Ozzie Guillen Was Wronged, Not Wrong!

The 85-year-old man that inspires fear!

File this one under the “Are You Frickin’ Kidding Me?” category: Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is serving a five-game suspension for having made a remark that he “admired” Fidel Castro. Florida’s Cuban-American community collapsed into paroxysms of affected anger and feigned pain. They even threatened to boycott the club, which is odd as that’s what they’ve always done. (The Marlins have finished in the bottom third in attendance 13 of their 18 years of existence.) But the Marlins want to fill their sparkling new ballpark, so Ozzie has to fall on his knees like a contrite sinner. He’s playing that role, but no one would be the slightest bit surprised if he’s ultimately forced to reign.

The 48-year-old manager held hostage to ancient prejudices!

A rational person would make several observations. First of all, whom did the Marlins think they were hiring? If you want non-controversial you sure as hell don’t hire Ozzie Guillen. He is, simply, addicted to calling attention to himself. If a month goes by without Ozzie offending someone, that would the media story of the year. I have never been a fan of Guillen, whom I think is perhaps the single most overrated skipper in all of baseball. But this time, I’m going to bat for the guy.

Did baseball abolish the first amendment? It’s Guillen’s right to admire anyone he wishes. Shame on the Cuban-American community for denying that right, shame on the media for letting Cuban-Americans get away with it, and shame on the media a second time for its woeful and reflexive use of unexamined language. I’m yet to see a story that doesn’t use the phrase “Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.” Did the media not get the memo that Fidel hasn’t been the leader of Cuba since 2008, when he stepped down and passed head of state duties to his brother Raul? And am I the only to see the irony of tossing out “dictator” labels whilst calling for the head of a person who exercised his right to free speech? Who is really acting like a dictator?

Let’s move on to some history. Who is this Castro guy that stops major league baseball in its tracks? Actually, he’s an 85-year-old sick man toward the end of his life. Will someone kindly tell Cuban-American community to consult a calendar? No one ever accused Fidel Castro of being a Teddy bear, but lest anyone forget, he overthrew a dictator in 1959: a corrupt-to-the-core monster named Fulgencio Batista. Want to guess how Batista came to power? He was a general who overthrew the Cuban government in 1933, set up a military junta with a titular president, and dispensed with him after several months. Batista stepped down in 1944, passed the power to a handpicked successor, lived in the United States for eight years, and returned to Cuba in 1954 to lead a second coup. Batista turned Cuba into a gambling and prostitution paradise, forged ties with organized crime, and looted the country. When Castro ousted Batista in 1959, Cuba was Haiti-like poor. Talk about the 1%; the only Cubans that benefitted from Batista’s rule were elites in Batista's inner circle of cronies. Guess where they ended up? Other than the fact that considerably more Cubans did at least marginally better under Castro, the biggest difference is that Batista was our son of a bitch and Castro wasn’t/isn’t.

But here’s the other thing. All of this was a long time ago–a very long time ago. It’s been 53 years since the Cuban Revolution and 50 since the Soviets planted rockets on island soil and precipitated the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Cuba has posed no credible (as opposed to imagined) threat to the United States since then, unless you count the Mariel boatlift back in 1980, when Castro suckered Jimmy Carter into accepting refugees that included some hardcore criminals and mental health patients. Even that was a whopping 32 years ago.

Give it up already and move on! What do we fear? It can’t be communism. The United States long ago forgave enemy combatants in Southeast Asia and normalized relations with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. We’re as snug as bugs in a rug with the commies in Red China. Psst! The Cold War ended in 1991, when the Soviet Union went out of business.

Who is keeping the hatred alive? Few of the Floridians calling for Ozzie Guillen’s head and Castro’s overthrow are actual “victims” of Castro’s tyranny. They are the children and grandchildren of those who fled Castro, and quite a few are the offspring of Batista-era privilege. They remind me of naïve Irish-Americans who give money to the I.R.A. in the mistaken view that they are avenging the 17th century Battle of the Boyne, or my own Scottish-American kindred who feel honor-bound to hate the English because of the 1706 Act of Union that ended Scottish independence.

Yes, there are Cuban refugees in Florida as well, but you tell me–if the Castro regime fell tomorrow, what percentage of Florida’s Cuban-American population would relocate to Cuba? (Answer: Mostly those who thought they could make some sort of reparations claim, and most of them would return to Florida.) Anti-Castro ravings are so far past their sell-by date that they would be laughable, if they weren’t also vitriolic and disruptive. The hatred is palpable, but it is irresponsible to perpetuate it by cooperating with it. It’s time to put the demagogues and pettifoggers to pasture. If Cuban-Americans wish to continue to shout anti-Castro slogan, that–like Guillen’s opinion–is protected under the First Amendment. So too is the right of the rest of us to ignore them. A huge “BOO!” to the Marlins, the media, and Major League Baseball; for once Ozzie Guillen is a wronged man.

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