Ozzie Guillen on the hot seat over Fidel Castro remarks

7:50 AM, Apr 10, 2012   |    comments
Ozzie Guillen(By Andy Lyons, Getty Images Sport)
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By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

Ozzie Guillen became known as perhaps baseball's most outspoken figure during eight years of making often-outrageous statements as manager of the Chicago White Sox, once getting fined for uttering a homophobic slur.

None of those comments, however, evoked either the firestorm of reaction or the contrition on his part over Guillen's latest controversial remarks.

Guillen, the new manager of the renamed Miami Marlins, is returning to Miami to hold a 10:30 a.m. news conference Tuesday at Marlins Park, with the intent of apologizing in person and answering questions about his expressed admiration for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The club has the day off in the midst of a three-game series in Philadelphia against the Phillies.

"I want the people there," Guillen told news reporters before Monday's 6-2 victory against the Phillies. "I feel very guilty, sad and embarrassed. Anyone who wants to be there, feel free. I want the Cuban people to understand what I'm going to say, because everything I'm going to say is true."

In an area that's home to close to a million Cuban Americans, where tales of Castro's ruthless treatment of his own countrymen and the suffering he has engendered are daily fodder in coffee shops and gathering places, Guillen's remarks created a predictable outcry - at a time when the Marlins were counting on Guillen to bring a buzz and identity to their previously moribund brand.

"It's like going to New York's Jewish district and saying, 'Hitler wasn't so bad. He managed to stay in power for a few years,'" said veteran Spanish-language baseball announcer Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, who fled Cuba at age 17 and lived in Miami for five years.

"Even a 9-year-old knows better than to say that in Miami. But I don't think he's really a fan of Castro or meant any harm. It's just that he talks so much that sometimes he says things without thinking about them."

Usually defiant in the face of criticism, Guillen has instead sounded remorseful and said he's had difficulty sleeping since a Time magazine online story that ran Friday quoted him as saying, "I love Fidel Castro."

Later in the story he added, "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 here."

Venezuelan-born Guillen, who has lived in the Miami area for the last 12 years, apologized for the comments and tried to clarify them in a pregame gathering with news reporters on Saturday. The heat did not abate, though, and now Guillen is facing calls for his resignation and possible disciplinary action.

Spokesman Pat Courtney said via e-mail that Major League Baseball is "reviewing" the option of disciplining Guillen.

Local politicians have joined in the echo of condemnation for Guillen's comments, with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez exhorting the team to "take decisive steps to bring this community back together."

Joe Martinez, head of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, went a step further, releasing a statement addressed to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria in which he calls for Guillen's resignation.

The Miami airwaves, especially Spanish-speaking stations, have been buzzing with anti-Guillen chatter. The exile group Vigilia Mambisa is planning a boycott Tuesday outside the Marlins stadium and is also demanding his ouster.

'The last thing Miami needed'
Even with his reputation as a loose cannon, this is hardly what the Marlins envisioned when they hired Guillen in the offseason, signing him to a four-year, $10 million contract to be the voice of a franchise that last week inaugurated a $515 million ballpark in Little Havana.

Long one of baseball's most penurious and worst-drawing teams - they finished 29th out of 30 teams in total attendance last season - the Marlins invested $191 million on free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in the offseason, hoping to energize a fan base that is heavily Latino.

Guillen was front and center during the winter months, beating the drum for his new club, which has the makings of a contender after finishing last in the National League East in 2011.

But instead of the new ballpark's modernistic features or right fielder Giancarlo Stanton's prodigious power, the talk surrounding the Marlins these days focuses mostly on Guillen's colossal gaffe.

"This is the last thing Miami needed," Pi-Gonzalez said. "They couldn't draw any fans last year. But that's Ozzie."

Guillen, 48, told reporters he has not spoken with Loria about the Time article, although he has been in communication with team president David Samson.

'I know I hurt a lot of people'
The Marlins attempted to distance themselves from Guillen's remarks right away, releasing a statement on Friday that said: "There is nothing to respect about Fidel Castro. He is a brutal dictator who has caused unthinkable pain for more than 50 years. We live in a community filled with victims of this dictatorship, and the people in Cuba continue to suffer today."

They have not publicly addressed the possibility of sanctioning him.

Guillen's response to the crisis has been markedly different from six years ago, when he was ordered to undergo sensitivity training for using a derogatory term for gays in referring to then-Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti.
At the time, he questioned the value of the training and, although he apologized to gays for using the slur, refused to apologize to Mariotti.

This time, Guillen has sought forgiveness from some of the Marlins employees with Cuban roots and also spoke with Phillies pitcher Jose Contreras, a native of Cuba.

"I feel sad because I know I hurt a lot of people," Guillen said. "I'm Latino. I live in Miami. I have a lot of (Cuban) friends and players. They know who I am. They know how I feel."

He plans to reiterate those feelings today.

USA TODAY

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