Ozzie Guillen sometimes seems like a crazy person because sometimes he is. Whether it's cursing out a radio host, telling the White Sox to fire him, or talking about baseball fans, saying, "As soon as you leave the ballpark, they don't care about you anymore. … The monuments, the statues they have for you, they pee on it when they drunk."
He's more Mike Tyson than Mike Scioscia, and next to baseball's pedantic, George Will-ified persona, he's a breath of fresh air. If he sometimes crosses the line, we're still talking about a guy who makes his team better, and his sport a more entertaining place. So I've always liked him. Not as a manager, but as a part-time crazy person that says ridiculous things with remarkable consistency but somehow remains gainfully employed. He's also full of contradictions that drive critics crazy, which is true of just about anyone earth who's actually interesting and/or honest.
- In 2005, Sports Illustrated reported that Guillen would fine any of his players who missed the Star Spangled Banner, explaining, "If you're not from this country, you should respect the anthem even more than Americans because you should feel pleased you're here. And if you're from this country, you should have respect for people who are dying for it."
- Five years later, he spoke out against Arizona's immigration laws and called America a nation of lazy people. As he said then, "This country can't survive without [immigrants]. There are a lot of people from this country who are lazy. ... A lot of people in this country want to be on the computer and send e-mails to people. [Immigrants] do the hard work. We're the ones who go out and work in the sun to make this country better."
Those sentiments aren't mutually exclusive, but it doesn't matter. To all the red-blooded patriots who nodded proudly at no. 1, no. 2 is treason. Speaking of which... To all the Miami immigrants who might have nodded proudly at Guillen's second quote, suddenly he's public enemy no. 1.
"I love Fidel Castro," he told Time Magazine in the now-infamous interview that's sparked an ocean of outrage over the past 48 hours. "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 here."
In a city full of Cuban exiles, backlash came quick and right from the top. On Monday, the Mayor of Miami-Dade County and called for the Marlins to take action. "I join the rest of our Miami-Dade County community and all freedom-loving people in condemning the statement made by Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen. For too long, the Marlins organization has been the source of controversies in our community and I now challenge them to take decisive steps to bring this community back together.” He's since been suspended for five games, which is notable only because it's not nearly enough to satisfy all the people who want justice out of this.
Ozzie has apologized profusely, tried to explain he was misquoted, and spent an hour at a press conference in Miami fielding questions on Tuesday, reiterating over and over again that he doesn't support Castro's tyranny over Cuba, and he's sorry to all the Cuban-Americans in Miami.
"I'm sorry that I have hurt a city, a country, a community, without any intention. But I did it," he said Tuesday. "I feel like I've betrayed my Latin community. I'm here to say I'm sorry with my heart and my hips. I want to say sorry to all those people who were hurt directly or indirectly. Especially to the Cuban-Americans in Miami. I've lived in Miami for a long time, I'm embarrassed. The last few days have been very difficult for me and for my family. It's been really hard for us. Again, I would like to apologize. For all the Cuban families, I'm sorry. I hope that when I get out of here, people will understand who Ozzie Guillen is." He also spent several answers disavowing Hugo Chavez in two different languages, assuring us he doesn't support the communist dictator in his native Venezuela. It was all pretty depressing.
Ozzie's not a victim, but he shouldn't have to sit on podium in front of a roomful of people scrutinizing his geopolitical conscience. The whole charade embodies everything that makes America insufferable sometimes.
I don't think Ozzie was misquoted, but I also don't think he genuinely admires Fidel Castro's regime, and anyone pretending that he does is willfully deluding themselves and everyone else.
This was one crazy dictator speaking tongue-in-cheek about another crazy dictator, talking off-hand about his longevity in the face of a U.S. regime that's spent 60 years trying to get rid of him. Ozzie said almost the exact same thing four years ago and nobody cared. Obviously, saying it as a representative of Miami is different. Castro is no laughing matter to Cubans down there, and that's a relationship outsiders can understand only in the sense that we know we'll never really understand.
To that end, there's an obvious point to be made here: What's happening to Ozzie in Miami pales next to the trouble he'd get himself into were he managing in Havana. Next to Castro's Cuba, America's the shining beacon that lets a crazy manager babble on about whatever he wants.
Until he goes too far--then everybody leans closer to the TV to make sure the crazy manager doesn't support Hugo Chavez, and we're all transported back to the 1950s. That brings us to second obvious point in all this--America may be a nation built on evolved thinking, but it doesn't take much to turn everyone into paranoid children. Everybody freaking out at Ozzie Guillen needs to grow up.
It's possible to be amused by the feeble dictator on a tiny island that's somehow defied America for 60 years, and still be horrified by the way he's done it, and fundamentally opposed to what he represents to the surrounding community in Miami. The same way it's possible to demand that everyone in a locker room pay respect to America's greatness, while also mocking America as a nation of lazy citizens determined to fight off the only people willing to do any dirty work. There's honesty in the hypocrisy that's not actually that crazy.
"This is a great country," Ozzie said of America in 2005. "It has the right of free speech."
Anytime the topic of free speech comes up, the people who like the speaker who sparked the discussion will raise their fists in the air and scream, "What happened to free speech?!" while the people who disagree shake their fist and growl, "Free speech comes with consequences!"
We'll skip that part. This has nothing do with anyone's freedom of speech being attacked or discouraged. It's more a testament to why the First Amendment can be so generally frustrating. Because the freedom promised to Ozzie Guillen also guarantees that anyone he offended this week can respond with free-wheeling outrage toward the Venezuelan-immigrant-turned-American-patriot. Even if nobody was actually supporting Castro's government this week--literally, Ozzie is just impressed he's not dead--the details don't really matter. In America, everyone's free to willfully miss the point and get as angry as they want.
So while the show goes on in Florida, let's be clear on one point: Ozzie and his success and all his crackpot opinions ultimately add up to a living example of why America is so, so awesome. And this big crazy controversy is a reminder that Americans can still be so, so stupid.