You know who needed to apologize more than Ozzie Guillen before a packed news conference Tuesday in Miami? Baseball. Bud Selig; Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox; Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins; writers, broadcasters and gatekeepers of the grand old game. Any owner, league or team official, any media member, really, who over the past decade has dismissed Guillen’s crass, boorish idiocy as “colorful” behavior.
A Fox Sports headline Monday actually read, “This Time Guillen Has Gone Too Far.” Really? Guillen has been going too far since the White Sox hired him in 2003.
In a recent interview with Time magazine, Guillen said, “I love Fidel Castro.” During Tuesday’s news conference, Guillen called his comments “the biggest mistake I made in my life so far.” In reality, they were just another notch into an abyss he began plunging down long ago while others looked the other way.
Before Guillen apologized to Cuban Americans on Tuesday, and apologized to women four years ago and to the gay community six years ago, baseball needed to apologize for letting Ozzie be Ozzie. And afterward, it needed to send him away, perhaps into an alcohol treatment program.
Baseball managers are allowed to have potty mouths — otherwise, Earl Weaver and Tommy Lasorda never would have never gotten jobs — but Guillen always took filthy to the nth power.
In 2006, Guillen used a gay slur to describe a Chicago columnist. In 2008, in an attempt to motivate themselves out of a slump, the White Sox decorated their clubhouse with two inflatable dolls, inserted a bat into one to prop it up and then hung a sign over the display that read, “You’ve Got to Push.” When some questioned whether such behavior was appropriate, Guillen never understood why anyone would be offended.
“I’m not going to say I’m sorry,” Guillen said of the inflatable dolls. “I don’t know what to say. I can’t come up with the words, because as soon as I say that, that means I’m guilty of something. I’m not. I’m not guilty. . . . We just had a plastic thing sitting on a table and, wow, we’re bad people.”
Lost in the Fidel furor were these Guillen comments to a CBS reporter last Thursday, regarding what he does in his managerial down time: “I go to the hotel bar, get drunk, sleep,” he said. “I don’t do anything else. I get drunk because I’m happy we win or I get drunk because I’m very sad and disturbed because we lose. Same routine, it never changes.”
Who knows whether Ozzie embellishment is at play or whether or not Guillen actually has a problem with alcohol, which routinely gets a pass in sports circles, where it’s assumed everyone can have a shot and a beer and stop there. But at its face, the statement should tell the Marlins they might have a bigger problem on their hands than merely a Venezuelan-born manager who just massively offended most of their Latin fan base.
Major League Baseball does so much homework with its Juggs guns and scouting departments. Teams scour the nooks and crannies of the Americas to find the best young prospects. So how can teams be so tone-deaf when giving managerial jobs to loose cannons, who at best are high-stakes gambles and at worst clownish embarrassments?
Guillen had earlier said he has never spoken to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but in fact he appeared on Chavez’s national radio show twice in October 2005, when Guillen was the toast of Chicago’s South Side while leading the White Sox to their first World Series title since 1917. After the last game, he was seen taking photographs holding the Venezuelan flag while appearing to yell, “Viva Chavez!”
During his almost hourlong apology Tuesday, Guillen proclaimed, “I prefer to die before Hugo Chavez wins the election,” denouncing his second dictator of the day for reasons that might have been genuine but were certainly also economical.
Think about it: Of all cities to manage a baseball team for $10 million over four years, Miami is the one Guillen decided to drop an “I love Fidel” bomb on? No one in the organization or the commissioner’s office, knowing Guillen’s propensity for shock-value speech, could have given him a five-minute history lesson? You can’t make up cluelessness like that.
Again, Selig and baseball are the bigger jokes. Baseball’s protective media, the people who enabled Guillen’s vulgarity over the years, also need to take blame today.
After using the gay slur, Guillen was ordered by Selig to undergo sensitivity training. How’d that slap on the wrist work out, Bud? The same proactive commissioner who gave us pink bats in support of breast cancer awareness on Mother’s Day called propping the inflatable doll episode “a team issue.”
There was a time to make a stand against Ozzie Guillen, but it was years before Tuesday, when his bad vaudeville act began to obliterate barriers of taste and decency.
In the sports world, Tuesday’s news conference was viewed as a leader asking for forgiveness to begin the healing process. It was hailed as a first step in reconciliation — that maybe now, after the suspension and apology, he could go on with his career of managing a baseball team.
Outside that insular world, the question must be asked: When are baseball and its gatekeepers — some of whom held microphones Tuesday — going to apologize for letting Ozzie Guillen and his big mouth stick around this long to begin with?
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.