Ozzie Guillén, manager of the newly re-minted Miami Marlins, has earned himself a five-game suspension by declaring his affection for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in Time magazine:
“I love Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that son of a bitch is still there.”
Many entities survive through unsavory methods—cockroaches and kudzu vines spring to mind. But Guillén wasn’t praising some neutral long-lived thing, he was admiring the machismo of the man who has spent more than six decades trampling on the freedoms of his fellow ballplayers.
Baseball is a passion in Cuba, which has produced some of the game’s greatest players. Before Castro’s revolution, the Havana Sugar Kings were minor league competitors. Castro himself was a fan, and formed his own pick-up tem called Los Barbudos after the unkempt facial hair fashionable with the revolutionaries. But shortly after he seized political power he grabbed control of the Sugar Kings as well. The American-owned franchise was moved to the states, leaving Cubans to play for government-run teams.
Castro’s Cuba is no place for great ballplayers, however, who relish healthy competition and the opportunity to gain from their talent and hard work. Unlike Venezuelan players like Guillén who still have the nominal freedom to play outside their home country (even if they get kidnapped for their wealth when they return to visit their families), Cubans cannot leave their island paradise at will. Many athletes have taken the dangerous path of defection to play in United States, and a healthy number have made it into the big leagues. Guillen’s comments did a great disservice to those who had to leave home and family, not to mention risk life and limb, for the freedom to play.
Sure, Ozzie Guillén is a character, a notorious hot head and loose with his words, but these comments are more than just shooting from the hip as some have suggested. His apology and confused explanation are at best weak sauce. As a Venezuelan, Guillén should know better, and it seems sometimes he does, at least when it comes to his own country. Guillén has been fortunate enough to make a successful career for himself in America, hired as he has been to manage a MLB team in the city with our largest community of Cuban ex-patriots and playing (and winning) baseball this very week in the birthplace our liberty. He should perhaps think of the less fortunate trapped in Cuba before he exercises his freedom to speak.