April 11, 2012

OZZIE GUILLEN has a gift for offensive remarks. In 2006, while manager of the Chicago White Sox, Mr. Guillen employed an anti-gay slur to refer to a local columnist; he issued an apology to the gay community — although not to the writer himself — and was ordered by Major League Baseball to take sensitivity training. He has trumpeted his penchant for getting drunk after away games. While criticizing harsh measures to crack down on illegal immigrants, Mr. Guillen opined that immigrants are “workaholics” and that many Americans are “lazy.”

Mr. Guillen is now the manager of the Miami Marlins. On Tuesday, just days after the opening of his first season with the team, he found himself behind a bank of microphones delivering a mea culpa, this time for telling Time magazine that he “love[d]” Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. “I respect Fidel Castro,” Mr. Guillen explained. “You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here.” Mr. Guillen, a Venezuelan by birth and U.S. citizen by choice, said he meant to express qualified admiration for only the dictator’s longevity and resilience, not for his ideology or methods.

Predictably, that did not wash in many corners of Miami’s fiercely anti-Castro Cuban community. Some in Miami, including Cuban American elected officials, called for Mr. Guillen’s ouster.

For the Marlins, who recently moved into a $600 million-plus, publicly financed stadium in the heart of the Little Havana neighborhood, Mr. Guillen’s comments were a public relations nightmare. The team suspended the manager for five games.

Major League Baseball and team owners have wide latitude in dealing with employees who besmirch a club’s image and potentially damage the league’s financial prospects. Players, managers and even team owners have been sanctioned or were forced to resign for uttering racist comments that were universally understood to be beyond the pale. Mr. Guillen’s comments are not equivalent.

Mr. Guillen’s professed “respect” for Mr. Castro is misguided. Mr. Castro’s longevity in power has been made possible only through the use of police-state tactics, including the incarceration of political opponents. But even some Cuban Americans, including those who have been praying for Mr. Castro’s downfall for some five decades, marvel sadly at the dictator’s prowess for hanging on to power and outliving many of his opponents both on and off the island.

While we condemn Mr. Castro’s political philosophy and approach, expressing admiration for the Cuban leader is not the same as debasing an entire race of people, as, for example, Al Campanis and John Rocker did. Those demanding Mr. Guillen's head might want to show a bit more of the tolerance that helps distinguish this country from Mr. Castro’s.