Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Circus of the Miami Marlins

For the first time in their history, the Marlins were the talk of the off-season for the right reasons. The dysfunctional franchise has twice held fire sales immediately after winning the World Series, alienating its few remaining fans, and half-heartedly committing to rebuilding. A few years ago, owner Jeffrey Loria fired manager Joe Girardi despite the fact that Girardi won the Manager of the Year Award that season. So bad and cheap management, and a small fan base to boot. To give an indication of how cheaply Loria ran the Marlins, they frequently fielded the lowest payroll teams in baseball, spending less on 25 men than the Yankees did on the left side of their infield.

This off-season was different though. Ozzie Guillen came to the Marlins as part of an organization-wide image overhaul. They moved to their new, ridiculously tacky stadium, changed their logo and residency to Miami, no longer belonging to the vague title of Florida (which was a little confusing once the Rays started playing in Tampa). Banking on increased revenue from the new stadium, the Marlins were also for once big spenders in free agency, signing Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle. Importing the loudmouthed manager who irregardless of the fortune of his team is himself a news story was simply a part of this shake-up. As you may have heard, Ozzie Guillen shared a few of his more outre opinions to a reporter from Time Magazine.

Let's get a few things out of the way up front: Ozzie Guillen is a loudmouthed idiot. He's debatably a bigot, and he has a long history of brazenly saying stupid things. His lack of filter and propensity to throw anyone and everyone under the bus have garnered him quite a bit of notoriety, quite a bit more than the average manager. Yes, he managed in one of the country's largest markets and won a World Series, but the character of Ozzie Guillen always outstripped his actual accomplishments. In the last five years, his teams won 72, 88, 79, 88, and 79 games - good records but by no means incredible. A good manager and an even better self-promoter, Guillen is a manager in the same vein as Lou Pinella or Bobby Valentine. He's MLB's most excellent heel, almost relishing the negative attention he gets, and subsequently the story of his teams is always about him.

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Here's the full text of what Ozzie Guillen said about Fidel Castro, a man whom he'd praised in a similar fashion a few years ago, garnering a 5-game suspension from his new team: "I love Fidel Castro," blurts Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins......  After a second of reflection, the most unfiltered figure in baseball, if not sports, wants a do-over. "I respect Fidel Castro," says Guillen, a Venezuela native who also says he respects Hugo Chavez. "You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that motherfucker is still there. 

There. That's all he said. It's stupid and a weird thing to respect, but it's certainly not offensive. (As you probably have figured out, I'm not Cuban. I don't mean to minimize in any way the brutality of Castro, nor do I have any way of fully comprehending it. I still don't think what he said is remotely offensive.) Maybe Guillen really likes Castro's dictatorial policies, but he doesn't indicate as much in this quote, and he has obviously come out against Castro's policies since. We don't know if he was prodded into saying it or whether it was excerpted in any way by the writer of the piece, but here's the thing that interests me about the quote. He said it to fucking Time Magazine! How many managers get profiles in Time Magazine?

Ozzie Guillen was hired by the Marlins because he's a good manager, but also because he's a story. The higher ups in the organization wanted him to stir up controversy. They wanted the Marlins to be part of the national story, to be featured on Sportscenter, whether for the team's fortunes or Guillen running his mouth. This was a manager who got a profile in Time Magazine, and that was exactly why the Marlins brought him in. Only, Guillen didn't know his audience and he offended the wrong people. He moved to Miami and promptly pissed off Cubans, a fan base whom the Marlins were trying to court.

There were certainly people upset about his comments. ESPN reported that about 100 people of Cuban descent gathered around the Marlins' park to call for his resignation. Praising Castro is like picking at an open scab, and Guillen never should have done it. No one denies that fact. However, the "outrage" was mostly manufactured, mostly talking heads on ESPN decrying somebody saying something even remotely close to offensive. Honestly, I don't give a flying fuck what John Kruk thinks of Cuban politics, or whether he thinks Ozzie Guillen is contrite (a word Kruk used over and over in the segment I watched). Guillen is probably contrite because coming off a history of saying obnoxious, stupid things relatively scott-free (except for one stint in sensitivity training), it finally caught up to him.

The Marlins wanted this until they didn't. They should have stood their ground and said that what Ozzie said was stupid but didn't merit a suspension. Instead, they caved. To which I say: if you don't want the drama that comes with employing Ozzie Guillen, get literally any other manager. I'm sure there's a price at which Joe Torre would come out of retirement. Maybe throw a wad of money at Terry Francona. There are other guys the Marlins could have gotten but they made a concerted decision to get Guillen, who was still under contract from the White Sox.

It would be one thing if this suspension were a business decision, but I don't think that Guillen's comments were enough to drive people away from the ballpark. Maybe some people would be upset, but the Marlins would be a story, and they have their new park. They're going to be just fine this year in terms of attendance (and if not, then the people of Florida just don't care about professional sports. They have trouble selling out Miami Heat games for fuck's sake.)

Instead, this was all about power. Jeffrey Loria brought Guillen in so Guillen would shake things up, but it had to be on Loria's terms. This is a man, again, who fired the reigning manager of the year. You can't argue that winning is all Loria cares about. And I also refuse to believe that this is a monetary decision. Loria just got the taxpayers to largely fund a new stadium and he's been throwing money around like it's nothing. His stadium is still going to be filled. It would be one thing if Guillen came out in support of Castro's regime, but he didn't. Loria suspending Guillen is treating people like children, as if they can't make up their own decisions about what Guillen said. Truthfully, it's just objectively not that bad, and by trying to preempt a PR nightmare I think Loria has only made it worse. Not suspending Guillen wouldn't have changed the gates. They could have simply released a statement and had Guillen apologize publicly. If it's not about winning and it's not a monetary decision, then all that leaves is that Loria wants Guillen to know who's boss, and I think Loria got the message across.

Guillen is contrite, having admitted to making the biggest mistake of his life, and is suspended five games. He'll get paid for those games, but is donating the money to charity. The people of Miami, or those who cared, are somewhat mollified. I think those that really cared would have wanted him fired and the majority that didn't care will treat this as a non-issue. This story will die down, and maybe the Marlins contend this year and maybe they don't. They have some great players and they have a manager who knows how to stir shit up. All I have to say is if you don't want to let-Ozzie-be-Ozzie (that's a self-contained phrase, by the way), then don't hire Ozzie in the first place.

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