After an apology, can Guillen survive as Marlins manager?

Eric McErlain | Sports Blogger

After setting off a firestorm of local criticism by praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an interview with Time, Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen returned to Miami yesterday to face the press and offer his apologies. Looking to head off protests from the Cuban emigre community, the team announced that Guillen would be suspended for five games.

Marc Masferrer is career newspaperman currently working in Florida, but more folks may know him for his relentless advocacy on the part of political prisoners held by the Castro regime, efforts which he chronicles on his blog, Uncommon Sense. The son of Cuban emigres, Marc was the first person I thought of reaching out to once Guillen had put his foot in his mouth.

The Daily Caller (DC): What was your first reaction when you read about Guillen’s comments to Time?

Marc Masferrer (MM): My first thought was that it was typical Ozzie Guillen, talking nonsense about something he obviously knew nothing about, being provocative for the sake of being provocative. Unfortunately, there are many people who really do admire Fidel Castro, so it was not a stretch for me to believe Guillen really believed what he was saying. I also was struck by how insulting he had been to a group of people who through ticket sales, souvenir purchases, etc., will be paying a large part of his salary as manager of the Marlins. He had really stepped into it.

DC: Some have suggested that the public reaction here is limited to older Cuban immigrants. Is that really the case, or is everyone calling for his head?

MM: Through my blog, Facebook and other social media, I’ve become acquainted with Cubans of varied ages, backgrounds and political viewpoints, and the outrage about Guillen’s comments has been almost unanimous. Older Cubans, of my parents’ generation and older, lost the most because of Fidel Castro so their reaction should not be a surprise. But the disdain is shared by many of my younger Cuban friends, many of whom will never forget the pain their parents and grandparents have suffered because of Castro. In some circles, the conventional wisdom is that younger Cuban Americans are ready for a different approach towards Cuba and the Castro regime, but the reaction to Guillen’s comments belies that notion.

DC: Did you see/read Guillen’s apology? Will it be enough to save his job?

MM: I have read and heard accounts of Guillen’s apology. I don’t know his heart, but I am not convinced he truly understands the seriousness of his insult. Time will tell, I guess. As for whether it will save his job, I suspect that will ultimately be a baseball decision. If the Marlins are successful, this controversy probably will fade. If the team struggles, the pressure will remain. He will not get much of a benefit of the doubt. The unknown is what effect business concerns — filling a new stadium, mollifying a large part of your fan base, etc. — will have on what the Marlins’ ownership decides to do.

DC: Was the team’s response sufficient, or do they need to do more to mollify the protesters?

MM: I do think the team’s response was sufficient. I am not entirely comfortable with the appearance of punishing speech, but the seriousness of Guillen’s affront made a suspension or other discipline by the Marlins and/or Major League Baseball necessary and appropriate. Five games felt OK to me. I’d like to see the team take Guillen’s game checks and donate the money to one or more of many worthy organizations, like the Veterans of the 2506 Brigade, the Coalition of Cuban-American Women and the Cuban Democratic Directorate, advocating for freedom in Cuba. However, there are many in Miami and elsewhere for whom nothing less than Guillen’s job will suffice, and I expect they will maintain that pressure. How that translates into attendance at the new stadium could ultimately decide Guillen’s fate.

DC: What do you think Fidel Castro thinks of all this?

MM: The task at hand for the Cuban Resistance, on the island and in exile, is to expose, undermine and defeat the Castro dictatorship. Anything, like the current controversy, that distracts from that objective is good news for Fidel Castro. So if at his advanced age and questionable medical condition he is cognizant of what is happening in Miami, I’d expect Castro is enjoying it. On the flip side, one positive result of the Guillen episode is how it has given anti-Castro advocates an opportunity to educate a new, larger audience about the reality of Cuba for the past 53 years under dictatorship, which cannot be good for the tyrants in Havana.

DC: We’ve heard that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig approved of the suspension. Given that the Baltimore Orioles have exchanged visits with the Cuban National Baseball Team, doesn’t that seem a little hypocritical?

MM: Based on Bud Selig’s comment on the suspension, it appears baseball will let the Marlins deal with disciplining Guillen. Baseball’s past relationship with Cuba does give pause, but MLB also needs to balance the concerns of Cuban ball players, many of whom risked their lives to escape the island. And it needs to make sure it is not seen as being indifferent to the victims of one of history’s most repressive regimes. After 53 years, there is no excuse for baseball to not realize the true nature of the Castro dictatorship.

DC: Does the Cuban exile community see getting Guillen fired as a test of its political strength?

MM: Most of the protesters, I think, are reacting on a gut level, based on their experiences and those of their families and friends, with the Castro dictatorship. And that is entirely appropriate. I do not detect that they have a political strategy in mind, other than to ensure that the Castro regime and its apologists be held to account. Whether Guillen keeps his job or not, they will not relent. Separate from that and not surprisingly, some politicians — recognizing the importance of the Cuban-American community in this election year — have been busy trying to tap into the anger.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.

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