The new Major League Baseball season isn't even a week old, and already there's controversy brewing. Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins, is holding a news conference Tuesday to apologize for recent comments he made about Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And one of baseball's better-known characters, with a knack for testing the boundaries of free speech, has created a controversy in the very first week of the season. Ozzie Guillen, new manager of the Miami Marlins, is holding a press conference today in Miami to apologize. It's all about some comments he made about Cuba's Fidel Castro. Joining us now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: OK. What did he say?
GOLDMAN: In an article in Time magazine's Internet edition, Ozzie Guillen said, I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. He went on to say, you know why? Many people have tried to kill Fidel Castro in the last 60 years, yet that SOB is still there.
This has unleashed a firestorm of protests in South Florida, home to so many Cuban-Americans, Cuban exiles. Of course for many of them, Castro is right up there with the world's most oppressive leaders.
MONTAGNE: What, exactly, are people saying? Are they calling for his head?
GOLDMAN: Well, Spanish-language radio shows in Miami - shows that older, more conservative Cuban-Americans like to listen to - are reportedly getting flooded with calls from people offended by his remarks. Some local politicians are making a beeline for this.
Here's an excerpt from a letter sent by Miami Dade Board of County Commissioners Chairman Joe Martinez to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. And it says, in part: In the name of all Americans, especially those who have come from other countries escaping persecution, I strongly urge that you call for the resignation of Mr. Guillen. I truly hope that you consider this, as there is no other alternative that would be satisfactory. Anything less adds insult to injury to this great community.
MONTAGNE: So this new manager of the Miami Marlins is expected to apologize today. But up to now, how has Guillen responded?
GOLDMAN: Well, he has apologized from the road, where the Marlins have been since this broke open in the last few days. And here's one of the comments he made to reporters.
OZZIE GUILLEN: You know, I have to wear it. I have to face it. I've got to grab the bull by the horn, and I will do it tomorrow.
GOLDMAN: So Renee, as this controversy has taken off in the last 24 hours, Guillen decided to take the unusual step of flying back to Miami for this press conference today. He says he didn't want to issue a statement. He says he wants to talk to people directly. He says he feels very guilty and sad and embarrassed.
MONTAGNE: Well, Tom, Ozzie Guillen does have a knack for saying controversial things.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, he certainly does. It's always been part of his charm, actually. Many people - certainly sports reporters, who cling to his every word - love his openness because so many public people, and especially in sports, are very measured. But it's gotten him into trouble.
There is openness, and then there's sticking your foot in your mouth - which he has done quite regularly, whether talking about illegal immigration; or voicing support for Hugo Chavez, leader of Guillen's native Venezuela;, or on the darker side, uttering gay slurs. Guillen's always been a lightning rod for controversy, but this one takes the cake.
It's offending a big part of your fan base, a fan base that funded a good deal of the Marlins' glittery, new, $600 million-plus ballpark, which was featured on baseball's opening night last Wednesday. And it's a ballpark located in the Little Havana section of Miami.
MONTAGNE: So what does this mean? Has he possibly gone too far this time? I mean, could it cost him his job?
GOLDMAN: You know, there's no talk of that now. The Marlins released a statement after this broke, saying the organization has no respect for Castro. They called him a brutal dictator who has caused unthinkable pain for more than 50 years. But undoubtedly, the Marlins will be watching to see how this plays out - what kind of protest there is, whether things die down as the baseball season unfolds. And they hope the team starts winning - that old, magic remedy in sports for quelling controversy.
MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.