Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ozzie: Open Mouth, Insert Foot?

By William Fisher

So is there a difference between the US government officials calling former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a loyal ally and praising him for maintaining stability among his neighbors, and Ozzie Guillen, who has been suspended for five games by his new team, The Florida Marlins, for telling TIME magazine that he admired and respected Cuba’s Fidel Castro?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, there’s a difference because Guillen was hired specifically to strengthen the Marlins’ fan base, which is overwhelmingly Cuban-American. On the day after, Ozzie was back-pedaling as fast as he could go, blaming his imperfect skills at translating his native Spanish into English.

And, to be blunt about it, the Marlins’ ownership had to be well prepared for Guillen’s outbursts. The Columbian-born manager has made the loud mouth his “brand” for years. Part of the fun of watching a White Sox game was keeping an eye on Ozzie to see when he would boil over. And he usually didn’t disappoint, though his rants have been about baseball, not politics.

But on the other hand, Ozzie is an American citizen and is entitled to all our First Amendment protections. By Day Two, the furious initial public outcry – “Fire Him” – seemed to morph into slightly more balanced comments, with many news readers pointing out that Ozzie has a First Amendment right to say anything he wants, about anyone of his choosing, anywhere he wants to say it, no matter how wise or stupid.

Does anyone remember when superstar Albert Puhols and Cardinals’ Manager Tony LaRussa ran off to Washington DC to attend a rally being staged by that squeaky-clean. totally apolitical vaudeville act named Glenn Beck.

Where was the outcry from the Cardinals? From the fans? From anyone? Except for the few Democrats who live in Missouri, there was none. LaRussa told the Cards that he and Pujols are attending only after receiving assurances that the event would not be a thinly disguised political rally. When was the last Glenn Beck bash that wasn’t political? While liberal critics portrayed the three-hour event as a platform for the conservative Tea Party movement, the Cards didn’t seem worried at all, perhaps expressing their intuitive right-wing Republican proclivities.

I would just as soon not hear baseball players or other sports figures talk about politics – but that’s because I tend not to like their politics. But if that’s what they want to do, I wish them Godspeed.

The 1.2 million Cuban Americans who live in Marlins’ territory have long ago become comfortable with the idea that their tiny constituency in effect controls US foreign policy 90 miles from our shores. The Marlins simply released a statement of their own in response to Guillen's comments in the magazine: “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.”

But I hope that players and managers – Ozzie most of all – understand that baseball is a business. If the athletes intend to speak out on public policy issues, I would hope that they would think carefully about what they want to communicate, be kind and diplomatic, and temper their rants with a healthy dose of respect for the Cuban Americans who are Ozzie’s ultimate employers. Those of us who love baseball want to see Ozzie managing the Marlins.

Maybe today’s Miami Herald had it just about right. It said this morning, “Ozzie Guillen made a mistake – about as big a mistake as you can make in Miami. Now it is time for Miami to be bigger than that mistake. It is time to accept his apology as sincere and move on.”

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