MIAMI, FL - APRIL 10: Protesters rally outside a press conference held by Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen for comments made about Fidel Castro at Marlins Park on April 10, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The Marlins suspended Guillen for five games over his pro-Castro comments. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
This is a safe place. No one will judge you. This is the room where we can sit back and wonder what in the hell is going on. Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games. He held an emotional press conference to apologize to the City of Miami, to the legions of Cuban expatriates and their who are demanding that he be fired. Here's what he said:
"I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother****** is still here."
No comments on Castro's policies. No specifics other than a respect for Castro's tenacity.
"I love Fidel Castro."
You can see how it was a stupid quote. You can also kind of see the context in which it was stupidly uttered. But that will never be the point. You just can't say that in Miami. In context, out of context, to set up a great joke, it doesn't matter. Never. And there's a great chance that 99 percent of us will never understand just how verboten that sentence is for a public figure in Miami. The passion and anger when it comes to Fidel Castro by the expatriate Cuban community is something I can't pretend to comprehend.
Those quotes set up this scene:
There are people in and around Miami who consider Fidel Castro and the state of Cuban politics to be the most important issue in the world today. I can't understand that. But I didn't live in Cuba under Castro. I didn't know people who were imprisoned for saying something they shouldn't have. I didn't escape on a raft to get away from a country I wanted to love. That isn't to say that the anti-Castro contingent is right in this or anything else; it's just a way to explain that I can never, ever, ever understand the fury, even if I tried my hardest. This is context I'll never have.
The Marlins, trying to rebuild a reputation and reforge a brand, knew they were getting a loose-lipped, controversial skipper when they hired Ozzie Guillen. That was part of the deal; part of the attraction, even. Wind him up and let him go! Did he just say that he got drunk after every game? How adorable! Did he use a gay slur? Naughty, naughty!
But they never could have expected him to say "I love Fidel Castro." To paraphrase Mr. White, if a public figure in Miami says "I love Fidel Castro" in a dream, they'd better wake up and schedule a press conference to apologize. No one could be that stupid.
Surprise! At least one person can be! And the Marlins are scrambling. Of course they suspended Guillen. That's the minimum they could do. There's a not insignificant chance they'll still have to fire him. This will rage and rage and rage, even after the rest of the baseball-loving world has forgotten all about it. A four-word sentence from Ozzie Guillen cost the Marlins an incalculable portion of the goodwill they were trying to build up.
(An aside: One of the proudest traditions that stupid Americans have -- not you, you're cool -- is to gather around a controversy like this and misunderstand the principles of freedom of speech. The Marlins are a private employer. They can restrict the speech of their employees if they feel it hurts their business. I can type "Brett is a dumbass" and "Brett is a mouth-breathing goofball" here. I just did. Nothing happened. But if I were quoted as such while working for my last employer, my boss, Brett, might have fired me, even though he was clearly a dumbass. The Marlins had no choice.)
Last week, I referenced the final line of Chinatown to explain away this picture of Marlins Park being Marlins Park. But the line -- "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." -- is one of the most quoted in Hollywood history because it packs so much meaning into a single sentence. The history, the corruption, and the past that Jake had in Chinatown … everything was different there. The rules were just different -- so different that you could just say the name of the place and expect some sort of understanding of just how it was different.
The same thing goes for Miami. The rules are different. People have an anger and fury about Fidel Castro that'd be impossible to comprehend fully without living it. You can't forget this, Ozzie. It's Miami. Saying "I love Fidel Castro" is the last thing you can do there, regardless of context. I know that. You know that. But unless you're there, you can probably never understand it.