Ozzie Guillen Fidel Castro comments: Is it fair to suspend him? (+video)
Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen praised Cuban leader Fidel Castro. For a club based in Little Havana and desperate to get back in the city's good graces, it was a massive mistake.
â€śThis is the biggest mistake so far in my life,â€ť said a tired-looking, slightly perturbed Guillen, who conducted the hour-long press conference mostly in Spanish. â€śIf I donâ€™t learn from this, then I will call myself dumb.â€ť
The Marlins â€śhired me to manage a ball club, not talk about politics,â€ť he added. â€śIâ€™m very guilty, very sad, and very embarrassed.
The fracas started over the weekend, when Time magazine published an interview on its website in which the Marlins skipper said he â€ślovedâ€ť Castro. "I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here."
The comments might not have caused too much of a stir in many other cities. But Guillen coaches a team with a pricey new ballpark in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, densely populated by Cuban-Americans who fervently dislike Fidel Castro. Whatâ€™s worse, heâ€™s the face of a massive rebranding effort by the club, which hoped to use him as a tool to attract a potentially sizable Hispanic fan base.
The Marlins quickly distanced themselves from Guillenâ€™s remarks, releasing aÂ statement saying, â€śThere is nothing to respect about Fidel Castro. He is a brutal dictator who caused unthinkable pain for more than 50 years. We live in a community filled with victims of his dictatorship and the people in Cuba continue to suffer today.â€ť
Those potential fans are now loudly calling for him to be fired.
Leaders of Miamiâ€™s Cuban community have come out in force against Guillen and the Marlins. Miamiâ€™s city commission chair released a statement saying Guillen should lose his job for his â€śadmiration for a dictator who has destroyed the lives of so many and who has violated the basic human rights of millions.â€ť
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giminez, while not explicitly calling for Guillenâ€™s removal, condemned the Marlins managerâ€™s remarks and urged the Marlins to take â€śdecisive steps to bring this community back together.â€ťÂ
The Cuban-American group Vigilia Mambasa, a virulently anti-Castro organization, picketed outside of Marlins Park Tuesday and plans to boycott the Marlins organization until Guillen is removed.
Guillenâ€™s five-game unpaid suspension wonâ€™t be enough for these groups, and itâ€™s comparatively small potatoes in a 162-game Major League Baseball regular season. If the suspension holds as-is, heâ€™ll be back to work next Tuesday, when the Marlins host the Chicago Cubs.
There is some precedent for the MLB doling out punishment for insensitive remarks: In 1996, Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was banned from day to day operations of the team for two years for saying in a Sports Illustrated interview that Hitler did some good things for Germany but â€śwent too far.â€ť
Nor is Guillen any stranger to his words getting him into trouble, though this is the first time heâ€™s really been punished for it.
In 2006, he came under fire for calling sportswriter Jay Mariotti a homophobic slur. In 2010, he said that the MLB treated Japanese players better than Hispanic players, and that America couldnâ€™t survive without illegal immigrants. In just the past week, Guillen suggested to a Miami radio station that he has sacrificed live animals as part of Santeria rituals, and that he regularly gets drunk after games.Â Â
Still, his reputation around the league is as a mostly harmless firebrand â€“ always entertaining, sometimes offensive, but essentially a good guy.Â
But since the Castro remarks stand to alienate a huge swath of customers for the Marlins, damage control is essential for the clubâ€™s commercial success as well as rebuilding goodwill in the Miami community after years of little success, especially in a crowded market for professional sports teams.Â