Marlins have the right man at the helm
MIAMI -- The vast majority of baseball fans do not buy tickets primarily to see a manager manage. Still, if you wanted a manager to lift the public profile of your team, Ozzie Guillen would be the perfect choice.
That is the choice the former Florida Marlins made. As the new Miami Marlins, opening a splendid new home, Marlins Park, and bringing in an influx of high-profile, high-priced talent, they created a very positive confluence of events.
But it wouldn't have been complete without a manager who could be a combination field general/spokesman for the team, an individual who could create both interest and excitement by the very act of being himself.
W: Lohse (1-0) L: Johnson (0-1)
SV: Motte (1)
And that would be Guillen. Whether you find him a true leader of men or are already suffering from an Ozzie overdose, his impact here will end up being undeniable. He is uniquely positioned to be the center of attention in a rapid expansion of baseball interest in South Florida -- and that is where he wants to be, anyway.
Marlins Park is a sparkling new facility, and the people who attend games there will decide for themselves what they like best about it. From the standpoint of a Major League team, the two best qualities are these:
The retractable roof will increase the comfort of the fans and will make certain that games are played as scheduled. And for the Marlins, it is a home of their own. Whether it was Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium or Sun Life Stadium, the Marlins' previous home was always a football stadium, and they were never the primary tenants.
When the ace of the staff, Josh Johnson, was asked on Tuesday what he liked better about the new home as opposed to the old one, he smiled and said, "Where do I start?"
In another sort of start, Johnson will be on the mound on Wednesday night as the Marlins officially open their new home against the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Inevitably, as captivating as all the newness is, the Marlins will have to be a highly competitive group to make this whole package work.
Their outlook is promising, based on the talent on hand, but while the competitive storyline develops, the sure thing will be the entertainment value provided by the manager. This week, as the Marlins played two exhibition games in their new park against the Yankees, a relatively routine question set in motion another Guillen monologue.
Guillen was asked if his club could learn anything from observing the Yankees.
"No, they're too old now," Guillen said.
There are 28 other managers who wouldn't have delivered that answer.
Then, as a mitigating factor, Guillen went into a comprehensive discussion of how much he admires Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter -- the way Jeter plays, the constant effort he displays, the way he carries himself. Nobody, Guillen said, has done more for the game in this way -- not Babe Ruth, not Mickey Mantle, not Willie Mays.
He added that there is only one other player he admires as much as Jeter. And who is that?
"Me," he said, to the howls of laughter from his journalistic audience.
Actually, the real answer to that question turns out to be Jim Thome -- a plausible conclusion and a more modest one than "me."
Guillen ended the portion of his appearance with the thought that what he really needs at this point is a 22-year-old daughter who could be married to Jeter.
Guillen has the intelligence, imagination and wit to be entertaining on any given day. What does this have to do with managing a baseball team? A lot, in a world of instant and incessant media coverage.
The manager, with his twice-daily news sessions, becomes both the face of the franchise and the most frequent source of information in this setup. A contemporary manager has to be capable of dealing not only with his 25 players, with game management and with all the usual baseball issues, he needs to be a fan-friendly media character. That means, more than anything else, that he has to hold the interest of the baseball public.
This kind of thing is second nature for Ozzie Guillen. And he makes himself even more useful by doing two pregame sessions with the media, one in Spanish, one in English. The bar for managerial media conduct is being set higher all the time.
And, not incidentally, the record shows that Guillen can manage. He has managed a World Series championship team. This is a claim that only six other current managers in the big leagues can make.
The Miami Marlins, needing to lift their public profile, even at the onset of a new and promising era, looked in precisely the right direction for a manager.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.