The day after Ozzie Guillen publicly apologized for saying he loved Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, I did 13 interviews with various radio hosts around the country who wanted insight into what made him tick or, if you prefer time-bomb imagery, tick-tock.
The next day, there were five more interviews, including one with Voice of Russia radio, comrade, and another six the following day.
I have a book coming out next month about Guillen titled Ozzie’s School of Management (Times Books), and thus I had instantly become an ‘‘expert” on him. How, people wanted to know, could those words have come out of his mouth? How could an intelligent man in a new Miami Marlins uniform say something so offensive to Cuban-Americans while working in the center of Cuban-American life in the United States?
What I wanted to say was: You must be new around here.
What I said was: Every thought Ozzie has ends up flying off that waterslide tongue of his and all but yelling, “Wheeeeee!”
In interview after interview, I said the same thing. When you sign up for Ozzie Guillen, you sign up for all of him. You sign up for a good manager, the life of the party and a man who, now and then, will say something exceptionally dumb. If Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t know that, he knows it now.
I do not for a second believe that Guillen loves Castro, as he told Time magazine he did. What he meant to say, I believe, was something like: It’s amazing how long he has stayed in power, given how cruel and barbaric he has been to his own people. In a twisted, almost perverse way, you have to admire how someone so evil has avoided having a stake hammered through his black heart.
But it doesn’t matter what he meant to say. What matters is what he said. It was indefensible.
Spotlight stirs him up
I have a theory about Guillen. His level of outrageousness rises with the audience size of the publication or broadcast outlet with which he is speaking.
Last year, he told Yahoo! Sports that he had been drunk during both his interviews for the White Sox managerial job in 2003. I asked general manager Ken Williams if this was true. He said Guillen might have been hung over, seeing as how the Marlins had won the World Series the night before one interview and had had their championship parade the day before the other interview. Guillen had been the Marlins’ third-base coach that season. But drunk? No, Williams said.
I went back and asked Guillen if he had been plastered for those interviews. No, he said. He had been hung over.
Why would he tell Yahoo! Sports he had been drunk? Because he can’t help himself. Because he gets caught up in the moment. Because he’s Ozzie.
It’s why I don’t believe what he told CBS Sports recently, that he has gotten drunk after every road game for the last 27 years. He had been explaining to the reporter that, to stay out of trouble, he hangs out at the hotel bar. Next thing you know, he’s baseball’s Keith Richards.
Guillen exaggerates and embellishes. It’s shock value with a hint of magical realism to it. And there’s a need for attention. That sounds bad, but for eight years, very few of us in the media complained as he filled up our notebooks and tape recorders.
The subtitle of the book is Lessons From the Dugout, the Clubhouse and the Doghouse. The doghouse refers to where you end up if you’re on Guillen’s bad side. Recent events give it a new meaning. There isn’t a big enough doghouse in which to put a man who could be so out of touch with his surroundings.
Missed by a mile
Ozzie usually knows his audience. He understood Sox fans’ feelings toward the Cubs, and it’s why he enjoyed pointing out Wrigley Field’s shortcomings so often.
When he apologized for his Castro comments during a nationally televised news conference last week, he was contrite. He knew he had blown it, and he was clearly shaken by it.
But nobody should have been surprised that he had opened his mouth wide enough to get a five-game suspension.
On Page 243 of my book, I predicted that a person or group in his new home would be offended by something Guillen said: The mayor of Miami. Marine biologists. Cuban Americans. Somebody.
So he’ll finally change this time, right? No more crazy talk? He’ll stick to sports? You must be new around here.