I am a huge Chicago White Sox fan. Both of my parents are from Chicago; my dad, who grew up in Northbrook and was almost a White Sox batboy, used to sit next to Harry Caray at old Comiskey Park and watch the announcer get bombed on cheap beer (this, of course, was way back before Caray took a broadcasting job with the crosstown Cubs). One of my earliest memories is attending a game at Comiskey in the late 1980s. Some of the Sox players were out beneath the bleachers taking pictures with fans. My cousins and I took a picture with then-shortstop Ozzie Guillen, and as we began to walk away, Ozzie grabbed me, put me on his lap and had the photographer take a couple more pictures. Ozzie's been my favorite player ever since.
Last week, my beloved Sox, managed by Ozzie, swept the defending champion Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. Ozzie was virtually perfect in making the calls. He was aggressive on the basepaths, fantastic in handling the pitching staff. At one point in the ninth inning of Game 3, he even called for a squeeze play to bring home a runner from third. It was textbook baseball. Just beautiful.
Ozzie only made one mistake. In Game 3, with the White Sox up 4-3 over the Red Sox, Ozzie called in lefty reliever Damaso Marte. Marte's statistics are decent (66 appearances, 3.77 Earned Run Average, 54 strikeouts) and he has nasty stuff, but he also happens to be a complete head case. His motion to the plate makes it look as though he's going to pop his arm out of his socket every time he flings a fastball. When this guy comes into a close ballgame, it's relatively certain that he will never find the catcher's mitt, let alone the strike zone. Chances of holding a one-run lead with Marte on the mound are about the same as the Kansas City Royals winning the World Series next year.
Nevertheless, with a slim 4-3 lead in the clinching game of the ALDS, Ozzie motioned for the southpaw. In came Marte, who proceeded to give up a single to Trot Nixon and two consecutive walks to Bill Mueller and John Olerud. Now the White Sox had a one-run lead with zero outs and the bases loaded. Thankfully, Ozzie's next pitching selection, Orlando Hernandez, brilliantly pitched his way out of the jam and got Marte off the hook for his rotten performance.
The important thing about Marte's appearance wasn't his schizoid mound condition or even Hernandez's wonderful escape artistry. What was important was Guillen's reaction to Marte's pitching version of "The Three Faces of Eve." "He put the team on the line," Guillen said. "I don't mind if you get beat, but don't beat yourself. If you get beat, that's fine. Hey, everybody goes out there and gets beaten. But when you go down there and don't want to throw the ball and are flat with pitches, it shows me you don't have confidence in yourself."
It seems that President Bush could learn a valuable lesson from Ozzie Guillen. Since his re-election, Bush has been under constant fire from the left on everything from Social Security to the war in Iraq to his handling of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, presidential allies like Karl Rove and Tom DeLay have found themselves in hot water.
But that's not why Bush's political fans are upset. We're upset because Bush isn't being beaten -- he's beating himself. He's going out there but refusing to throw the ball. He's flat with his pitches. Bush's post-re-election performance is showing us that he doesn't have confidence in himself.
Bush has good stuff. But instead of throwing a mid-90s cutter on the Democrats' hands by pushing the Social Security issue he won re-election with, Bush threw a hanging curve. Instead of flinging the political heater by pushing for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, Bush threw a wild pitch. Instead of tossing a couple splitters on the inside corner by nominating true originalists to the Supreme Court, Bush threw a couple change-ups. Bush has mixed up only one group with his pitch selection: his political supporters.
Ozzie is sticking with Marte in the next round of the playoffs, despite his horrific ALDS performance. I think it's a bad move, but Ozzie's intuition has paid off so far. Guillen has a message for Marte, however: "Players have to be tough. They're going to boo you, clap for you. When you fail, the next day it's more important than the day before. I don't want him hanging his head and feeling sorry for himself. Just go out there and fight."
Mr. President, we're sticking with you. But when you get out there, for God's sake, bring the heat.