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ozzie and fidel

Perhaps you aren’t a baseball fan, and so, when Ozzie Guillén made the news, you weren’t aware that Ozzie tends to say whatever pops into his mind, that this sometimes gets him into trouble, but that he is a sportswriter’s dream precisely because he speaks his mind. (He is also entertaining on Twitter for the same reason.) Perhaps you now know that Ozzie, who is from Venezuela but who has become a U.S. citizen, speaks English as a second language. His English is better than my Spanish, but he tends to think in Spanish, even when he is speaking English, or so he said recently.

Anyway, Guillén is in the news because of things he said in a Time magazine interview. Guillén only recently took on the job of managing the Miami Marlins, after 8 years in charge of the Chicago White Sox, who won a World Series under his reins. Miami has a problem … let me restate that, the Miami Marlins franchise in Major League Baseball has a problem. Simply put, no one goes to their games. They have won two World Series in recent times, but over the past eleven seasons, they have finished in the bottom five in the majors in attendance, including three straight years when they were last. They have made efforts to change this, and for 2012, they have a new ballpark (built under some controversy and a lot of public funds), and a strong marketing push to the many Cuban-American fans in the area. As a popular and well-known Latino, Guillén was a part of this push.

Ah, but South Florida is also full of anti-Castroites. So it was a marketing disaster when, in the Time interview, Guillén said, “I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that motherfucker is still here.”

He also said that he loved Fidel Castro, and there is some dispute about how he meant to use the word “love”. As he said when offering the required apology, “I was thinking in Spanish, and I said it wrong in English.”

Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and this would have likely blown over in a few minutes if Ozzie was still managing in Chicago. But this is Miami. So the Marlins issued an official statement:

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.

I have no idea what Marlins ownership thinks of Fidel Castro. But I can imagine what they think about marketing, about money, about getting people through the turnstiles. So they suspended Ozzie Guillén for five games.

Joe Sheehan had his usual insightful analysis in his newsletter:

This is an economic decision that has nothing at all to do with Cuba, Fidel Castro or Ozzie Guillen's long history of being opinionated. This is public relations, not politics. This is the Marlins, at a critical moment in their history and desperately trying to win over a city they've bent over for years, making damned sure that they don't lose any of the momentum gained by their new ballpark or waste the hundreds of millions of dollars they committed in finding players to romp around in it.

Cuban-American fans of the Marlins are likely not satisfied with a five-game suspension. This matters to them in ways it doesn’t matter to a Berkeley Commie like me. As Jose Canseco (yes, that Jose Canseco) tweeted, “I hope Ozzie Guillen clears up His Castro comments. My dad took us away from Cuba for better life in USA. Glad he did.” (Unrelated trivia: I spent an afternoon watching an A’s game in a luxury box with, among other people, Jose’s dad. He was a nice man, but I told him I didn’t like the 1989 World Series ring his son had given him to wear.)

There are other ways to look at this, of course. Prometheus Brown tweeted, “so apparently praising Fidel Castro is a bigger crime than killing an unarmed black teenager in Florida huh”.

But I’m with Joe Sheehan: it’s about money.