Ozzie Guillen: MLBers Should Avoid Winter Ball

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Dayton Daily News (Ohio)


Ozzie Guillen last managed in the majors in 2012, when he was fired by the Marlins after the season.

CARACAS,VENEZUELA- Former star shortstop Ozzie Guillen has a word of advice for big leaguers who want to play winter ball in Venezuela: Don't.

Now guiding the Tiburones in his native country, the first Latino manager to win a World Series says any major leaguer who wants to protect himself from getting hurt should avoid taking part.

"If one of these players gets injured, no fan, or no team owner, is going to come and give them the thousands or millions of dollars they're worth," Guillen said. "Sincerely, I thank them all for being part of the league. But personally I don't think any major leaguer should play here."

Guillen, 53, says so many Venezuelan players choose to take the risks because they love the game and the fans back home. Among them are Kansas City Royals Gold Glove shortstop Alcides Escobar, who Guillen is coaching for the Tiburones.

But the hardships on and off field are many. Venezuela is mired in a severe economic crisis, and the league's eight teams haven't been spared. Attendance and sponsorship at stadiums are way down and budgets are tight after a collapse in crude prices.

Highways where teams travel are also notoriously perilous. Nobody wants to become the next Wilson Ramos, the Tampa Bay Rays catcher who was abducted in 2011 at gunpoint, so bodyguards are a constant presence in dugouts before games.

The skyrocketing crime has led 16 major league teams to shutter their scouting academies in the country in recent years.

Despite the hazards, Guillen, who managed the 2005 White Sox to the championship, says the level of baseball talent in Venezuela remains robust and notoriously boisterous fans are as enthusiastic as ever.

"This isn't about money. It's about passion," he said. "Do you think Escobar wants to get on a bus at 4 in the morning just for a trip to Puerto La Cruz?"

Guillen hasn't managed in the majors since the Marlins fired him at the end of the 2012 season - it was his only year at that job, and got off to a rough start when he incensed local fans by saying he admired Cuban leader Fidel Castro because the brutal dictator had managed to stay in power for so long.

Guillen later apologized, but throughout his career he's struggled with a reputation of speaking a little too freely. In Chicago, he was once fined and ordered to take sensitivity training after using a gay slur to describe a baseball columnist.

In Venezuela, he managed the Tiburones to the semifinals only to see their hopes of obtaining their first championship in 30 years dashed when they were eliminated Tuesday by the Cardenales from Lara state.

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January 19, 2017


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