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First Flap

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Leave it to Ozzie Guillen to stir up the first controversy of the 2012 baseball season. Guillen, former manager of the Chicago White Sox, is known for saying exactly what he thinks and feels–so naturally, when thrust onto center stage as the new manager of the Marlins, one of the first things Ozzie does is declare his love for Fidel Castro. This, in Miami, the city in which more Cubans live than anywhere else with the exception of the island itself. What he said, precisely, was,  “I respect 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 b—- is still here.”

The Miami Mayor wants the Marlins “to take decisive steps” against Guillen in the name of “freedom loving people.” The County Commission Chairman wants him to resign. Cuban-American State Senator Rene Garcia wrote to the Miami Herald : “What I also consider disturbing is the fact that the Miami Marlins received tax dollars from this community, including Cuban-American exiles, to fund the construction of the new stadium.” A Cuban exile group, Vigilia Mambisa, plans to protest in front of the stadium until Guillen is fired.

Poor Oz. Born in Venezuela, he’s coming from a place of Latino pride. In the past he’s said good things about the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, also an enemy of the U.S. He likes macho guys who stand up for their Hispanic heritage, but at the same time, he’s an American patriot. He’s apologized for the Castro comment, and a press conference is scheduled where, it is rumored, he’ll do some more groveling.*

On today’s Mike and Mike sports show, where they tend to beat issues into the ground, Mike Greenberg and commentator Buster Olney spent almost the entire 3-hour show bludgeoning the thing to death. Via telephone another sports analyst joined in, Dan LeBatard, whose parents fled Castro’s Cuba. LeBatard said that in his family Castro is considered their Hitler. Mike Greenberg, who as a Jew ought to know better, repeatedly compared the two men. Greenie did, however, perform a much needed service by reading the First Amendment, with its allusion to free speech; Guillen’s words clearly don’t fall under its protection. He noted that, if you’re a pro-Castro comic or other kind of performer, you just can’t play Miami: nobody will come see you. It’s “the one place you can’t say this.”

As blown up as this has become, it’s because there’s so much at stake. This is the year the Marlins are steppin’ out; you might even call it their coming-out party (as in social debutante’s ball, not a closet exit!). The Marlin’s new tax-funded stadium, built in Little Havana no less, will cost the city two billion dollars over the next 40 years. Another big chunk of dough was spent on new players, including the former Mets star Jose Reyes. As Dave Zirin put it in The Nation, “This was the last best chance to sell baseball in South Florida. Loria {the Marlin’s owner} desperately needed a hot start for his team and some sugary sweet media coverage for his new ballpark.” Instead he got Ozzie Guillen.

Personally, I love Ozzie’s humor and honesty. If he’s fired over this it’ll be a sad sad day for baseball.

On a Happier Note…


After everything Barry Zito’s been through all these years as a Giant, after all the disappointments, the fans dumping on him, and his own self-judgment, which was no doubt more considerable than any of us know, Zito finally pulled off a stellar performance.

He threw his first complete-game shutout in nine years, and, as Yahoo put it, “The oft-maligned pitcher partied like it was 2003 again.” It was the Giants’ first win of the season, after being swept on Opening Weekend by the Arizona D’Backs. They shut out the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field with a 7-o win. Zito allowed four hits in 112 pitches; he credited an adjustment to his delivery for his success.

Teammate Aubrey Huff told reporters, ”I couldn’t be happier for Barry. It’s no secret he gets buried by the fans, the media and all. To see him go out there and put up a complete-game shutout in Colorado, all the haters out there — that’s for them.” Well said, and well done, Barry! I knew you still had your stuff!


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