Ozzie Guillen’s Mouth of the Fake South

Posted: April 11, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: , , , ,

*Dismounts off high horse*

The baseball season is barely a week old and it seems like we are in midseason form with the Red Sox freaking out after poor play, the Dodgers having financial problems as their new owners may not have the money to actually buy the team (the same type of credit issue that screwed up previous shoddy ownership), and Ozzie Guillen ran off at the mouth offending tons of people.  As baseball struggles staying on the map with the focus on the field, Ozzie’s expressed love for Fidel Castro resulted in one of the largest maelstroms in frontrunner town since…forever.  Ozzie’s expression of love and respect for Castro struck a deep nerve in Miami, a city quite populous of Cubans and Cuban exiles that do not – understandably- hold the most objective/positive outlook for the Cuban President.  Guillen, by far the manager with the loudest and most honest mouth in baseball, never backs down from criticism and addressed the media after receiving a five game suspension by the Miami Marlins franchise (not from Major League Baseball).  Tons of people feel this is a free speech issue versus negotiating a delicate and costly public relations battle of rich ownership.  Honesty versus a brazen manager coddled by Chicago whose mouth finally got him in the type of trouble most predicted would happen many years before.  My take tries to offer perspective while being honest to the character and the values I practice on a day-to-day basis.  The gist: non-Cuban media members need to take a breath and relax.

At my core, people should be free to say whatever they want.  There is really no negotiating around that one.  Within that frame work, however, an individual should understand that words carry weight and there may be hell to pay for shooting off at the mouth.  This is where Ozzie always treaded a fine line.  Saying these comments in Chicago doesn’t raise many eye brows given the population; if Ozzie said he supported rebuilding the projects and how Mayor Richard J. Daley treated blacks on the dangerous Southside, then we would have problems.  It comes with the territory.  Vincent Kennedy McMahon Jr. can give this promo in a ring on television but it would not be wise to do it at the labor division of Occupy Wall Street.  Those are the breaks.  Unfortunately this is not a contradiction; it’s a fact of life: audience and environment matters.

Baseball and sports at large is – among other things – a business driven by the cold hard cash.  Many criticized efforts to target the Latino community in South Beach by attempting to sign (Albert Pujols) and signing Spanish speaking players and talents.  Again, you need to know your audience and how to remain competitive.  The Marlins’ new facility, emphasis in reaching out to fans, and rebranding the team comes with the price of catering to the fan.  Regardless of politics, expressing love and admiration for Castro is on par with walking all over those obligations from the organization.  That said, Guillen’s star power (and World Series pedigree) made this team an attractive location for quality Major League talent that will lead to wins and cash if fans do not protest with their wallets.  Ownership decided to slap Guillen with a five game suspension, peanuts in a 162 game season but appropriate for the moment.  His mistake is worthy of condemnation but firing based on personal preferences – in this case preferences he backed off from – deserve a second chance.  Understandably too is the fact that the season is a week old and there is a long term investment in rebuilding the franchise into a contender – bottom line matters.

(Aside: I needed to add this after reading about people blaming management/ownership for the situation.  I understand that Ozzie is a loose cannon and will always piss people off but ultimately you need to hire someone if they can do the job and do it well.  Ownership did that.  Should they have vetted managers on their Cuban political stances?  That would sound much more suspect to me.  Adults should act like adults which mean taking reasonable “risks” in hiring and not saying stupid things that alienate you from your audience.  Anyone can write or say some dumb stuff no matter how much they try and vet the employee.  That’s a bush league response.  Do better.)

Ozzie, to my eyes, represented a welcomed dose of reality in professional sports.  He spoke his mind, treaded the line, represented the carefree “fire me if you want” attitude that shows he backs down to no one if he believes in what he does – doing only what he believes in.  If I believed him before, a manager who has NOT apologized when faced with media criticism in the past, I certainly believe him now when expressing his regret over his comments.  Ozzie noted that his comments were dumb but that he was not stupid, suggesting that stupidity is experiencing this situation and not adjusting.  Whether he does change or not is a matter of time (he probably won’t) but I hope we don’t lose the brutal honesty that mirrored the feelings of fans during the good times and bad.  What Ozzie did was wrong but calling for a half season suspension or firing is shameful and overkill – a consequence of broaching politics, globalization, and sports.  Whether people like it or now, however, winning does cure everything so maybe the play on the field can unite a divided community.  It’s a role sports is familiar playing and playing the game is what baseball really needs to be focused on.

*Steps off soapbox, takes the bat and ball and walks home*

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