By Dave Hyde Sun Sentinel
Ozzie Guillen is known to say anything, as catalogued already in these opening days of the Marlins season. He suggested on radio he recently killed an animal in a Santeria rite. He told reporters he gets drunk every night on the road at the hotel bar.
But the four words that came out of his mouth in a Time magazine article will decide if the Marlins manager gets to say anything at all and have people just shrug it off as Ozzie being Ozzie.
“I love Fidel Castro,” the Marlins manager told Time Magazine.
Later, Guillen amended his idea to, “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.”
Everyone can agree those are strange thoughts to have at all, much less espouse publicly when you work in Little Havana. No one would dispute that. It gets more complicated in deciding what exactly to do with the words.
Do Cuban-Americans protest the Marlins a week into their rebirth in Miami? Should the baseball commissioner’s office step in, as it did when then-Cincinnati owner Marge Schott said Hitler did some good things at first but, “went too far?”
Or do you just shrug it off, as everyone did when Charles Barkley once said, “I hate white people.” Barkley, like Guillen, has the rare ability to say anything and have people not get angry or offended.
Guillen, however, was worried enough about these comments to call reporters into his office before the Marlins played in Cincinnati and apologize for his comments. Well, mostly apologize. Sort of. You decide. He began:
“There’s a statement about, it’s a magazine come out, quoting me, ‘I love Fidel,’” he said. “Kind of funny (expletive). But it’s not funny. I want to send a statement to the public …
“I think when I was talking about that specific man, it was personal. It wasn’t politic. I don’t believe in politics. I come from a place (Venezuela) that has been very, very struggle in politics. I’m against the way he (Castro) treats people and the way treats his country for a long time. I’m against that 100 percent.”
Later, he said this: “The reason I say I admire him is because a lot of people want to get rid of this guy and they couldn’t yet. It was kind of personal, not political.”
So he apologized for his statements and is against what Castro did politically. But he still admires him personally. Got it?
Guillen might try to explain this a little better to his first baseman, Gaby Sanchez, whose father, Remberto, had to leave Cuba as a child in 1961. Or to Mike Lowell, the former Marlin whose family escaped Cuba and has said repeatedly, “I hate Castro.”
If you’re Cuban-American or just live in South Florida, you know and understand the words. And Guillen has lived here for years, so it’s not like he didn’t know this or had never thought about it.
Understand this, too: We love guys like Guillen until we decide they go too far. We encourage them to be themselves, to be characters, to say whatever comes to mind. Then something like this comes out.
This isn’t surprising, really, from Guillen. It’s not even new. When he was hired last fall, Guillen said, “Every country in the world deserves the government it has.”
He was reminded then this might not be the best thought to voice in South Florida.
“F — it,” he said. “Am I lying?”
In his world, he wasn’t lying then or seemingly when he said he admired Castro. Saying offensive things isn’t a crime in America. But saying offensive things in the face of a city whose very fabric tilts against those words will have fallout.
Guillen’s public persona revolves around saying whatever’s on his mind. It’s usually fun and entertaining. But his four words to a Time magazine reporter were offensive to many. They would damage most public figures in Miami.
Is that the case here? Or is this just Ozzie being Ozzie?