“I thought the next time I was going to see this room with so many people, it was going to be with a World Series trophy next to me,” said a contrite Ozzie Guillen at a press conference-cum-dual language-apology on Tuesday, as the embattled manager’s ability to shock seemed to even catch himself off-guard for once.
Guillen, of course, was in this spot because of his very brief “love” and “respect” for Fidel Castro — his sentiments perhaps lasting exactly as long as it took him to answer the question. He took the opportunity today to re-explain his explanation, or by excusing it as a mis-translation in his own head (he said, lamely, he thought one thing in Spanish but said something else in English), or anyway, there are some traits he could point to as being, after much extrapolation, universally sound. His admiration for Castro, he unfortunately maintained, was rooted in how long the “despised” dictator could stay in power. But taking that further, he basically said it was the man’s tenacity — great baseball trait — and perseverance — again, the same — that caught his eye. The man, after all, IS a fan of hard work (second paragraph in). Anyway, he was sorry if he hurt anyone, he said.
Whether his apology was believed is not immediately apparent, or even relevant, because a) most people don’t really know what Castro actually did anyway (and the country is on the mend), b) by all accounts the Marlins aren’t firing him and c) a lot worse is said basically everyday by people whose opinion on politics is what they’re paid to give. You also get the sense that Guillen really doesn’t always know what he’s talking about, but doesn’t let that stop him from speaking out anyway. He appeared on Hugo Chavez’s radio show numerous times only to later say he hated the man. And then he refused to go to the White House after the White Sox won the Series in 2005. To be fair, it is pretty easy to despise all of the politicians involved (though Chavez’s offer of free oil to the poor people in NYC and Boston, and which was meant to shame Bush who was President at the time, was a funny and nice move).
Be that as it may, Sports By Brooks came up with a nice little find, juxtaposing the words spoken by Guillen and the actions taken by Major League Baseball’s commissioner. Selig, it turns out, just so happened to “validate” Castro even more than Guillen supposedly did when the commissioner sat next to him and his brother in a game between the Cuban national team and the Baltimore Orioles just 13 years ago. That photo-op, they argue, is far more damning of baseball and Selig than whatever Guillen stupidly said.
Well, overtures towards dictators are nothing new (see: Bill Clinton visiting North Korea at the formerly Dear Leader’s request and the abject howling of conservative media everywhere). And for all of Castro’s admittedly heinous crimes, for some historical perspective, let’s consider the following: Fulgencio Batista, the former president of Cuba shortly before Castro sparked Cuba’s communist revolution, was not only by all accounts himself a dictator, but one who killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people. No, that shouldn’t be taken as equivocating between dictators and mass murders, and no one here is apologizing for or defending Castro. But hot button issues have a way of driving a wedge right through any connection between thoughts on a topic and actual history.
Speaking of which, that New Yorker article (first link) notes that a Miami Herald columnist of Cuban-American descent called Castro “our Hitler.” I’m only bringing this one up because of Castro’s apparent sympathy for the Jewish people, which came as a surprise to just about everyone, and is a strange, totally irrelevant (but bizarrely interesting) coincidence. What does that make Batista then?
“I learn from mistakes,” Guillen added, calling this, his latest, one of “the biggest mistake[s] so far in my life.” Let’s not parse his words too critically, but can we stop and appreciate that he said (presciently, accidentally, etc) that it was his biggest mistake “so far?” I grant that this can be construed as one of those cheap shots (but hopefully won’t be). Picking on someone who misspeaks, in particular when it’s in his second language, is really some petty stuff. But on the other hand, this is Guillen, and he does have a track record of purposefully inciting with what whatever comes to mind at the moment. So, what will come next?
”If I can’t learn from my mistakes, then you can call me dumb,” he added. ”But I’m not a dumb man.”
He’s just a man who has been suspended for 5 games after Cuban-Americans in south Florida threatened to boycott the team. Bottom lines being what they are, and Miami’s demographics being what they are, this wasn’t going to be acceptable for ownership. Still, they came out and said they were sticking with him, and his Cuban catcher called the apology an important first step.
Is he a man humbled by the experience or a crafty actor who wants to keep his job? He said later on that when he met with Cuban groups, they explained all the horrible things Castro actually did, none of which Guillen said he was aware of. Afterwards, he said he would never speak about politics again. That’s probably for the best.
In the meantime, Selig is slamming Guillen, because what happened in 1999? Nothing, nothing at all.