Ozzie Update

Last April, I offered a few reflections on Ozzie Guillen (see below). As a postscript, Ozzie was fired last week after just one season with the Miami Marlins.

In hindsight, it wasn’t so much the Marlins’ mediocre attendance (they were 18th in a league of 30 teams) so much as it was their abysmal performance between the lines that got Ozzie fired. The Marlins, after changing their name, their stadium, and their manager finished in last place. You can sometimes get away with boorish behaviour when you’re winning (Tiger, Tyson, and LT come quickly to mind), but once you start to lose, you also lose your Teflon.

*****

When the Miami Marlins hired Ozzie Guillen last winter, some thought that the volatile manager, who had worn out his welcome in the Windy City after winning a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, was brought down to Miami for one simple reason: to help the struggling Marlins sell tickets. After all, the Marlins had just invested in a new stadium and a new name, and it was hoped that Guillen, who is Hispanic and lives in Miami, might be a great ambassador to the Latino and Cuban communities of South Florida.

If you know baseball, you know that Ozzie has a reputation for being somewhat flip with the media, but during an interview last week, he went beyond his normally glib self when he said, “I love Fidel Castro…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 there.” (Ok. Nobody ever accused Ozzie of having a poetic bent.)

Now I certainly believe in free speech, and I know that in different parts of the world, there are a variety of opinions on the Cuban Revolution. But I also know that precious and few are the Cuban Americans who see Fidel in a favorable light. Many Cuban Americans were refugees or the children or grandchildren of refugees; some lost everything they had, and others literally risked their lives trying to escape from their native island. During the height of last week’s emotional reaction to Guillen’s gaffe, one Cuban American went so far as to say that in the Cuban community, “Castro is our Hitler.”

Ozzie has since apologized for his remarks, and the Marlins have suspended him for 5 games. There are those who believe that, if fans mount a protest or boycott Marlins’ games, there is a chance that his off hand remark could eventually cost Ozzie his job. While there is free speech, there is also a free market, and it will be interesting to see if Ozzie’s apology works. In the meantime, keep your eyes on Marlin attendance figures. That may be the deciding factor in all of this.

So what does Ozzie teach us? Think before you speak, of course, and consider the sensitivities of your audience. You can say you love Castro in Toledo, in Times Square, and in Toronto. Because almost nobody cares. But if you don’t buy the Wikipedia report that Kim Jong-il shot several holes in one every time he played golf, don’t express that skepticism in Pyongyang. If you thought it was clever that Osama Bin Laden was able to elude authorities for a decade, you might not want to express your admiration in Manhattan. Remember your kindergarten teacher’s advice. “There are things we think and things we say.” As Ozzie now knows, there can be a profound difference between the two.

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