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Telander: Ozzie Guillen made complimentary remarks about Fidel Castro in 2008

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen smiles during pre-game introductions home opener baseball game with PhiladelphiPhillies Monday April 9 2012 Philadelphia.

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen smiles during the pre-game introductions of the home opener baseball game with the Philadelphia Phillies Monday, April 9, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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Updated: May 11, 2012 8:14AM



Obviously, baseball lifer Ozzie Guillen was given a mouth so he could put his foot into it.

If he doesn’t have a forum to watch him do his acrobatic and outrageous comment stuff, it’s like a tree falling in a forest. There is a noise, just no ears. Thus, no apologies needed.

Not so this time.

You don’t say nice things about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in Miami and walk away.

No, no, no.

Many readers have not been to the Miami area in the last few decades. Let me tell you this: It is full of American citizens of Cuban heritage who fled the repression of Castro’s regime. They came on fishing boats. They floated across the Gulf Stream in homemade rafts and inner tubes. During the Mariel boatlift of 1980, they took anything that didn’t sink and made their way across the treacherous 90 miles of ocean from Havana to Key West. Castro saluted the hated United States by opening his prisons and sending over as many criminals as he could. Maybe you remember Tony Montana washing ashore in “Scarface’’?

When president John F. Kennedy backed the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, supporting Cuban expatriate fighters returning to Cuba, the point was to assassinate Castro.

You don’t joke about the bearded one in South Florida, folks.

So Ozzie, the new Marlins manager, was heard loud and clear when he told Time magazine recently that he loved Castro and respected him for staying in power so long.

The damage done by the man who will say anything suddenly is severe and real.

The notion that words actually mean something has been presented once more on a silver platter under Guillen’s wide-open mouth. And he is not only apologizing and backtracking as fast as he can, but he has left his Marlins team on its road trip and flown back to Miami to do real-life ­damage control.

Why did all this happen?

Because this time sensitive people were listening.

Let me take you back to September 2008.

I interviewed Ozzie, then the White Sox’ manager, for a back-page Q & A in the national magazine Men’s Journal.

I asked him questions such as “What’s the best advice you ever received?’’ (“Be youself.’’) and “What’s your nickname?’’ (“Paio.’’) and “Do you ever wish you were somebody else?’’ (“Yes, Ron Jeremy. No, no — a bullfighter, Morenito de Maracay.’’

And I asked him this: “Who’s the toughest man you know?’’

His response, which took me by surprise: “Fidel Castro.’’

Why?

“He’s a bull---- dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him,’’ Ozzie replied. “Everywhere he goes, they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy; I admire him.’’

There is distinction there, I suppose, between endorsing the man’s politics and his singular Darwinian perseverance. But it’s slim.

Did anybody notice any of it?

No.

Why? Because Ozzie was in Chicago.

Plus, Guillen was in his prime for blurting out whatever crossed his mind, saying it was his freedom of expression that was sacred, not couth or logic or grace.

In 2004, as a rookie manager for the Sox, he told his team to “Go get drunk or something’’ to forget about a tough loss.

In 2006, he said of people who accused him of tinkering with the pitcher’s mound, “They can’t admit that a Latino kicked their ass.’’

He made his infamous (bleeping homosexual) comment about a
local sportswriter. He sarcastically ripped the Cubs: “They haven’t won in 120 years , and they’re the [bleeping] best? [Bleep] it, we’re good. [Bleep] everybody!’’

Profanity, half-crazy threats, defiance, gutter-level humor — it gushed from Ozzie’s mouth like a leak from a sewer truck. And he got away with it because he won a Chicago World Series in 2005 and because — face it — something about Guillen always seemed naive and innocent and playful and just daffy enough to be shrugged or laughed off.

When he called himself a “crazy Mexican’’ (he’s from Venezuela), it was comical. Compared to vanilla coaches everywhere, Guillen was fresh air.

But he would not quit. Not ever. Won’t you just ratchet down the profanity? I asked him. We asked him. No, he said. I have to be who I am.

He can’t hide behind his ­Spanish, his imperfect English anymore.

Cubans and ex-Cubans and the huge Latin American population in Miami speak Spanish. They know who he is. They hear him.

Something tells me this is a turning point for Ozzie Guillen.

He either shuts up, or he’s gone.



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