Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen speaks at a news conference Tuesday at Marlins Stadium in Miami.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
MIAMI — Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games Tuesday because of his comments about Fidel Castro, and he again apologized and said he'll do whatever he can to repair relations with Cuban-Americans angered by the remarks.
The suspension by the team will be without pay and takes effect immediately. It was announced shortly before Guillen held a news conference to explain what he said.
Guillen told Time magazine he loves Castro and respects the retired Cuban leader for staying in power so long. In response, at least two local officials said Guillen should lose his job.
At the news conference, Guillen said his comments were misinterpreted by the reporter, and he doesn't love or admire the dictator.
"I was saying I cannot believe somebody who hurt so many people over the years is still alive," Guillen told the news conference.
But Guillen took responsibility for the uproar, and said it left him sad and embarrassed. He also said he accepted the team's punishment.
"I'm very sorry about the problem, what happened," he said. "I will do everything in my power to make it better. ... I know it's going to be a very bumpy ride."
Outside an entrance to the Marlins' new ballpark, demonstrators shouted as the news conference began inside. It took place only five games into Guillen's tenure in Miami.
Protestor Olga Gomez gestures outside Marlins Stadium in Miami.
THE MIAMI HERALD Enlarge
With reaction to his comments escalating in South Florida, he left his team in Philadelphia and flew to Miami in an attempt at damage control. The Marlins and Phillies had the day off and resume their series in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Guillen said he'll be there to apologize to his players — but he won't be in the dugout. Bench coach Joey Cora will be the interim manager.
"The Marlins acknowledge the seriousness of the comments attributed to Guillen," read a statement from the team. "The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized, especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship."
The suspension recalled the punishment given to Marge Schott, the late owner of the Cincinnati Reds. Schott so embarrassed baseball in the 1990s with her inflammatory racial remarks and fond recollections of Adolf Hitler that she was suspended from ownership duties for a season.
About 100 reporters, photographers and cameramen attended the news conference, and Marlins officials on hand included President David Samson and Larry Beinfest, president of baseball operations.
Guillen sat alone at the podium and began in Spanish, speaking without notes for several minutes before taking questions. Shortly after he started, his voice wavered in the middle of a sentence, and he paused to take a sip of water and clear his throat.
"This is the biggest mistake I've made so far in my life," Guillen said. "When you make a mistake like this, you can't sleep. ... When you're a sportsman, you shouldn't be involved with politics."
The firestorm came shortly after the Marlins opened their ballpark last week in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. The team is trying to rebuild its fan base with the help of South Florida's large Cuban-American population.
Guillen apologized over the weekend after the story broke, but some Cuban-Americans remained upset. One group planned a demonstration Tuesday before Guillen said he would fly to Miami.
Francis Suarez, chairman of the Miami city commission, said Guillen should be fired. Joe Martinez, chairman of the Miami-Dade County board of commissioners, said Guillen should resign.
Polarizing comments are nothing new for Guillen, who once used a gay slur referring to a reporter, defended illegal immigrants and just last week he said he drinks to excess after road games and has done so for years.
Guillen twice appeared on a radio show hosted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in October 2005, when Guillen led the Chicago White Sox to the World Series title. At the time, Guillen said: "Not too many people like the president. I do."
Chavez is unpopular with many Venezuelans, especially those living in the United States.