The opening of baseball season is one of my favorite times of the year. The nets have barely been cut down at the Final Four, and suddenly the boys of summer are back on the grass, or plastic, and suddenly the longest, most leisurely season in professional sports is under way. We can shuffle up to the North Side and watch the Syracuse Chiefs and their amazing prodigy Bryce Harper (sampling between innings a whole new variety of food offerings at Alliance Bank Stadium), or we can stuff ourselves at home on the couch while watching the Yanks or the Mets strut their stuff. (Jeter for MVP!)
Personally there is no sound as comforting and relaxing as the background chatter of the crowd as I listen to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman broadcast a Yankees game on the radio. I find radio so much better than the TV broadcast that even when I’m home with the tube turned on, I hit the mute button and listen to the radio announcers’ play-by-play.
This year’s journey from April to October threatens to be an exceptionally drawn-out affair. I’m not talking about the new rule adding another wild card team to the playoffs, nor the dismal opening series posted by both the Yankees and the Red Sox, nor the Mets’ amazing 4-0 start, which already stirs fears of a September collapse.
I’m talking about the lunacy that has engulfed southern Florida, ESPN
and Major League Baseball after Ozzie Guillen, the first Latino to
manage a team to a World Series title—the Chicago White
Sox in 2005—was quoted in Time magazine as saying he loves Fidel Castro. The flamboyant Guillen, that rare breed among baseball managers who speaks without a script, has been suspended for five days. That cowardly move by his bosses at the Miami Marlins was endorsed by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and has only emboldened Miami’s Cuban-exile community to demand Guillen’s firing
So the people who brought you the Bay of Pigs, the Orlando Bosch scandal, Elian Gonzalez’s kidnapping, and 50 years of a warped U.S. policy toward Latin America, now bring you the Ozzie Guillen lynching. People who make heroes out of terrorists due to their hatred of one aging guerrilla now want Major League Baseball to fire the Marlins manager to make their point that free speech is not allowed in their town. The radicals in the Cuban-exile community who haven’t been able to effect any kind of change on the island, have now turned their attention to trying to dethrone a Venezuelan-American baseball manager whose only crime is to speak his mind.
The outrage about Guillen’s statement is coming from all corners: politicians, the media and baseball officials. I am waiting for somebody to demonstrate enough cojones to simply say, “That’s his opinion, and he’s welcome to it.”
What Guillen expressed was a political opinion about a political figure. This wasn’t hate speech: He did not denigrate any person or any group for being who they are (although he has done so in the past by calling a reporter a “fag,” which curiously did not seem to generate the same outrage). He simply expressed his admiration for a tough guy who has managed to stick around and survive assassination attempts, boycotts, embargoes, the end of the Cold War and cancer.
If you don’t like that, then contradict him, argue with him, inform him. But please stop punishing him and threatening him. Guillen is obviously not well informed about Castro’s human rights record. But the reactionaries in Miami’s Cuban community seek not his enlightenment, but his destruction. In America we respond to bad ideas with better ideas, not with threats. We defend the right of people with whom we disagree to say things that we find repugnant.
Is it now a job requirement for Major League managers that they dislike Fidel Castro? Maybe the job interview should be expanded to include a manager’s views on Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with a skipper who wavers on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program, so I think we should make that part of the litmus test. And just where does he come down on the Paul Ryan plan for lowering the deficit?
If Ozzie Guillen loves Fidel Castro, can he really be trusted to know when to send the runners in a tight game? Will his adoration of the fatigue-clad Cuban leader distract him to the point that he fails to pull his starter when his fastball fades in the sixth inning? How can a commie-loving manager even be trusted to faithfully fill out the lineup card?
The fear that Marlin owners and Major League Baseball have of Cuban spending power mirrors the fear that politicians have about the exile community’s power at the ballot box. It is entirely likely that the decision by Bill Clinton during the 2000 presidential campaign to return young Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba—a decision entirely consistent with the law—cost Al Gore the state of Florida and ultimately the presidency that year.
The Guillen drama wouldn’t be of significance except that the radical element in that community has been allowed, over the course of 50 years, to bully our own government and politicians into violating not only our national interests but our national values any number of times. Exile communities are often the worst sources for information and advice on how to deal with a foreign country, and in the case of Florida’s right-wing Cubans, they have steered the country in the wrong direction ever since the early 1960s.
Castro belongs to the past. Ozzie Guillen, hopefully, will survive
this, because he deserves to explore the limits of his talents, free
from any political constraints. His only mistake in my book was to
apologize instead of simply saying, “Let’s talk baseball.”
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. Contact him at email@example.com.