by Lone Shark
Most of the rebranding efforts that have been made by the former Florida Marlins baseball franchise over the past few years in advance of the team’s relocation to Miami were expressly intended to appeal to the greater Miami area’s Hispanic community, as the franchise changed the team’s name, colors and uniform in an effort to build a strong rapport with a community that already shares a strong passion for baseball- it’s no secret that Latin American players now have a very strong presence throughout Major League Baseball. Great expectations were in store the Marlins’ new look and new ballpark, but there’s now a cloud that’s likely to hang over the Miami Marlins that won’t leave until manager Ozzie Guillen ultimately departs.
During last offseason, the Marlins’ player and management acquisitions were also made in large part to appeal to the same Hispanic demographic- which included the hiring of Guillen, who previously managed the Chicago White Sox, winning a World Series title with them in 2005. But perhaps not so widely known was the fact that after the team’s World Series victory, Guillen chanted “Viva Chavez,” referring to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez during the team’s post game victory celebration, and Guillen soon went on Chavez’ national radio talk show twice to crow about his victory- actions which should have sent up big red flags to the Miami Marlins’ organization long before they hired Guillen as the team’s manager.
Guillen is a brash-talking manager who likes to flaunt his machismo both on the playing field and to the press, but when you look closely at the politically-oriented comments he’s made in the past, they are mostly naive ramblings that don’t appear to be tethered to any political ideology- it appears that Guillen simply likes to cozy up to those in power. But the obvious problem with that simple-minded approach to politics is that when you’re talking about cozying up to the current president in Guillen’s native Venezuela, you’re keeping company with a pretty nasty fellow who isn’t exactly popular with countless numbers of expat Venezuelans who now live here in South Florida because they’ve fled a regime which sought to expropriate their possessions and kill its political opponents.
Given Guillen’s notable dalliances with Chavez, it’s pretty remarkable that no one in Marlins’ organization ever bothered to brief Guillen that given he was now the manager of Miami’s baseball team, and he should be aware that Miami has far different cultural sensitivities than those found in Chicago or Los Angeles. That someone would have done very well to tell Guillen to just shut his trap should he ever have the inclination to make any further comments about Chavez, a man who considers himself a devotee and an “adopted son” of Fidel Castro, who we all know is the man who turned on his own vibrant and prosperous people in 1959 and has since enslaved and killed thousands on what has become his own personal island gulag.
Even more remarkable is that no one in Major League Baseball or in the Marlins’ front office bothered to take Guillen aside and tell him that not only should he no longer reference Hugo Chavez, he should absolutely under no circumstances ever mention Fidel Castro’s name while he was in the employ of the Miami Marlins- unless of course he was going to summon up the requisite cojones to either castigate or condemn him. Instead, the brash-talking Guillen let fly some idiotic comments about Castro- for no particular reason- to Time Magazine. That’s not to imply of course that Guillen isn’t solely and completely at fault for his comments, and now the Marlins organization finds itself desperately trying to put out this five-alarm fire. Sportswriter Ken Rosenthal thinks that Guillen should be suspended for a month, recounting former Reds’ owner Marge Schott’s idiotic remarks that she made about Adolf Hitler.
Unfortunately, the damage is done, and Guillen’s presence in Miami is always going to spur controversy as long as he is the team’s manager. His past fawning comments about Chavez are now being revisited, and now his completely ill-considered comments about Castro have now offended many within the Cuban and Venezuelan communities in South Florida. Guillen’s apology seemed forced and contrived, and it’s likely that Calle Ocho won’t ever let him live this one down.
Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez is now calling on the Marlins to take “decisive steps” with regards to Guillen, and a Cuban exile group is calling for Guillen’s resignation. Francis Suarez, chairman of the Miami City Commission also believes that Guillen should be fired. Given that the Marlins were already involved in an ongoing controversy relating to the team’s taxpayer-subsidized stadium, Guillen’s ignorant ramblings have probably cast a permanent cloud over the franchise that will only dissipate when Guillen ultimately leaves the Marlins. No matter how profusely he apologizes, Miami is the last city on the planet where a sports figure should offer up any kind of praise for Fidel Castro, and Miami’s Cuban exile population won’t soon let Ozzie Guillen forget it.