As a GM who otherwise would like to move about in CIA-style stealth, Kenny Williams instead channeled vintage Bill Veeck Friday at SoxFest.
The team needed some kind of master stroke, a lightning-bolt announcement, to carve any kind of dent in the unstoppable, massive blast of Bears-Packers hype. A Sox official informed assembled media just after the opening ceremonies to make sure they attended the Williams-Ozzie Guillen meet-the-fans session, always scheduled right after the introduction of all SoxFest participants. It couldn't be another statue? Was Guillen getting a long-term extension? That had to be it -- but why now?
Williams, who vastly underrates public-speaking skills, acted as emcee of his own event, wielding the microphone in the absence of a Hawk Harrelson or Steve Stone-style moderator. And after thanking the assembled fans for coming out in zero degree chill, Williams announced he picked up the 2012 option on Guillen's contract that was only contractually mandated to kick in if the White Sox won the American League Central.
Now that bit of news would nudge a Bears story or two to lesser play in print, on-line and in broadcast form (and here at SB Nation Chicago). That's the short-term effect for a franchise whose best off-season moves were pushed off center stage by breaking news. When the Sox introduced free-agent slugger Adam Dunn, Cubs icon Ron Santo had just died. Now the biggest Bears game in Chicago since the 1963 NFL title contest against the Giants threatened to overwhelm the gathering good will over the 2012 Sox.
Longer term, Guillen's contract security going into another season calms the waters. The storyline should be: can Jake Peavy come back as himself, not a soft-tossing Freddy Garcia, after one-of-a-kind surgery to re-attach his torn lat muscle? Or how can Dunn, as the big guy himself speculated Friday himself during the Sox players' media session, adjust to a DH role, filling the time between at-bats with muscle- and mentally-stimulating activity instead of playing in the field? Does Chris Sale close or start? This was a quietly confident group of players, reflecting the demeanor of team captain Paul Konerko, assembled at the Palmer House Hilton, who don't need the distractions of Guillen's job status if they hit bumps in the road.
Guillen has an even 600 wins, third among Sox managers all-time, and he'll get a lot more if he guides the Sox into the postseason for the third time in his South Side tenure. A deep October run almost certainly would guarantee an even longer extension from Guillen from a grateful Jerry Reinsdorf.
Only one thing was left unsaid Friday -- whether nuisance tweeter Oney Guillen will be muzzled about Sox business. Williams, object of at least one Oney blast, apparently wasn't perturbed enough to not pick up the extension. Ozzie Guillen did talk to his son, but also did not offer any assurances Junior would cut down on his absolute freedom of expression. The manager said he never was in fear of his job security over the tweeting. The contract clarification backs him up -- but the Sox don't need one mention of Oney Guillen in their clubhouse all season.
Curbing a wayward son is the last bit of unfinished business for Guillen. He can postpone it for another day. Friday was nothing but joy. Wife Ibis cried when Guillen phoned her the news of his re-upping. When informed Thursday was Guillen's 47th birthday, the fans broke out in a "Happy Birthday" serenade. Williams never seemed more relaxed and happy in the presence of his baseball partner, who dearly wants a repeat of 2005.
In the end, the message from the GM was hardly the bread and circuses of vintage Veeck. It was more like: we have a good thing going, don't squander it.