Not that Robin Ventura hasn't been the perfect tonic for the White Sox this season, but Ozzie was a joy to listen to. He was always honest—or at least said what he honestly thought at the moment—and ever entertaining.
I can remember him holding forth before one of the World Series games in 2005, and then ambling off to the field, at which point some national sportswriter shook his head in disbelief and said, "Is he always like that?"
"Every day," we replied.
He returns with his new Miami Marlins Tuesday to play the Cubs on the wrong side of town. I can only wonder if he'll refer again to the rats at Wrigley Field and what a pit it is—especially for visiting teams in the cramped locker room packed high up under the first-base grandstand.
The years that Ozzie was on one side of town and Lou Piniella was on the other were just about the easiest, most joyful seasons a local baseball writer can imagine. Just sit and listen to Ozzie and Lou talk, and a lot of problems with the teams got swept under the carpet behind their backs.
That was great when the teams were good—at least for the Sox. Ozzie took a lot of attention on himself and let the team concentrate on baseball, and it worked in 2005, never more than when the Sox weathered a rough streak in September, with Ozzie acting cool and confident, and then crushed all comers in the postseason.
That approach worked for Lou, too, at least during the regular season. When the demanding competition and intense scouting of the playoffs revealed the Cubs' weaknesses in 2007 and 2008, however, it was another matter.
When the teams were good, it largely helped to distract too much attention from the players—a nifty trick for any manager to pull off, especially in Chicago. When they were bad, however, it only hurt to distract attention away from their flaws.
Neither Lou nor Ozzie was much for fundamentals—certainly not as intent on fundamental play as either Ventura or the Cubs' Dale Sveum is now. Both the Cubs and the Sox would be worse off this season with Lou or Ozzie back at the helm.
Still, I miss them. I could listen to them talk all day, but as it turned out it was the sportswriters' equivalent of the sirens' singing.