Ozzie Guillen, newly installed manager of Major League Baseball's Miami Marlins, has a bit of a reputation for shooting off his mouth.
During his last managerial stint, when he skippered the Chicago White Sox, Guillen was fined for publicly referring to a Chicago sports columnist with a homosexual slur. During the controversy over Arizona's immigration bill, SB 1070, he said that part of the need for immigrant labor stems from the fact that "there are a lot of people from this country who are lazy. We [Hispanics] are not." Of the president of his native Venezuela, he has said "I like Chavez the man. I don't say I like him politically, because I don't agree with a lot of the stuff he does and says. But I have a right to like somebody, and I like the man."
But none of Guillen's previous gaffes have created a public firestorm anything like the one that has accompanied his recent statement to Time Magazine (subscription required for full content -- yes, Time is suicidal) that, "I love Fidel 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 there."
Thankfully, Castro is one of the few totalitarian figures on the world stage for whom revulsion is still widely considered the appropriate reaction stateside (unless you're part of the liberal cognoscenti, in which case singing his praises will land you a movie deal). This is especially the case in Miami, ground zero for the Cuban expatriates who are the heart of the anti-Castro movement.
Over the course of the past year, the Marlins have gone to extreme lengths to market themselves to Miami's Hispanic community, opening up a new stadium in the heart of Little Havana, making special efforts to attract Hispanic talent (including Guillen), and even redesigning their uniforms to embrace a color palette that you'd expect to see on a Univision house band. Translation: if Ozzie Guillen had been intentionally looking for a way to poison his relationship with the city, he probably would've chosen exactly the same words he spoke to Time.
Hardline anti-Castro activists are pledging to boycott the team until Guillen is fired. Miami's mayor has called on the Marlins "to take decisive steps." The Chairman of Miami-Dade County's Board of Commissioners has called on him to resign. This morning, the Marlins announced that they are suspending Guillen for five games. During his press conference in Miami, he told the assembled crowd, "This is the biggest mistake of my life."
Who knows what caused Ozzie Guillen's outburst. My suspicion is that Guillen's affection for Castro bears a passing resemblance to the cult of Che Guevara, where style is worshiped and substance is ignored. How else can one explain a sentient human being lauding a man responsible for tens of thousands of deaths as a 'survivor' without so much as a whiff of irony?
Since Guillen will have plenty of time on his hands over the next few days, I recommend he take a history lesson from Orlando Sentinel sports reporter George Diaz:
On Tuesday, author Carlos Eire was in downtown Orlando, sharing his profound pain with other Cuban-American exiles like myself and former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez.
He spoke of his personal experience as one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba — exiled from his family, his country, and his own childhood after Castro's revolution. He was only 11 years old when his parents cast him away to the United States in the most heartbreaking proof of unconditional love you will ever find.
The project was called Pedro Pan. Peter Pan. He flies. A metaphor for dreams, miracles and faith.
Eire would never see his father again.
The parents of those 14,000 children would rather not see their children for the rest of their lives, as long as they were certain those children were safe from the tentacles of Fidel Castro.
Any wonder that so many people wanted to kill that (expletive), Ozzie?