On the evening of April 17, Ozzie Guillen was a humbled man.
“You learn from mistakes,” he was saying in front of all the cameras, microphones and notepads. “You really learn from mistakes.”
This was before his first game back as Miami Marlins manager, following his suspension for controversial comments about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
This was the start of his second chance.
“Will Ozzie still be Ozzie?” one reporter asked.
“Yes,” Guillen replied. “Just be careful what you talk about. Worry about — control — what is your business. My business is to talk about baseball and talk about the Marlins. Stay with that.”
Five months later, has he learned from his mistake? Has he remained modest? Has he been careful with his words? Has he focused on his job performance, rather than place the blame elsewhere? Has he put the feelings of his players first, as he promised he would?
Has he won?
Let’s check the record.
According to the Palm Beach Post, Guillen said Friday of team owner Jeffrey Loria: “Look yourself in the mirror and ask why so many (bleeping) managers come through here.”
On another occasion, he told reporters, “When you are in last place you need a better manager, better general manager, better owner, a better everything … because we all failed.”
Guillen once said Giancarlo Stanton was the only reason the team was worth watching — probably not the wisest remark, during a season in which crowds at home were frustratingly small.
Highly paid reliever Heath Bell, whom Guillen demoted from closing duties, said in a Monday radio interview the Marlins need a manager “everybody respects and looks up to.” Bell also accused Guillen of not telling him the truth. Bell tried to backpedal from the remarks Tuesday, sort of, but the effort was too lame to reprint here.
By the way: The Marlins are 66-88, last in the National League East.
Guillen blew his second chance. He doesn’t deserve another.
Ozzie might try to argue otherwise, but for now he’s too busy talking his way into trouble with upper management — again. Look yourself in the mirror, he said to his boss. Really? Guillen insulted Miami’s Cuban-American community, couldn’t win with a club-record $118 million payroll, and he’s asking the owner to look himself in the mirror?
Guillen was accurate in noting Loria’s tendency to churn through (bleeping) managers. The Marlins have had six fulltime skippers in Loria’s 11 seasons — seven, when counting Jack McKeon twice. Former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez made the same point recently, telling the Miami Herald, “There’s not a manager dead or alive that Jeffrey thinks is good enough. Not Connie Mack, not anyone.”
But if Guillen becomes Loria’s latest victim, it will be Guillen’s own fault. He knew Loria was demanding and unpredictable when he accepted the four-year, $10 million contract to manage the team. First because of the Castro maelstrom, and later in light of the team’s underachievement, Guillen should have chosen his public words carefully while working doggedly to keep the clubhouse together. He did neither.
Supposedly, job one for Guillen was to nurture sensitive star Hanley Ramirez back into the batting champion he once was. That didn’t happen. Now Ramirez is a Dodger.
The men pushing the shopping cart during the Marlins’ offseason spree — Loria, David Samson, Larry Beinfest — bear some responsibility for the team’s underperformance. The players do, too. Bell, with a 5.11 ERA, hasn’t pitched well enough to issue such a brassy rebuke of his manager. But Bell’s eagerness to do so is a harsh indictment of the atmosphere surrounding the team — for which Guillen must be held accountable.
The facts: Guillen left the Chicago White Sox after last season, and they improved. Now the Marlins are on pace for a worse record than they had under Edwin Rodriguez and McKeon in 2011 — despite the regression of the division rival Philadelphia Phillies. That’s more than a coincidence. It’s evidence that Guillen, with one postseason appearance in his past seven seasons, often does less with more. He’s the anti-Joe Maddon.
Guillen’s bluster suggests a belief that he is the main attraction. The act was tolerated in Chicago longer than it should have been, because Guillen managed the team to a World Series title and was beloved by owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Now gone from the city where he built up such capital, Guillen has been exposed. Guillen’s addresses to the team — at least, the ones we saw on Showtime’s documentary series — were long on expletives and short on inspiration.
Robin Ventura, his successor in Chicago, understands that contemporary players are more likely to respond to encouragement than demagoguery. Who knew?
This is all quite sad. The Marlins fell short of the attendance projections during the inaugural season at Marlins Park, built with the help of taxpayer money. The first year in a new stadium is supposed to be a hit-me fastball for baseball franchises, guaranteed to boost revenues and fan interest for several years. The Marlins whiffed spectacularly. They will never know how good this could have been with the right manager — or even a more composed version of Guillen.
Now, the Marlins must analyze why the 2012 season was a failure. Bell, owed $18 million over the next two years, was part of the problem. Guillen, with $7.5 million left over three, failed in a way that is harder to fix. Logic suggests one of them must go. Math tells you which one.
“I hope I work here for the next 10 years,” Guillen said that day in April. He may not make it 10 more days.