himself notes throughout). There isn’t quite as much to be gained by having such complete access to Guillen as there would with a guy who plays things closer to the vest. And what Morrissey adds to that tends to be things like “Manage Up.”

The book reads like a narrative but it is structured more like an analysis. Ultimately, you don’t get much of either. There are fragmentary narratives mixed in with some weakly done analysis. Ultimately, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

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southside mike
southside mike

“The chapters don’t often seem to have much of a payoff or, frankly, a point.”

Most sportswriters columns suffer from the same fate