With a few poorly chosen words, Ozzie Guillen nearly lost his dream job.
Quoted in Time Magazine saying he “loved” Fidel Castro, Guillen set off a firestorm in Miami’s Cuban-American community. Angry protestors and grandstanding local politicians alike called for the Miami Marlins to fire Guillen just a few games into his tenure.
His heartfelt apology broke new ground in a speak-first, think-later career. The resulting five-game team suspension also left him chastened, but not fundamentally changed, bloodied but not defeated.
It also left Guillen $150,000 lighter in the wallet.
Baseball’s first-ever “shock” manager spoke with Mike Berardino, sports columnist at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, about a variety of topics, including the Castro controversy for Athlon Sports Monthly:
Athlon Sports: Do you feel like this is a fresh start for you after the Fidel Castro comments or are you on probation with your Marlins bosses?
Ozzie Guillen: I put myself on probation. Me. Nobody else. It’s about growing up and being better and being careful. Don’t trust too many people. That was my problem. I put myself in that situation. To be honest with you, I don’t think I want to put myself in that same situation again with the Latino people. Man, I’m Latino. That’s the worst feeling ever. I felt like, ‘Wow.’ That’s not a good feeling. I don’t want to go through that feeling again. That’s why I put myself on that probation.
Wasn’t part of the problem your sense of humor and your willingness to make light of most subjects? Is that something you’ll have to rein in now that this has happened?
I don’t think I’m going to change. It’s just, ‘Be careful when you use your humor and who you talk to around you.’ That’s all it is. I made a mistake. I’m paying for it, and I’m here to make it better and to win some games and hopefully that happens.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria spent $191 million on three players this offseason, an unprecedented spending spree on his part. How good can this team be?
The product is out there. There’s no doubt, if I was a baseball fan I would pay to watch these guys play. Look at the lineup we have, the pitching staff we have, how we’re going to play the game. Now the fans don’t have an excuse: ‘The ballpark is too far away. It’s raining. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s the Dolphins’ ballpark.’ Now we are here and hopefully we play good to make sure those people come back and watch the Marlins play.
How has it been managing Hanley Ramirez so far?
Awesome. For some reason, people couldn’t wait for Hanley to be what Hanley was last year. Even his teammates, media, fans, front office. Everyone was watching Hanley like a hawk. This kid has been great. A lot of people credit me. I’m not going to take any credit because I didn’t do anything to him. I just said, ‘Hey, you’ve got two choices: You’re going to play happy or you’re going to play very upset because you’re playing third base. You pick.’ And I thought he was going to test me a little bit this spring about, ‘I only want two at-bats,’ or ‘I don’t want to make this trip,’ or ‘I don’t want to do this new routine.’ He did everything we asked him to do, and a little bit more, too. I pushed him to see how far he’d go. Now he’s Hanley Ramirez the way we want him to be. Very excited. Happy. Got a smile on his face, playing a great third base. I couldn’t be more pleased.
One of those free-agent acquisitions was Mark Buehrle, who helped you win a World Series with the White Sox. What do you hope these other pitchers will learn from watching Buehrle and how smart he is on the mound?
I don’t think Buehrle’s that smart. That’s why he’s so good. I’m serious. Sometimes people think too much: ‘Who’s at the plate?’ They’re thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’ (Forget) it. I’m going to feed you my best stuff. I don’t care who’s at the plate. That’s all I have. That’s how I’m going to pitch. That’s it. I don’t know why pitchers change.
I got that attitude from (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine. I played behind those guys in Atlanta. I don’t care who’s at the plate. I’m not going to change because of who’s at the plate. If the best pitch I have is a changeup, I’m going to throw a changeup. If he hits a home run, good. You beat me with my best pitch. That’s why pitchers get in trouble a lot because they try to figure it out. They can’t figure it out.
How about the hidden competitive advantages you now have at brand-new Marlins Park? Your players are raving about the huge upgrades in the video room and the HydroWorx underwater treadmill.
I’m an old-school man, bro. I’m very old school. All those things they have there, good for them. Are they going to help? I hope. That’s why they have them there. But I’m an old-school man. That kind of stuff helps the baseball because everybody has it, but I don’t put that much attention on that.
And the home run sculpture out in left-center?
Mr. Loria made it. It’s beautiful. I hope those (mechanical) Marlins, we overuse them. I hope to see those guys moving a lot and diving and a lot of splashing because if that’s moving, that means we’re doing something good. We expect that. We all hope we’re going to use that statue a lot. It’s pretty nice. It’s different. Everything in this ballpark is different. I went to a lot of ballparks in my career. The colors are different. The seats are different. The Jumbotron is different. The suites are a lot different. And it’s all great. This is maybe the best ballpark in baseball right now.
So you’re feeling pretty good about this year.
We got everything to win, but there’s one thing missing: A good manager. That’s the one thing we’re missing.