Inside Ozzie Guillen's baseball limbo: Can he manage again?

Will Ozzie Guillen manage again? (1:51)

ESPN's Jerry Craznick breaks down what it will take for Ozzie Guillen to get a chance to manage in the big leagues again. (1:51)

IF OZZIE GUILLEN'S career had followed the natural progression, he would be at one of 30 major league parks today preparing for a baseball game. The scouting reports would be arranged neatly on his desk upon his arrival, and he would study the matchups and make a lineup card. Come 5 p.m., his job responsibilities would carry him to the dugout for a daily media briefing, followed by batting practice and the national anthem before the game's first pitch.

In the summer of 2016, that workaday routine exists only in a parallel universe. The real-life Ozzie Guillen is part fan, part media personality and full-time observer to the fray.

On a recent drowsy evening in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Guillen sat in the stands watching his son Ozney play third base for the Sioux Falls Canaries against the St. Paul Saints in the independent American Association. As one of 2,157 fans in attendance, Guillen might as well have been enrolled in the game's witness protection program.

Welcome to life in baseball limbo.

In October 2012, the Miami Marlins fired Guillen and assumed the $7.5 million owed to him over the final three years of his contract. A man who was a hot commodity not long ago, he has been outside the mainstream ever since. Guillen keeps his hand in the game as an analyst for ESPN Deportes, and he plans to escape the Chicago cold this winter to manage the Tiburones team in his native Venezuela. It's less an audition for big league clubs, he says, than a favor to friends who have been pestering him for years to manage in winter ball. But he still wants to return to a major league dugout someday.

When the Atlanta Braves fired Fredi Gonzalez last month, critics noted the absence of a Latino manager in the MLB ranks, despite a roster representation of about 24 percent Latino players. The list of hot names in circulation includes former managers (Manny Acta, Rick Renteria), prominent former players-turned-coaches (Sandy Alomar Jr., Roberto Kelly, Dave Martinez), recently retired players (Raul Ibanez) and even a brother tandem (Alex and Joey Cora). No Guillen.

Is he persona non grata because more teams are hiring managers with no experience? If so, it would be disingenuous for Guillen to use that as an excuse. That's how he started: The White Sox plucked him from Miami's coaching staff and helped make him a managerial star in Chicago.

Are his brash demeanor and irrepressible, stream-of-consciousness rants viewed as more trouble than they're worth? His inventory of controversial comments represents a chapter he can't seem to shake. Has he considered the possibility that he has been blackballed from managing because of his reputation as a loose cannon?

"I don't think it's a blackball thing,'' Guillen says. "First of all, I've never done anything wrong or illegal in baseball to blackball me. I've never taken anything. I never did anything out of the rules. Never, ever, ever in my life. People think I'm the devil? No. I pay my taxes. All my kids are out of college. I'm still married after 40 years. What do they want from me? I never did drugs. I don't have kids on the side. I don't have a DUI. I mean, come on, guys. Anything people can do wrong in the United States, I've never been caught doing.''

During two recent interviews, Guillen alternated between defiant and contrite. Yes, he has learned from his transgressions, but he isn't about to grovel for an opportunity or peddle a sanitized version of himself for public consumption. He insists his resume speaks for itself.

Guillen made three All-Star teams and amassed 1,764 hits in 16 seasons as an MLB shortstop. In nine seasons in the dugout, he has a .524 win percentage, a world championship with the White Sox, and a 2005 American League Manager of the Year Award. Now, at age 53, he says he's more interested in self-fulfillment than a payday. Boston's departing DH, David Ortiz, is his inspiration for how to go out in style.

"People think I'll want 10 million dollars [on a multiyear deal] to manage,'' Guillen says. "Hell, no. I made my money, and I saved it very well. It's not about money. I want to be on the field because I think I can help. I still have my passion. I want to wear the uniform and go out and compete. I want to win another championship. I cannot leave baseball through the back door. I want to leave through the front door, like Big Papi. I want to leave my way -- not somebody else's way."

DURING GUILLEN'S LONE season in Miami, the Marlins finished last in the National League East, at 69-93, and drew a disappointing 2.2 million fans at their new ballpark. Management greased the skids for a second-half implosion by trading Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Gaby Sanchez and Edward Mujica in late July. In the season's waning weeks, Bryan Petersen, Gorkys Hernandez, Donovan Solano, Gil Velazquez and a fading John Buck got a lot of play on Guillen's lineup cards.

The team was such a disaster that Showtime pulled the plug on its Marlins reality show, "The Franchise,'' after just seven episodes.

Beyond the .426 win percentage, Guillen talked himself into a hole he couldn't escape. When he shared his thoughts on Cuba in an April 2012 Time Magazine interview, the story began with the quote, "I love Fidel Castro." Amid protests and widespread scorn, Guillen left the team in Philadelphia and flew to Miami for a news conference. The Marlins suspended him for five days without pay.

While Guillen regrets the episode, his contrition has limits. He insists he was expressing admiration for Castro's staying power, rather than a personal affinity for a brutal dictator. He finds it ironic that the United States has since normalized relations with Cuba and President Obama was in the stands for an exhibition game in Havana in March.

"People didn't read it," Guillen says. "They only read the highlights. 'Oh, Ozzie loves Fidel.' How in hell could I love somebody I don't know? How could I love somebody when I'm against what they do? How could I love somebody when I [played baseball] in the United States, living the free life and the great life? How could I love Fidel when I played with Jose Canseco, and I managed 'El Duque' Hernandez, and my best friend is a Cuban? How are you going to love a guy like that?

"The only reason I did the press conference was because I respect Cuban players and the Cuban people, and I wanted to show them who I am. I put my face out there because I knew what I said. If I was guilty about it, I wouldn't have showed up. I would have just sent in a statement. That's it.''

