Ozzie Guillen’s mouth was always going to bury him. And this is the moment. The Miami Marlins suspended him for five games Tuesday for his comments about Fidel Castro, but five games is not going to be enough.
Guillen is not going to survive this as Marlins manager.
What does five games mean, anyway? That’s what a pitcher gets for throwing at a batter. No, this suspension was just Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria’s way of buying time to see if the Cuban community in Miami will cool off, whether the protests and boycotts will go away. It’s about seeing whether Guillen can fix things.
He cannot. But he tried Tuesday with an hour-long apology.
Guillen was hired to be the face of Miami’s Latin community for the team. Instead, he defaced it. He told Time magazine that he loved Castro for his ability to survive for so long. That is never going to go away, no matter what happens from here, not even if the Marlins were to win a World Series.
This is a permanent mark. Guillen left the team in Philadelphia and flew back to Miami for his apology. It was clear he felt bad for hurting people, and he said he has suffered for it personally. He said his remarks were stupid, embarrassing, hurtful.
But he was full of double-talk. He apologized to people, but what was he apologizing for? What action of his caused the hurt?
He said he has gotten an education in the past few days, learning how notorious Castro really is. So it was ignorance? No, Guillen said the problem was a faulty translation on his part. He said that when he was talking with Time reporter Sean Gregory, he was thinking in Spanish but talking in English, so he accidentally said things he didn’t mean.
“What I was trying to say is that a person who has been in power for so long and has hurt so many people can still be in power,’’ Guillen said. “I’m not blaming the journalist. I’m blaming myself.’’
He was talking in circles, saying he didn’t know enough about Castro, but he was accepting blame only for broken English.
It is so easy to hide behind that. But Guillen has lived in this country for more than a quarter of a century, and he knows what “I love Fidel Castro’’ means in English. He also knew four years ago, when he told Men’s Journal magazine that Castro was the toughest person he knew: “I don’t admire his philosophy. I admire him.’’
Look, it’s not up to me to say whether Guillen should be fired. It’s up to the Cuban-American community in Miami, and whether it is still willing to support a Marlins team with Guillen as the manager. But it’s hard to believe that anyone will accept that he didn’t know what he was saying.
Guillen, who is from Venezuela, was saying he doesn’t respect Castro’s politics, only his ability to survive. That is not acceptable to the community the Marlins are trying to attract. You cannot say anything favorable about Castro.
Already there are cries about Guillen’s First Amendment rights, as if this suspension is a violation of some sort. But this has nothing to do with the First Amendment. No one is trying to take away Guillen’s right to say what he wants about any political figure. No one is trying to put him in jail. There is no legal ramification. He is in trouble for offending customers.
Baseball commissoner Bud Selig issued a statement saying the league supported Guillen’s suspension. But Selig danced too closely to the First Amendment line when he said Guillen’s comments “have no place in our game.’’
Selig is apparently feeling pressure to penalize Guillen for politics and not for business.
Guillen was brought to Miami because he was a Latino manager who won the World Series with the Chicago White Sox. The Marlins’ new park is in an area of Miami known as Little Havana. They signed Jose Reyes as a player, and Guillen as the leader.
The Marlins, who haven’t been able to draw fans even when they’ve won the World Series, are trying to sell themselves to the Latino community. A big part of that in Miami is Cuban. Many of the older generation Cubans there fled Castro’s atrocities.
Guillen has said he won’t make this mistake again, but that’s hard to believe. He has made it time and again, speaking without thinking.
In Chicago, he used a homophobic slur to insult a reporter he didn’t like.
Truth is, I’m the one who wrote the column that night, for the Chicago Sun-Times. And after the game, I asked him for an explanation. He said it didn’t mean the same thing in his country as it does here. In his country, he said, it means that you’re not a man. So Guillen was wearing a major league uniform, representing a team, a town, a sport and the national pastime while saying that gays aren’t men?
Guillen said that he doesn’t have anything against gays, that he gets his hair cut by “one of them.’’ He also pointed out that he goes to WNBA games and went to a Madonna concert.
He meant that as some sort of evidence. See? The mouth was always going, always babbling. He can’t help himself.
“This is the biggest mistake I’ve made so far in my life . . . ’’ he said Tuesday. “When you’re a sportsman, you shouldn’t be involved in politics.’’
We shouldn’t really expect athletes to be overly politically aware. You hate to use the term “dumb jock,’’ but Guillen is here just to win baseball games and represent the team.
Still, if he didn’t know enough about Castro, as he said Tuesday, then that’s just stunning. He has lived in Miami for years. It’s a condemnation of him, but also of Loria and the Marlins. If Guillen was brought in to appeal to a heavily Cuban-American population, then how is it possible that no one talked to him — a guy known for shooting off his mouth — about his beliefs on Cuba? No one grilled him. No one coached him.
For now, Guillen will return Tuesday for a game in Miami against the Chicago Cubs. That happens to be the 51st anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. In Miami that night, Cuban-Americans will observe the day with a solemn ceremony.
And then, will they go to the Marlins game and cheer for Guillen?