Castro Claims Another Exile in Miami

By Don Rollins

A tater is a home run. A yakker is a curveball. A frozen rope is a line drive. And a manager who extols Fidel Castro may have had too much to drink. Take Ozzie Guillen, the newly installed skipper of the Miami Marlins from the Chicago White Sox.

A good glove man in his playing days, Guillen earlier this month registered an error of Martinian (as in Billy) proportions when he heaped mad love on the dictator of Cuba. Evidently bored stiff on an off-day in Philly, Guillen inexplicably steered the conversation in Castro’s general direction: “… I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Castro for the last 60 years but that son of a b-- is still there.”

For the uninitiated, the Oz has always been one squirrely interview away from the unemployment line. He’s gone off on a reporter (guy’s a fag), the governor of Arizona (immigration policy’s a joke) and his previous owner (not a real baseball man). And in a bid for some international shock and awe, Guillen in 2006 even had kind words for uppity Venezuelan president (and frequent verbal whipping post of two American administrations) Hugo Chavez.

Guillen has for years been able to survive his indiscrete, sometimes incoherent self. But this wasn’t just another Ozzie-being-Ozzie gonzo gaffe. This was the Venezuelan-born, new face of the organization giving a shout out to the most hated man in Little Havana.

Word got out and hell broke loose. A few of the more opportunistic (and conservative) South Florida politicians managed to seize the moment, calling on the Marlins front office to fire Guillen. The owner and general manager decided otherwise. Two days later, the club instead leveled a five-game suspension.

Now, if Ozzie were a high profile musician or film god, he would’ve scampered off to rehab or some damn thing. But he’s neither. He’s a baseball guy. And a few exceptions notwithstanding, baseball guys don’t go to rehab: they issue The Apology. And what an apology it was: unscripted, unguarded and complete with a contrite reference to his bended knee. It was a high drama, somber news conference with the Oz Man persona nowhere in sight. And it was enough. Guillen kept his gig.

Unless you’ve spent some time in South Florida, you might not get it that this was more than mere First Amendment fodder for sports freaks and pundits. We’re talking about a 900,000-strong swath of culture – a culture bound in part by what the more theological among us might call the narrative of a people in exile. A people in waiting.

Modern Cuban America fits the mold of ancient Israel as a people in waiting: exiled from the homeland most have never seen, blood relatives most have never met and the nation that might have been.

So Guillen’s sin was inadvertently trashing the core narrative of Cuban America. And he did it in the most egregious of terms, lavishing garlands on the very pharaoh who has for decades held the Cuban people captive and their tribal cousins in exile.

Now that the story has run its course, it wasn’t Ozzie’s job to parse the paradigmatic implications for what he said. Ozzie’s job was to save Ozzie’s job. But for the rest of us, this is yet another cautionary tale about what it’s like to be a nation of many organizing narratives, not one. In response to that reality, we don’t have to walk on cultural eggshells and become risk-avoidant when it comes to somebody else’s story. We just have to pause to think before we start bumping our gums.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Raleigh, N.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2012

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