White Sox analyst Ozzie Guillen shines in eventful week on and off the air

“Ozzie went off.”

That was a familiar refrain in the Sun-Times’ sports department during Ozzie Guillen’s tenure as the White Sox’ manager. From 2004 to ’11, we didn’t know what he was going to say or when. But we knew, eventually, a fuse in his brain would be lit, and words would explode out of his mouth like fireworks.

Even if Guillen wasn’t spewing venom or a harsh truth, simply telling it like it is became akin to “going off” because so few managers were as open and honest with their thoughts. As a Sox analyst on NBC Sports Chicago’s pre- and postgame shows, Guillen is still an open book. And he’s able to draw and keep viewers tuned in because they want to hear what he’ll say next.

Guillen has had an eventful week, on and off the air. On Tuesday, he criticized Sox manager Tony La Russa on the postgame show, and Wednesday he challenged a national baseball writer to a fight.

Ozzie went off, and Ozzie went viral.

After a lackluster loss to the Guardians in the first game of a doubleheader, Guillen went after La Russa for being too soft with the players, whose myriad mistakes seemingly have gone unpunished. Guillen called La Russa “Rick Renteria with credentials” and implored him to hold his underachieving team accountable.

Clearly, Guillen doesn’t hold Renteria in the same regard he holds La Russa, under whom Guillen won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1985. Guillen adores La Russa and has the utmost respect for him, but he said he would criticize La Russa if he were sitting next to him on the set. He wanted his message to reach his former skipper.

That didn’t sit well with Jon Heyman, who accused Guillen on Twitter of trying to steal La Russa’s job. “Will be interesting to see if it’s possible to get someone’s job by insulting them on a postgame show,” Heyman tweeted.

Then, Ozzie went off.

“Jon you hate me and always bad mouth me,” Guillen posted on Twitter. “Let’s settle it. Let’s raise money Jon me and you the ring. Whatever money we raise goes to charity. I am not perfect, but tired you hiding behind you a writer.”

Heyman is respected in the industry and isn’t one to look for a fight – he turned down the offer – but he made a misstep here. He admitted to being a Guillen detractor after watching him up close in his one, failed season as the Marlins’ manager. But to accuse him of overtly pursuing La Russa’s job is wrong.

Guillen is emotional about the Sox’ struggles because he cares, not because he wants to unseat La Russa. His managerial career is likely over. And his advice was good. He was telling La Russa to be himself, a Hall of Fame manager, not to placate the players. None of it was cheap, ugly or unwarranted.

“We’re going to dance this music,” Guillen said of what La Russa should communicate. “If you don’t want to dance that music, I’m the DJ, get off the floor.”

This is exactly what viewers want from an analyst: raw, unfettered commentary backed up by experience. Most viewers of regional sports networks don’t see this. We’re fortunate in this market to have Guillen educating and entertaining us.

Though Sox fans might not want to hear it, props go to chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, as well. Contractually, he has no control over content on NBCSCH. But you have to believe he’d be in someone’s ear if he weren’t OK with the rhetoric.

(It all makes the accusations last month laughable that NBCSCH was trying to protect La Russa by editing out his questionable two-strike intentional walk from a game replay.)

The situation shines a light on the difference in coverage Chicago’s two RSNs have provided. While the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network works to shed the perception of being soft on the team, NBCSCH benefits from its no-holds-barred approach with the Sox.

Granted, the expectations for both teams were different. We knew the Cubs were fielding a subpar team entering the season, and they’ve played to that level. The Sox have World Series aspirations and haven’t been over .500 since May 25.

Still, can you imagine anyone sitting on the Marquee set and tearing into Cubs manager David Ross? No one should be looking for a fight, but it’s refreshing to see Guillen, along with fellow analysts Frank Thomas and Scott Podsednik, speak candidly about a team that has frustrated its fans to no end.

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