Contrite manager takes responsibility for comments favorable of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The Marlins suspended him earlier Tuesday.
MIAMI — A contrite Ozzie Guillen sat in the heart of Little Havana seeking forgiveness for what the Miami Marlins manager called the biggest mistake of his life — saying he admired Fidel Castro.
This wasn’t some offhand insult about a sports writer, the type of thing that got the outspoken Guillen in trouble in Chicago. This was personal to the fan base that the Marlins rely on so much that they built their new stadium in the middle of the city’s Cuban-American neighborhood.
Castro is the sworn enemy of those fans.
So after being suspended for five games Tuesday, the Marlins manager tried to quell the tempest.
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“I’m here on my knees to apologize,” Guillen said.
“I’m very sorry about the problem, what happened. I will do everything in my power to make it better. … When you make a mistake like this, you can’t sleep.”
A chastened Guillen, who has a history of polarizing comments about gays and immigrants, among others, spoke without a script and made no disclaimers. He said he’ll do whatever he can to repair relations with Cuban-Americans angered by his praise of the Cuban dictator, remarks he said he didn’t mean.
Guillen, who is Venezuelan, told Time magazine he loves Castro and respects the retired Cuban leader for staying in power so long. In response, at least two Miami politicians said Guillen should lose his job. Callers on Spanish-language radio in Miami agreed and 100 demonstrators picketed Marlins Park toting signs like “NO APOLOGIES FIRE HIM NOW.”
The team didn’t consider firing Guillen or asking him to resign five games into his tenure, Marlins president David Samson said.
Guillen was hired to help usher in a new baseball era for the Marlins, saddled in recent years with mediocre teams and worse attendance. The team was to rely on South Florida’s large Cuban-American population to help rebuild its fan base with the $634 million ballpark that opened last week.
At the hourlong news conference Tuesday morning, there was little evidence of Guillen’s roguish charm or quick wit, which have made him a favorite with fans and reporters since he became a major-league manager in 2004. Speaking somberly, he took full responsibility for his comments, but said they were misinterpreted by Time’s reporter.
“It was a personal mistake of the thing I had in my mind and what I said,” Guillen said in Spanish. “What I wanted to say in Spanish, I said in English in a wrong way.”
Guillen said he doesn’t love or admire Castro.
“I was saying I cannot believe somebody who hurt so many people over the years is still alive,” he said.
But in 2008, when Guillen was manager of the Chicago White Sox, he said similar comments in an article in the national magazine, Men’s Journal.
“He’s an (expletive) dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him,” Guillen said in 2008. “Everywhere he goes, they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy; I admire him.”
Guillen said the uproar he created in Miami has left him sad, embarrassed and feeling stupid. He said he accepted the team’s punishment.