Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen did his best Tuesday to “mend fences” with the South Beach Cuban-American community in a press conference where he offered an emotional apology for comments he made in an interview with Time Magazine wherein he spoke fondly of the former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
“I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last sixty years but that [expletive] is still there.”
One doesn’t have to be Cuban-American to understand how and why those kind of comments would raise more than a few eyebrows. As a still relatively new American citizen himself – formerly a citizen of Venezuela – I don’t think it’s stretching the limits of the imagination to assume Ozzie probably understands the very harsh realities of living beneath a dictatorial regime. I can’t speak for the Latin American community, but I think Mr. Guillen’s past probably contributed to the backlash.
Add that to the fact that Guillen was brought to Miami as a bit of a marketing ploy to help capitalize on the majority minority population of Latin Americans in the South Beach community and it’s pretty easy to see how and why this story turned into a firestorm from many angles.
The Marlins, for their part in the story, suspended Guillen 5 games for his comments and publicly condemned the sentiments echoed in the interview. While I don’t necessarily agree with suspending a coach/player/employee for speaking his mind, I do understand the business consequences of such very public utterances. Ozzie is the face of the franchise. Granted, the Marlins brought him in from Chicago knowing he was a bit of a lightning rod; but either way, I get it.
Remember when folks were praising Ozzie for hammering Sean Penn’s support of Hugo Chavez?
What I’m saying here is I think it’s a stretch to assume the Marlins thought their new manager incapable of weighing in on such lofty non-baseball-related topics. Buyer beware.
Because I’m a sports fan, a baseball fan, and a sponge for news of any kind; I watched the Guillen press conference today and was thoroughly convinced he was sorry for his comments. While I don’t always buy the “lost in translation” defense, I do believe it could have contributed to the story – a point Guillen raised in his apology press conference.
“I was saying I cannot believe somebody who hurt so many people over the years is still alive,” Guillen told the news conference.
Guillen was careful not to throw Time Magazine or the author of the piece under the bus by playing the “out of context” card – which leads me to believe he was probably speaking casually and thought that portion of the interview would amount to nothing more than a throwaway line. I liken it to something I might say casually about Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. “You gotta love that crazy (expletive). I respect that she never wavers even when everything that comes out of her mouth is total garbage.” If you … that quote, I “love…respect… Debbie Wasserman-Schultz…because she never wavers.”
I don’t mean to play Ozzie defender here. Such is not my intention. I merely understand how these things typically go. He failed to raise that defense today in his press conference, so I could be totally off the mark. He went with the “misinterpreted” defense which is similar, yet different because the latter blames the dustup on translation rather than context.
Either way, he appeared sincere and contrite in his apology, so from where I sit… matter resolved.
My hope is that the presser was the first step in putting this story to bed and healing wounds between the Marlins and their community. The thought of a community boycotting its team is deeply troubling and would be felt around the League as a whole.
America’s Pastime deserves better than to be marred in its opening week by a story involving Fidel Castro – that doesn’t involve a stud pitcher or 5-tool player defecting from Cuba to sign with the Yankees.