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Media-Tations on Chicago Baseball Managers

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Someone once said covering baseball requires the ability to articulate what is unsaid.
No sport has as much mingling between reporters and subjects as baseball, an everyday waltz between writer and player. There are no questions too stupid to ask, despite what Lou Piniella might believe.

Aside from trying to avoid having a 65-year-old man scream at you, one quickly learns that covering baseball requires more codebreaking than in a John le Carre novel - from making sense of the manager's pauses and sideways glances to filling in a player's non-answer.

Piniella, the archetype of the old-school manager who often seems like he'd rather do his post-game with a glass of red at Tavern on Rush, is consistently exasperated at the flood of questions that come his way. In a crowded, competitive media market like Chicago, there are no stupid questions.

One of his favorite answers, especially with a flagging pitcher, is, "Go ask the pitching coach." Sometimes he mixes it up with a "Go ask the hitting coach."

I must admit all of my Lou experience has come in group settings, hardly a way to get a good read on someone. My favorite part of a Piniella post-game is at the beginning when he does his brief recap, mostly, I think, to jog his own memory.

Usually it goes something like this: "Well, Lee had a homer, then Soriano got a big hit, DeRosa, Ramirez...and Lilly pitched well. It was a good game." Often Lou takes a break mid-recap, "How many runs did we score? Ah well..."

My second favorite part of a Lou interview is when he makes a joke and looks around the room, laughing, for validation. There's something so earnest about it, I often catch myself laughing along with him. If you listen to the post-game interviews, you can hear the laughter too.

***

Chicago baseball is in some kind of golden age. You know this. It's been 102 years since both teams made the post-season. Back then you went straight to the World Series, which incidentally was not sponsored by Blackberry and Dick Stockton's hair was naturally brown (or red- I can't tell what it's supposed to be).

Enjoy it while you can. As I write this, both teams are down 1-0 in their respective series. I watched and listened to the White Sox's 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay this afternoon, and like anyone who's followed the team, the outcome was no surprise. Javy Vazquez is a sub-.500 pitcher with ace stuff and the Sox hitters rely almost solely on home runs. In this case, it was Dewayne Wise and Paul Konerko providing bombs in a losing cause.

I can't imagine Ozzie Guillen was surprised either. Regardless of the schedule, I think he would've started Vazquez first, just to get his start out of the way. Now he can ride lefties Mark Buehrle and John Danks and the team's win leader, Gavin Floyd, who is available for long relief in the first two games.

Still, I'd love to hear Guillen's personal feelings on this game. When Guillen's talking, there are no awkward pauses, no salty glares, no semantic battles, just a steady stream of altered consciousness, unremitting expletives and often spot-on commentary on the culture of baseball, and often times, society itself.

Earlier this summer, some of the sports media were talking about the presidential election and someone asked Guillen about John McCain. Without flinching, he spat, "He look racist!" Guillen then looked around and said, "Don't he?"

Ozzie Unfiltered. He didn't mean anything by it, he wasn't trying to cast aspersions on McCain the person. He just has no filter. Guillen, a naturalized citizen, gets to vote in his first Presidential election, but hasn't tipped his hand yet. I'd imagine he'll vote for Obama, a self-professed White Sox fan.

As for his counterpart across town, I would guess Lou Piniella will be a McCain voter. Lou probably sees a lot of himself in the so-called Maverick candidate. Both are old, whip-smart and have been through the wars. McCain in 'Nam, Piniella in the Bronx. While Piniella seems to get the better of the comparisons, McCain never had to deal with Steinbrenner.