Above: Marlins Park in Miami’s Little Havana
By Dr Andy Gomez
For the last couple of weeks, it has been a bit tough for the Cuban-American community in South Florida. First, it was the Pope’s visit to Cuba, when many in the community expected the he would talk about the violations of human rights on the island and at least meet with some of the dissidents. Neither happened. Instead, he met with Raul and Fidel Castro.
Just as we are getting over that disappointment comes Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Miami Marlins, who said to a Time Magazine reporter he admired Fidel Castro for staying so long in power. Apparently, the year Ozzie spent in Miami as a coach for the Florida Marlins did not give him enough time to familiarize himself with the South Florida community.
However, Ozzie has been known for being to quick with his mouth throughout his years in baseball — which makes you wonder if he suffers from a neurological disease from getting hit on the head too many times while he was a player or he is just ignorant.
This is a guy who was welcomed back to Miami with lots of fanfare as the new skipper of the Miami Marlins in their new stadium in Little Havana. Surely, he must have had some knowledge that praising Fidel Castro in our community was not going to bring him many friends. Was he arrogant enough to think he was going to get away with such a comment? I hope not! Because if he did, then he is just plain dumb.
Like the Pope, Ozzie has a number of people around him whom he could have consulted. They wear uniforms and hats just like the Bishops and Cardinals (not the St Louis Cardinals). He could have also consulted with Cuban Hall of Famer Tony Perez, who works for the Marlins. This is a man that claims to get drunk after each road game win or lose. There are 162 games in the season. If I were the owner of the Marlins, I would be more concerned about his ability to run the ball club under the influence of alcohol.
Having just come back from Cuba myself, I experienced first hand the lack of freedom and free speech. As an academic, I work very hard to protect those two rights we have in this country. Yet freedom of speech comes with a responsibility as well: an issue Ozzie apparently never thought about particularly since he works for a private organization that can, under the law, limit some of these rights, particularly when they are offensive to others.
The Marlins organization has acted properly in suspending Ozzie for five games. We will accept your apology and watch you carefully.
As a season ticket holder, I will continue to go to the games this year. Sure, we will wait for the next time Ozzie sticks his foot in his mouth. In the long run, Ozzie will be me measured by how well the team does this year. At the same time, I hope he learned a very valuable lesson: Express your opinion on what you know. In Miami, try to stay away from saying nice things about people whose last name are Castro, Chavez and Ortega (both the Cardinal of Cuba and the President of Nicaragua).
Have we heard the last of Ozzie’s stupid comments? Only time will tell. Ozzie, think before you speak and life will be much easier, both on and off the field.
Dr Andy S Gomez is a special assistant for international affairs and a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.