Carlos Guillen is one of my favorites.
Because he didn't have perfect English skills, he was never a favorite with TV and radio reporters, but I always enjoyed his honesty.
Guillen was traded to Detroit from Seattle on Jan. 8, 2004, in exchange for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez. (No, not that Juan Gonzalez.)
His first season in Detroit was one of the rare times I didn't go down to spring training, so I didn't get to meet him until Opening Day. The Tigers were playing the Toronto Blue Jays and shut them out 7-0.
I'll never forget what Guillen said after that game. I had asked about the Minnesota Twins, the team that had dominated the Tigers and the Central Division for years.
Guillen said the Twins might not be afraid of the Tigers, but they should be.
I was kind of shocked. After all, these Tigers had just barely avoided losing 120 games in a season. Losing that many game didn't give them much license to boast.
But Guillen's confidence eventually proved to be correct as the Tigers reached the World Series in 2006, and they would not have made it without Guillen.
Everyone, including most people in Detroit, thought the Tigers would get destroyed by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs that year. But Guillen hit .571 with three doubles, a home run and two RBI.
He didn't fare as well against the Oakland A's, but he was there in the middle of the celebration after his Venezuelan countryman, Magglio Ordonez, hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth to send the Tigers to their first World Series since 1984.
I remember asking Guillen if he could believe it. Of course he could. He was grinning ear to ear.
Oh, Guillen had also promised me that if the Tigers won the World Series, he would give up chewing tobacco. I always used to nag him about quitting.
It wasn't Guillen's fault the Tigers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit .353 and did not commit one of the Tigers' many errors.
Of course, I also can't forget how Guillen's body betrayed him so many times. He's had left shoulder surgery, right ACL surgery, a torn left hamstring, right shoulder inflammation, a left hamstring strain, a right calf strain and a deep left knee contusion.
The last time Guillen played in more than 100 games was 2008, when he managed 113.
In the last several years, as the number of Venezuelans on the team grew, I gave Guillen the nickname "leader of the Venezuelan mafia."
He only played in 28 games last season, but he earned his nickname against the Los Angeles Angels. You remember the Jered Weaver game, don't you?
At the time, Weaver and Justin Verlander were two of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award.
Ordonez hit a home run off Weaver in the third inning and for whatever reason, Weaver seemed to think Ordonez was showing him up by watching his home run. Ordonez maintained that he just wanted to make sure it was fair before running.
Weaver was jawing at Ordonez to run faster, which Guillen did not like. At all.
So, Guillen hit a home run off Weaver in the seventh inning and made a complete show of it, further enraging him. Both dugouts were warned, but Weaver threw over Alex Avila's head on the next pitch, earning an ejection for himself and his manager, Mike Scioscia.
"I was upset because he was yelling at Magglio when Magglio hit the home run," Guillen said after the game. "But nobody in the ballpark knows if it's going to be fair or foul, so he has to stand maybe at home plate and he was yelling, 'Run, run. You have to run the (expletive) bases.' Magglio has 13-14 years in the big leagues, you don't have to yell at him, because you've had a good year or whatever. I respect who respects me."
That was Guillen, fiercely loyal to his teammate and countrymen. Although I didn't necessarily agree with his actions, I admired his reasons for doing what he did.
Guillen's contract with the Tigers ended last season, and we all knew he wasn't coming back. I did think about him and Ordonez when I was in Lakeland for spring training.
Prince Fielder was sitting at his locker and it was Fielder's sons who were playing with Landon Dombrowski, team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski's son. In the past, Landon played with Alfonso Guillen, Carlos' oldest son.
Guillen retired from the Seattle Mariners today, telling the Seattle Times, "I tried to come back, but I can't."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said many times that Guillen was certainly intelligent enough to be a big league manager. I hope he does, and I also hope I'm around to cover it.