Ozzie Guillen, former manager of the Chicago White Sox, has said a lot of offensive things over the years, such as the time he used a gay slur in reference to a newspaper columnist, or when he accused Americans of being "lazy" while claiming the country couldn't survive without immigrant labor. (Guillen was born in Venezuela.) But that was in Chicago, where tolerance for such utterances rose after he managed the Sox to a World Series win in 2005. Things are different now that Guillen is managing the Marlins of Miami, however, and a recent unforced verbal error is jeopardizing his job.
"I love Fidel Castro," Guillen told Time magazine. After a beat, he went on to explain: "A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here."
It's understandable why a Major League manager would admire the longevity of a figure like Castro, given the rapidity with which teams pull the plug on managers. But expressing love for the Cuban dictator when you're running a team in South Florida is akin to … well … we're having a tough time coming up with a local equivalent. It would be like the manager of the Dodgers asserting that organic produce is bad for you, or that hybrid cars are ugly, or that film subsidies are a bad deal for taxpayers. Actually, none of that rises to the same level; to Florida's Cuban-immigrant community, praising Castro is little different from praising Adolf Hitler — even if you're only expressing admiration for his survival skills, not his politics.
Guillen has apologized for his comment, "with my heart in my hand and on bended knees." That didn't stop the team from suspending him for five games, even as protesters and a county commissioner call for his resignation. This strikes many non-Floridians, including us, as a gross overreaction, maybe even an assault on American values: Why should he be punished for expressing a minority-held political view? But then, most communities have their unique hot buttons. In fact, another quote in the Time article could enrage Angelenos nearly as much — though it didn't come from Guillen.
The Marlins this year are inaugurating a $634-million ballpark in Little Havana funded largely by taxpayers. Marlins President David Samson told Time that the team's past and present owners both refused to build the facility without public assistance. "Everybody could have built it with their own money," he said. "But you don't do that." Now those are fighting words.