Ozieball heads to Houston

With two games already in the bag, the Chicago White Sox are winning the 2005 World Series on the strength of two guys who have combined for 50 home runs in 2449 career games — left fielder Scott Podsednik and manager Ozzie Guillen.

Podsednik’s walkoff home run on Sunday night gave Chicago a commanding 2-0 series lead as the Fall Classic shifts to Houston. The White Sox’s leadoff hitter is no Albert Pujols — Podsednik didn’t hit a single home run during his 507 regular season at-bats. Even Greg Maddux out-homered Podsednik in 2005. So preventing the longball was probably the last thing on the mind of Astros’ closer Brad Lidge as he tried to push Game 2 into extra innings. But before you could say “Mitch Williams,” Podsednik had deposited Lidge’s fastball into the right-field bleachers, sending the South Side of Chicago into ecstasy.

Podsednik was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, along with pitcher Luis Vizcaino, on Dec. 13, 2004 in exchange for left-fielder Carlos Lee. At the time, baseball analysts and armchair GMs alike blasted the trade. Although his 70 steals were impressive, Podsednik was coming off a 2004 season in which he batted a meager .244, an average hardly desirable in any position player, let alone a leadoff man. By contrast, Lee’s .305 batting average was only two points lower than Podsednik’s on-base percentage of .307, and the slugging outfielder was coming off his second straight 30-homer campaign. Vizcaino was considered a solid reliever, but not good enough to make up for the difference in the left fielders.

However, the Brewers-White Sox swap turned out to be one of those rare baseball trades than genuinely benefits both teams immediately. In 2005 Lee belted 32 homers for the improving Brewers, while Podsednik rebounded to hit .290 and Vizcaino compiled a 3.73 ERA in 70 innings for the White Sox. In addition, Podsednik gave the White Sox the type of leadoff hitter that Ozzie Guillen had wanted in his lineup since he took the job in 2004 — the fast, scrappy kind of guy who would do whatever it took to get that extra base, the kind of guy who could play Ozzieball. With Podsednik and No. 2 hitter Tadahito Iguchi pestering opposing pitchers on the basepaths, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko combined to drive in 186 runs for Chicago.

Guillen seems to have a way of getting every last ounce out of his players. The White Sox team that is now poised to win the World Series is far less talented than the Yankees, Angels and Red Sox. Chicago doesn’t have a Mariano Rivera or a Frankie Rodriguez to anchor the bullpen, nor does it have a proven ace like Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson at the top of its rotation — not that those two were much help to their teams this year. But the White Sox lineup is not even close to New York’s modern-day Murderer’s Row of Jeter, Giambi, Rodriguez, Sheffield and Matsui. The South Siders’ most dangerous hitter is Konerko, and his 100 RBI are nothing compared to David Ortiz’s 148 or Manny Ramirez’s 144. But Chicago probably has the only manager who could inspire Manny to want to play baseball — according to a recent Chicago Sun-Times article entitled “Ramirez Wants to Change Sox,” the moody Red Sox slugger told a number of White Sox players that he would welcome a trade to Chicago because he wanted to play for Ozzie Guillen.

Perhaps the better question is, who wouldn’t want to play for Ozzie Guillen? The former White Sox shortstop is baseball’s version of the Straight-Talk Express. When Chicago’s AL Central lead slipped to 1.5 games in the waning days of August, Guillen proclaimed, “We stink.” Upon hearing that, a White Sox fan slapped Craig Biggio’s wife at US Cellular Field on Sunday night. Guillen told the police, “Don’t put him in jail, bring him to me in the dugout.” They didn’t, and the situation was resolved without incident, but Guillen issued a public apology on behalf of the White Sox and their fans anyway. On the lighter side, Guillen’s dugout humor is among the best in the bigs. The White Sox manager signals the bullpen by rubbing his belly when he’s about to bring in his 270-pound closer, Bobby Jenks. And Guillen is a consummate mensch, earning awards for his community service in the Chicago area and in his native Venezuela, where he donated $200,000 to mudslide victims in 1999.

The White Sox don’t have the 2005 World Series completely wrapped up yet. As we saw last year, no lead is safe in October. And Minute Maid Field will be electrified with fan-power as the Astros host the World Series for the first time in history. Houston Mayor Bill White proclaimed last weekend “No Socks Weekend,” urging Houstonians to go barefoot in support of their team. But regardless of recent trends in Texas footwear, I am definitely standing by my prediction that the White Sox will win the Series — the Astros may snag a game or two on their home field, but in the end, Ozzieball will prevail.

Meanwhile, George Steinbrenner is sitting in a mansion somewhere near Tampa kicking himself as three Yankee castoffs — Andy Pettitte, Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez — have led their teams to October glory, while the Boss can’t even give away replacements Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright.

And then there’s that Clemens guy.



Zack O’Malley Greenburg is a junior in Calhoun College.

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