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Losing Guillen now would be a big mistake
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/25/2010 9:41 PM

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While pondering Ozzie Guillen's future with the White Sox, try to put him in the context of Harry Caray, Tony La Russa and Sammy Sosa.

First remember that whatever people think of Guillen, they do think of him.

How priceless is that for Chicago's No. 2 baseball team, which longs to be No. 1?

This season the team Guillen manages attracted hundreds of thousands fewer fans to Comiskey Park than the ugly Cubs did to Wrigley Field.

What does that have to do with Guillen? Well, he isn't selling enough tickets right now but at least he is making the Sox hard to ignore.

Even with hands over ears - always a tempting strategy when Guillen is yapping - local sports fans and media members still can hear the Ozzinator ozzinating.

Last week the Sox were mired in California and an eight-game losing streak. Even out there, Guillen ignited a brushfire back here when he responded to a question by saying, sure, he would like a contract extension.

Guillen's remark was greeted by cheers and by jeers but most importantly it was greeted, period, at a time when the Sox were drifting from afterthought to invisible.

What is the publicists' motto - say what you want, just spell the name right?

By now everyone knows it's G-U-I-L-L-E-N and S-O-X.

Being an attention hound isn't enough for club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Kenny Williams to keep Guillen around even if he hints at wanting to leave.

The Sox' manager is good at his job, too. He also figures to continue getting better at it, albeit through fits and starts.

Blend the personality with the performance and Guillen is a guy the Sox are better off with than without.

This franchise has gone through this too often, which might explain why it's still fighting for wider acceptance even after winning a World Series.

Reinsdorf couldn't figure out a way to tolerate Caray's eccentricities, so the TV announcer went on to become a national phenomenon on the Cubs' superstation.

Later Reinsdorf allowed then-general manager Hawk Harrelson to fire Tony La Russa, who became one of baseball's most successful managers with the A's and Cardinals.

Then the Sox traded a promising youngster for a fading veteran, Sammy Sosa discovered Flintstone vitamins (wink-wink), and he became baseball's most charismatic player for a few years.

Would a fan rather have Caray or Harrelson in the booth; La Russa or Jim Fregosi/Jeff Torborg/Gene Lamont/Terry Bevington/Jerry Manuel in the dugout; Sosa or George Bell in the batter's box?

It's a matter of taste, but I'll take the former in each case.

Anyway, each of those trade-offs could be justified. However, all the moves together leave the Sox still playing catch-up for recognition.

Add Guillen to the list of castoffs and the Sox' might never make up the attention-deficit gap between them and the Cubs.

Imagine Guillen going to, say, the Marlins and being the character Caray was in Wrigley Field, the manager La Russa has been in Oakland and St. Louis, and the superstar Sosa became throughout America.

Now is too soon for the Sox to lose Guillen, but that doesn't mean it won't happen sooner than later.

Knowing this franchise, anyone is expendable even if he isn't.