Although Guillen says he respected the Marlins' right to fire him, he would have preferred a more specific explanation.

"I never got a real response from [Marlins owner] Jeffrey [Loria] or anybody,'' he says. "They never said, 'We fired you because you sucked' or 'We fired you because you made a comment about Fidel.' I just got fired, and I said, 'OK, I'm sorry it didn't work out. Bye.'"

Marlins team president David Samson declined to comment on Guillen's tenure in Miami. But several baseball insiders say Guillen's issues in Miami went beyond the 69 wins and the Castro controversy. They paint a portrait of a manager who appeared disengaged, while Joey Cora, the Marlins' bench coach, did much of the heavy lifting. A person familiar with Guillen's tenure in Miami says there were times when he seemed more immersed in his celebrity, the banter with reporters and his Twitter account than the actual nuts and bolts of managing.

"Ozzie has always been that way,'' the person says. "Even when he was coaching third, he would talk to people in the stands. I think he got caught up in it. People loved him. You walk around, and he's vivacious and funny, and there are a whole lot of hugs. To me, his favorite time with the Marlins was before and after the games.''

Several people close to the Marlins recall how Guillen liked to watch bullfights on his computer in his office, on the team plane and on the bus to the park. When informed that some of those people wondered if his heart was truly in his job, Guillen demurs.

"I love bullfighting,'' he says. "I watched it in my office. But I didn't watch it before I read my scouting reports or I knew who was pitching or I saw who we had available in the bullpen. Coaches and managers and players watch golf and NFL games and NCAA games in the clubhouse all the time. I never left my position to say, 'My favorite veteran bullfighter is on now. I have to go watch it.'"

Guillen is even more dismissive of the perception that Cora was in charge.

"If people think Joey Cora was running the ballclub, they're very, very crazy," he says. "Joey would come to my office and tell me what was going on, and I would go out and talk to the players. That's the reason you have a bench coach. That's a reason you have a third-base coach and a hitting coach and a pitching coach. If people on the Marlins thought Joey was running the ballclub, they should have fired Joey -- not me.''

IF GUILLEN IS looking for support, he'll find people lining up to oblige. He had a combustible relationship with White Sox president Kenny Williams and kept upper management on edge in Chicago, but the players, for the most part, loved him.

"As we all know, Ozzie tends to say some things that aren't politically correct,'' says Aaron Rowand, who played for Guillen in Chicago and is now a roving coach with the White Sox. "He gets himself in trouble here and there. He doesn't play the corporate game. He's a baseball player, and that's what endears him to people and also upsets people at times. I think he's a heckuva manager and a heckuva player's manager. I would be thrilled to see him get back in the game."

Jim Leyland was a coach on manager Tony La Russa's White Sox staff when Guillen won the AL Rookie of the Year award with the Sox in 1985. Leyland saw a natural feel for the game on display when Guillen was 21 years old, and mentions Guillen along with two of his former coaches, Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon, who deserve another shot.

"I can't speak for anybody else, but I don't think anybody has ever questioned Ozzie's ability to run a game,'' Leyland says. "Probably what it amounts to now is: Are people willing to look past some of the things that went on? I'm sure he regrets some of those things. It will probably be somebody who says, 'This is a quality baseball guy who deserves another chance.'"

Since the Marlins fired Guillen, MLB teams have hired 25 new managers. Baseball executives whose teams have been in the managerial market in recent years point to obstacles Guillen faces in trying to get back in the game. Among the most prominent: Running a team is more of a collaborative effort now, and front offices have little patience for managers who are inclined to go rogue.

"The job has changed from the days of Earl Weaver and Billy Martin,'' a National League official says. "It's the media and Twitter. If you're going to be the face of the franchise doing twice-daily press briefings, you want to be interesting and entertaining, but you have to be responsible too. So I think that's a question. And the manager is probably receiving input from more sources now than ever. Is he willing and able to do that?''

Guillen didn't help his cause in Miami when he told reporters that he liked to "get drunk and go to sleep" as part of his nightly routine after games. He now claims that comment was partly in jest, but it's hard to tell what some executives file away for future reference.

"There's too much risk in what he would say or do, and I don't want to deal with that, honestly,'' one AL executive says. "If someone hires him, it might be because they think it will generate interest in their club. I think it's more of an owner move than a general manager move.''

GUILLEN'S BEST ROUTE back to managing might be as a bench coach. Larry Bowa, another fiery former shortstop, has flourished as an elder statesman on Pete Mackanin's coaching staff in Philadelphia.

But as one MLB exec asks, "Does Ozzie want to put the work in for $100,000 or $150,000 a season?''

Second and third acts in baseball are hard to predict. Guillen can find inspiration in Washington, where Dusty Baker has the Nationals in first place in the NL East. After several years on the periphery, Baker is debunking the notion that he's too old and too sabermetrically challenged to be successful in the big leagues.

If a team calls Guillen because it wants a veteran with a proven track record, he'll be happy to engage. If it's to fulfill a requirement, he's not interested.

"I'm pro-Latino 100 percent,'' he said. "But if I owned a baseball team, I wouldn't say, 'Let's hire a Latino because we don't have any.' I would hire somebody I know would run my team the right way. We have a lot of Latino coaches and people who are capable of doing it, but I'm not going to hire you because you're Latino. I'm going to hire you because I think you are the guy to help me win games and win championships. That's it.''

Guillen still believes he's that guy, even if his maverick tendencies make teams uncomfortable. But he's working on it. If he lands another managing gig and a reporter asks him to opine on international politics or which team is the villain in a beanball war, he has a ready-made reply.

"I'll tell them," he says, "'it's none of my f---ing business.'"