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Guillen holds Piniella in high regard

Guillen holds Piniella in high regard

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- It doesn't take long for Ozzie Guillen to list off his favorite managers currently working in the Major Leagues.

"Oh, my goodness. My favorite manager? Well, I don't have that many," Guillen said. "I love Ron Gardenhire and I have a lot of respect for Lou Piniella. But my favorite all-time would have to be Bobby Cox."

Minnesota's Gardenhire and Atlanta's Cox currently are getting their respective teams ready for the regular season via Grapefruit League action in Florida. But on Saturday, Guillen had the chance to match wits with Piniella during the first Cubs-White Sox battle of 2008 at Tucson Electric Park.

Sure, this was a game more about players getting their needed work in, and it was a time to revel in a monstrous, game-winning blast from Jim Thome off of Neal Cotts in the seventh inning. It was for the fans, with the attendance of 11,328 easily representing the White Sox top spring crowd.

But for Guillen, it was good to see familiar and friendly faces such as Piniella, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell and first-base coach Matt Sinatro. The game even included a visit from Cubs general manager Jim Hendry to just behind the White Sox dugout.

"I love Lou, and I love Jim Hendry," Guillen said. "For a general manager at the big league level to come down to say hi to me, that's something I appreciate. It shows respect. He knows how I feel about him and his job.

"You don't see that many guys with the title to do that for the other manager. It's something that really got me. I appreciate that as a man and a manager.

"Competing against Lou is always fun," Guillen added. "I wish my career as a manager would be like Lou, Bobby, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre."

Guillen paused for a moment before adding with a smile that he never gets crazy like Piniella, at least not during on-field arguments with umpires. Before the game, Guillen was talking with a group of reporters in the White Sox clubhouse about a show he watched on Friday night that featured the Top 50 blowups in sports history.

A Piniella tirade was included on that particular list.

"Lou is Lou," said Guillen with a broad smile. "He is one of a kind. He knows what he's doing. He's one guy you want to be like when you have this job."

High praise and the strong show of respect from Guillen also came with an educated warning for Piniella. Guillen holds a bond of friendship with Dusty Baker, who managed the Cubs before Piniella took over last season.

Baker was the king of Chicago in 2003, with "In Dusty we Trusty" shirts popping up around the city, as he led the Cubs within five outs of their first World Series appearance in almost six decades. But as the story now famously goes, the Cubs came up short against the Marlins in the National League Championship Series and by 2007, Baker was in the ESPN broadcast booth.

As Guillen can personally attest, it's easy to go from the man of the hour to the target of derision where running a baseball team in Chicago is concerned.

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"Even at the beginning of the last season, Lou Piniella was the worst manager, and all of a sudden, he was a genius when they went to the playoffs," said Guillen, referring to the Cubs' 24-32 start under Piniella.

"Zero to hero," Guillen added. "Be careful with the zero again. I see managers go through a lot of difficulty."

No finger pointing took place during Saturday's game, except in jest by Guillen at Thome, for going deep against one of his favorite players in Cotts, the beleaguered Cubs reliever and key contributor to the White Sox 2005 title run. It was the beginning of bragging rights for the fans, but for Guillen, it was a chance to reunite with friends.

"My game is to go out and manage and see what happens," Guillen said. "I get along real well with the two managers of that ballclub, so it's always nice for me. A lot of people take the Cubs-White Sox in a different way."

"You know it's on television and everyone at home is watching," Thome added. "A Cubs game is very similar to the adrenaline you have during the season. This is like a big league game, a lot of hype and the crowd comes out. They get excited and we feed off of that excitement."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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