Ozzie Guillen returned to work Tuesday, amid raucous protests outside Marlins Park from Miami’s enraged Cuban-American community.
It sounds like the start of an intriguing story. There’s only one problem with it: That’s not what happened.
Here’s the truth:
Ozzie Guillen returned to work Tuesday in an otherwise ordinary game at Marlins Park, even though some among the Cuban-American population will never forgive him for saying he loved Fidel Castro.
Guillen’s five-game suspension cost him more in lost wages ($150,000) than many of the Marlins’ paying customers will see in a year. He paid his public penance Tuesday, parking himself in front of the media for about 25 minutes to answer questions in English and Spanish. Then he went about his day. Guillen was back in the dugout, omnipresent towel around his neck, when the game began shortly after 7 p.m.
Oh, and he managed the Marlins to a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs. Hanley Ramirez set off the crowd — not to mention the Red Grooms sculpture — with a three-run homer in the eighth.
“I spent three hours of my life where I want to be,” Guillen said afterward. “That’s the place I want to be. That’s Ozzie Guillen. That’s what I know the best.
“Personal, (I was) very, very, very pleased — very happy about it. From my house to here is 12, 15 minutes. It seemed like two hours, with all the thinking (about) how I was going to handle this. I just thought one thing: ‘Be honest. Face it like a man.’ Thank God, this day is over.”
The temptation exists to declare the controversy has ended, but that, too, is fiction. Guillen said and did the right things on April 17, 2012. What about the rest of his four-year, $10 million contract to manage the team and serve as one of its public faces?
The incident began with words, but it must end with actions. And it is incumbent on multiple parties — Guillen, the Marlins, the Cuban-American community, the media — to ensure that the promised outreach actually occurs.
Guillen said he will donate the $150,000 to charity. That is appropriate — and expected, considering suspensions normally include a forfeiture of salary. Marlins president David Samson said the team is evaluating “a lot of human-rights causes related to Cuban-Americans” as possible recipients of the money. Again, that is the right idea. But we’re still waiting on the specifics.
To his credit, Guillen is aware that writing a check isn’t the same as connecting with people. He must do both. When I asked him Tuesday where the money is going to go, this is what he said:
“I don’t make that decision. I know the community. But I’m not real deep in the community. That’s the Marlins’ job. I think we’re going to do a pretty good job to donate the money to the right people. The community, they (didn’t) ask me for that. But I want to do it, because I think that’s the best thing to do.
“And I don’t think that’s going to resolve the problem. When you hurt somebody’s feelings, you don’t resolve that with money, unless you marry somebody who cares about money more than love.
“I’m going to resolve this problem with acts. That’s how I’m going to resolve this problem — with my acts and the way I’m going to love the community. I’m going to make the commitment to be here a long time with the Marlins.”
It was a thoughtful answer. But there was one sentence that gnawed at me: That’s the Marlins’ job. For his donations to have the most meaning, Guillen should take it upon himself to research the top charities and fully understand the scope of human-rights initiatives in South Florida. Not to discount the value of $150,000, but Guillen is a wealthy man. To him, time is more valuable than money. And time will buy forgiveness in a way that money can’t.
There are limitations to what Guillen can do. For one thing, the rigorous major league schedule doesn’t afford many mornings or afternoons for concerns other than that day’s lineup. Apart from that, the animus against Castro is so strong that some groups might not be receptive to a visit from Guillen, no matter how apologetic he has been.
It may not be easy for the Marlins to find settings where his help would be welcome at a time that is convenient for him. But for the three-part relationship to work — Guillen, management, fans — that’s what has to happen. Because of the new ballpark’s location, because of the pain Guillen caused with his words, that is part of his job description as an ambassador for the franchise.
What can he do? I asked that question of Tony Villamil, a Cuban-American and dean of the business school at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. Villamil listed several causes in need of financial support: the Ladies in White, a Cuban organization that includes the wives of repressed dissidents; Cuban exile organizations in the United States; and even the Cuban opposition movement itself.
When I mentioned that donating to those groups could be construed as political activism — something Guillen has vowed to avoid — Villamil replied, “This is not politics. This is human rights. This is helping those who are being beaten up.”
In that context, it’s trivial to mention something else Guillen can do to ameliorate matters.
“If we win, and I do what I think I should do for this community,” Guillen said, “we’ll be fine.”
Guillen and the Marlins have a chance to make this work — a much better one, in fact, than I originally thought. After stumbling early, they are within one game of .500 in the winnable National League East. Tuesday could not have gone better for the organization, including a robust crowd for a South Florida weeknight (24,544). I walked around the ballpark less than an hour before the first pitch and saw no visible signs of protest. During the fourth inning, one man stood at the railing of the second deck and yelled curses at Guillen. But the fact that his insults were so audible spoke to the tranquility of just about everyone else.
“I thought there was going to be more signs,” Marlins closer Heath Bell said. “I didn’t see anything. . . . I don’t know what else to say. They understand he was sincere. Everybody says something they regret. He apologized right away. Miami knows how to forgive, you know?”
Guillen remarked after the game that many comments from fans were positive. “I appreciated that,” he said. “It made my day a little easier, to be honest with you.” The response fit with something Samson noted earlier: In the aftermath of Guillen’s comments to Time magazine, 13 season-ticket holders contacted the team to express their anger. Samson called them back and convinced all but one to come back to the ballpark.
Samson said two corporate sponsors — both owned by Cuban-Americans — asked to switch their advertising space to the charity Liga Contra el Cancer. But neither of them ended their relationship with the team altogether.
Guillen won’t be able to please every Marlins fan. But now that the specter of a mass boycott has disappeared, the not-so-embattled manager has the second chance he wanted. So what is he going to do with it?