clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ozzie Guillen Suspended: Baseball's Greatest Comedian Crosses The Line

Former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to stirring up controversies, but his recent comments about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro were a crucial misstep out of bounds.

Getty Images

The date of the proposed over-under for the first Ozzie Guillen-induced shitstorm controversy in Miami remains unbeknownst, but it's safe to assume those who took the under are currently reveling in the reward. Guillen, the former Chicago White Sox manager turned figurehead of the reboot Marlins, is not even a week into his Miami tenure and has already turned himself into the biggest story in sports. As is the norm with Guillen, it all stems away from the field and is not even *about* baseball.

This is the statement, made to a Time reporter, that has Guillen embroiled in what may be the biggest controversy of his career:

"I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? Many people have tried to kill Fidel Castro in the last 60 years, yet that [SOB] is still there."

This is Ozzie Being Ozzie in the most classic sense, a mixture of humor, shock value, and cocksure assurance in his own Teflon-coated skin to get away with whatever is on his mind under the power of the First Amendment. Of course, the First Amendment doesn't cover the private sector, and Guillen's employer had every right to punish him. On Tuesday, it came down and came down hard: the Marlins announced Guillen would be banished for five games, and stated outright their disappointment with their new manager's comments.

Yes, the eye of a firestorm is hardly an unfamiliar locale for Guillen, but this one seems different. Perhaps it's the immediacy of it all -- baseball season just began, as did Ozzie's turn guiding the Marlins. It's a little jarring this would all happen so soon. Guillen's biggest crime, it would appear, is forgetting how to read his audience.

If Guillen utters the same Castro comments as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, it might make headlines, but not cause nearly as much havoc. Instead, Guillen made the comments under the guise of the Miami Marlins, a team whose fan-base is largely made up of Cuban-Americans. As longtime Miami sportswriter Dan Le Batard noted, Guillen could not conceivably have said anything more offensive to the people who fill his team's ballpark. This is the ultimate foot-in-mouth scenario, and even Ozzie appears to realize it.

I feel embarrassed. I feel guilty not because I’m lying, but because this thing hasn’t let me sleep for three days. Only my wife knows how bad it’s been last few days. I feel very guilty, sad and embarrassed. Anyone who wants to be there, feel free. I want the Cuban people to understand what I’m going to say because everything I’m going to say is true.

As Guillen said during a raucous press conference on Tuesday in Miami: "This is the biggest mistake of my life. When you make a mistake this big ... I will learn from this."

As his former teammate Frank Thomas noted, Ozzie has never appeared so apologetic. Guillen has stirred up his fair share of shit since becoming a big league manager in 2004, but rarely does it ever appear to affect his very being as heavily as in this instance.

For once, Ozzie Guillen wasn't being funny. His oddball charm, everyman appeal and penchant for saying things that are genuinely funny has made Guillen one of baseball's most distinct and likable characters. That he flies in the face of everything a Ken Burns documentary or Bob Costas voiceover would make you think about the sport is endearing, if not the Lord's work. But even the greatest comedians occasionally cross the line, and that appears to be the case with the latest controversy cooked up by Guillen's unfiltered mouth.

* * *

"You have success, you can talk all the shit you want."

This is maybe the fifth best quote from a 2011 profile of Guillen in Esquire. Here are the top two:

1. "We had this media guy, Padilla. He was eating a cheeseburger during the game. I saw him while I was managing. I grabbed the phone, called the PR department, and said, "Doug, you're gonna choke on that fucking cheeseburger." Then I hung up. People wonder, How the fuck did you see him? But I see everything."

2. "In the eighties and nineties, people made a lot of money and built houses. The first thing they put in their houses was a gym. In my house, the first thing I built was a bar. The second thing I built was another bar."

More than anything else, this illustrates the appeal of Guillen. Baseball is sport forever protected by the old guard. While each decade brings its own form of cheating and drugs, the peanuts-and-cracker-jacks appeal of the sport is still very marketable. The pace of the games remains tedious, the weather and overall ambiance in and around the park are still major factors in the draw. Football players today don't even look like the same species that played the sport in the '60s. The same can certainly be said of the NBA. But baseball retains its yesteryear beauty better than most things in 2012. Stepping outside the sport's self-imposed Vatican is a threat, if not all out treason. Guillen has done this unlike anyone else in recent years.

The simple fact is that the ADD generation doesn't connect with baseball like our fathers or grandfathers. There is not enough sizzle, the highlights still aren't on YouTube, the characters simply don't loom as large as in other sports. Yet, in Guillen, baseball has its clown prince, a man who can only earn the right to be an ass because, by most accounts, he's a damn fine manager. Sure, there are obvious chinks in his armor -- burying Dayan Viciedo in the minors last season to the Jim Thome fiasco just before the 2010 season -- but you can do a lot worse at manager than Guillen. By and large, he knows what he's doing.

What Guillen meant to say with his Castro comments seems fairly obvious to me. Guillen doesn't admire the human rights atrocities caused by Castro. That was never his intention. What he likes about Castro is his resilience. On some perverse level, Ozzie can relate: both are brash show-runners, often unpopular and often feeling heat, but keep fighting back. Castro has done some terrible, terrible things; Guillen hit Juan Pierre leadoff for two seasons. In the face of adversity and reason, both persevere.

The entire scenario is unfortunate. Ozzie clearly still doesn't know how to restrain his mouth, and probably never will. He has also unintentionally offended many people, particularly those who would be buying tickets to watch his attendance-starved franchise play. Outside the streets of the stadium during Guillen's Tuesday press conference, old Cuban and Cuban-American men and women gathered in protest of Ozzie, saying they wanted ticket refunds or would boycott the team. Even someone as unfiltered as Guillen doesn't deserve this. Guillen is guilty of making a bad joke, of not being able to recognize when to shut up. In this case, the team-enforced punishment likely does fit the crime, though the frenzy that has come with it is unwarranted.

Ricky O'Donnell is the editor of SB Nation Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at