manager's move here? Pay somebody and have the man beaten? Crippled? Killed?
This is a Venezuelan prison, after all; two hundred bucks should do it. Or
maybe Ozzie Guillen himself should confront the man who helped murder his best
friend--get in his face and ask the question he has choked back for more than a
decade: Why? � It is Nov. 5, 2005. Guillen, the Chicago White Sox manager, has
just seen a face that stopped him cold. A prison guard asks him what's wrong,
but Guillen waves him off. Instead he turns to his 21-year-old son, Ozzie Jr.,
and rasps, "That's the motherf----- who killed Gus"--Gustavo Polidor,
the major league infielder who was gunned down at age 33 in Caracas a decade
earlier. Guillen had wondered then what he would do if he ever met either of
the two men responsible for the crime, and now that time has arrived. With
Guillen, who has
come to the correctional facility in Los Teques, 13 miles southwest of Caracas,
to see a jailed friend, didn't anticipate such a moment. But as baseball's
preeminent avatar of the unexpected, maybe he should have. As last season
proved, the combustible Guillen, now 42, will do just about anything: tweak
fellow managers, publicly rip--or kiss--his own players, threaten to resign.
Narrating each step with the rat-a-tat rhythm of his hyperbolic,
profanity-laced Spanglish, he defied conventional thinking in everything from
player relations to roster moves to game strategy, leading his team to the best
record in the American League before making a smashing run through the
postseason and ending the Curse of Shoeless Joe Jackson. In only his second
season as manager he took the eternally overshadowed White Sox to their first
World Series title since 1917.
Back in Venezuela
his countrymen found Guillen to be just as unpredictable: On any given day he
might call Venezuela's bombastic leftist president, Hugo Ch�vez, "an
idiot" or yell "�Viva Ch�vez!" His weekly column in the sports
section of the Caracas newspaper El Universal sometimes veers from baseball
into religion or culture, but it's always delivered in a take-it-or-leave-it
voice best exemplified by the title of his recently published anthology, Se los
dije. I told you so.
explains the mercurial world of Ozzie Guillen better than his first days back
in Venezuela last fall, an emotional whipsawing that managerial icons such as
Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa could hardly imagine. On Nov. 4 Guillen, the first
Latino ever to manage a major league champion, became the first man to take the
World Series trophy to Latin America. He couldn't step outside his house
without being asked for a picture or autograph or hug. People told him he had
achieved the greatest feat in Venezuela's recent history; a nation scarred by
violence, including kidnapping and extortion threats against beloved
ballplayers, finally had something to celebrate. There was a three-hour press
conference in Caracas jammed with hundreds of reporters; a public embrace with
the childhood coach who had taught him how to play ball; a festive reception at
the U.S. Embassy. Then came a ride in an open truck around the field at Estadio
Universitario, his old ballpark, with Guillen, wrapped in a Venezuelan flag,
showing off the trophy. Fifteen thousand people stood and cheered and wept.
The next morning
Guillen; his wife, Ibis; and Ozzie Jr. drove to Los Teques to see former
Philadelphia Phillies reliever Ugueth Urbina, who was there awaiting trial for
attempted murder. On Oct. 16, at his cattle ranch in Valles del Tuy, Urbina is
alleged to have led a group of men who attacked five workers with machetes,
then doused them with gasoline and paint thinner and set them on fire for
allegedly stealing a gun belonging to the pitcher. One victim was burned over
50% of his body; another needed 300 stitches to close wounds on his shoulder,
back and hands; and the others suffered injuries from bruises to broken bones
to a perforated eardrum. Urbina proclaimed his innocence, but Guillen isn't
sure what to believe. The two men have year-round homes in the same housing
complex north of Miami Beach, play golf and fish together, and in recent
off-seasons Urbina has been a constant presence in the Guillens' house. Ozzie
had to go see Ugie in prison. "When you go to jail in Venezuela,"
Guillen says, "you go to hell."
Guillen was ready
for the stink of urine and sweat, the dank heat of a cell built for 10 men but
crammed with three dozen; he had visited friends at the prison before. But then
he walked in and glanced up a flight of stairs and saw a short, skinny,
dark-eyed man descending. The two locked eyes. The man turned around and walked
back up. It was Hern�n L�pez Ortu�o, one of the two men convicted of murdering
Polidor, a former shortstop for the California Angels, Milwaukee Brewers and
Florida Marlins, in a botched carjacking attempt in April 1995. Guillen and
Polidor had been best friends--more like brothers, really--for 14 years, ever
since Polidor had taken the 16-year-old Guillen under his wing in the
Venezuelan winter league.
L�pez and an
accomplice, Marco Tulio Quintero Flores, had marched up Polidor's driveway in
Caracas and tried to steal his car. Polidor's wife, Eduvigis, was standing next
to the vehicle with their one-year-old son, Gus Jr., in her arms. When Polidor,
who had been nearby taking out the garbage, began to argue with Quintero, L�pez
threatened to snatch Gus Jr. from Eduvigis. Then, as Polidor protested more
heatedly, Quintero put a bullet in the ballplayer's brain. The killers fled in
a waiting station wagon.
Guillen, who had
just built a new house in Caracas, moved Eduvigis and her three children into
his old house. Polidor, he says, would have been a coach on his White Sox
staff, "no question."
Now Urbina passed
L�pez on the way down the prison stairs. After hugging Guillen, Urbina said,
"You see him?"
Guillen said yes.
What to do? After Polidor's death Guillen hated his country. He doubted God; he
couldn't sleep; he wanted to hurt the men who had killed Gus. Guillen is a man
who claims he never forgives--a man who says about a mere war of words,
"You throw me rocks, I've got an F-16 ready to go, because I'm going to
shoot you"--and now here was his chance. Amid the cacophony of the prison,
with Guillen's mind racing and his blood up, the manager and his son heard
Urbina say, "Don't worry."