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 offhanded 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.
“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.”
“He is full with hypocrisy,” said Luis Martinez, who has lived in Miami since the late 1950s. “I don’t accept any kind of pardon from him. They should get him out.”
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.