Mike Nadel: Ozzie isn't walking in Crede's shoes

Mike Nadel

It's spring training 1993, and reporters gather around Gene Lamont. The Chicago White Sox manager is asked about his plans for shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who missed most of the previous season with a knee injury.

"I'm going to make it clear: I'm not going to bring back Ozzie because he's Ozzie Guillen," Lamont says. "I'm going to bring back Ozzie Guillen because we need him. I'm going to play the guys out there that do their jobs. And I think Craig Grebeck did a tremendous job. It's all about winning."

OK, Lamont didn't say that ... but he could have. A knee injury did wipe out Guillen's '92 season and Grebeck did fill in ably. Can you imagine how the emotional Guillen would have reacted had Lamont even suggested a healthy Ozzie wouldn't return to the lineup?

Now, take that make-believe Lamont scenario and substitute Joe Crede for Guillen, Juan Uribe for Grebeck and Guillen for Lamont ... and you have real quotes from real interview sessions current Sox skipper Guillen had in recent days.

That's right: Ozzie actually said Crede, who is on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment after missing the last month with a back injury, might not get his job back from Uribe.

This is the same Joe Crede who often carried the Sox during the '05 championship drive, the same Crede who just last month played in the All-Star Game, the same Crede who is adored by both teammates and fans.

And this is the same Juan Uribe the Sox were ready to give away to any team willing to pay his salary, the same Uribe who lost jobs at both shortstop and second base, the same Uribe who is batting .240 (thanks to a recent .270 "hot" streak).

And this is the same Ozzie Guillen who preaches loyalty, the same Guillen who ripped the White Sox after they released him in 1997, the same Guillen who would have gone ballistic had a former manager said anything close to what he said about Crede.

Look, I like Guillen and I don't want to make a federal case out of Ozzie being Ozzie - a guy who often activates his yap without first engaging his brain. He's doing a nice job again this season, with his Sox 20 games over .500 after Wednesday's 15-3 annihilation of Seattle's batting-practice pitchers.

But really, Ozzie, Uribe over Crede?

Wednesday at Sox Park, Guillen tried to clarify his remarks: If Crede demonstrates during his rehab assignment that he's healthy and has his stroke back, "he's my third baseman. I love Joe Crede. But if he's struggling, I will not put him  out there just because his name is Joe Crede. And I don't give a (bleep) whether he likes it or not."

Ah, love.

"I'm not handing anything to anybody," Guillen told me. "It's my job to win games."

And it's my job to say the White Sox are more likely to win games - especially big games - with Crede playing. 

The only thing Uribe does better than Crede is run ... and Juan isn't exactly a threat to break Lightning Bolt's sprint records. Crede has more power, drives in more runs, bats for a higher average, gets on base more often and is a superior third baseman. He's been one of the top clutch hitters in baseball, too.

Crede also never has been implicated in a shooting (as Uribe was in 2006). Nor has the manager regularly ripped Crede for reporting out of shape to spring training.

Though Uribe has done surprisingly well at third base, it's not as if he turned the team's season around. They were in first place by a half-game when Crede went on the disabled list and they lead the AL Central by one game now.

Guillen's initial reaction to inquiries about Crede was so harsh that I wondered if the player's likely free-agent departure after the season was a factor. Was Ozzie doing Jerry Reinsdorf's dirty work while preparing fans for life without one of their heroes?

Frankly, I doubt Guillen was being so calculating. He simply was being Ozzie, saying whatever's on his mind. He wants Crede to be his third baseman; he just has a funny way of expressing it.

When I asked Guillen how he would have liked it 15 years ago had Lamont talked up Grebeck at his expense, he said: "That was a completely different scenario."

Yeah, because it would have involved Ozzie's livelihood, not Crede's. 

Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, atwww.thebaldesttruth.com.