Ozzie Guillen – a public relations disaster
On September 28, 2011, the Miami Marlins introduced Ozzie Guillen as their new manager. Before Guillen headed to South Florida, he spent eight years as the manager of the Chicago White Sox. In his second season with the White Sox, Guillen was selected as the American League Manager of the Year. The White Sox won the 2005 World Series. The White Sox’s record under Guillen was 678-617. Guillen may have lead his team to a World Series, winning more games than they lost, however, time and time again, he proves to be a challenge, even a liability when he isn’t on a baseball diamond.
On Tuesday, the Marlins suspended Guillen for five games following remarks Guillen made to Time Magazine in the April 9th edition. Time included an interview Guillen did with Sean Gregory. During the interview, Guillen is quoted as saying, “I love Fidel Castro.”
Guillen also stated: “I respect Fidel Castro,” Time reported. “You know why? Many people have tried to kill Fidel Castro in the last 60 years, yet that [SOB] is still there.”
Cuban Americans form the third-largest Hispanic group in the United States. Miami, with a Cuban American population of 856,007, stands out as the most prominent Cuban American community, in part because of its proximity to Cuba.
The Marlins opened the 2012 season at Marlins Park, built at a cost of $515 million. The Marlins contributed $155 million, South Florida taxpayers $360 million. The stadium was built on the site of the former Orange Bowl stadium in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana, in Miami’s Cuban Community.
A firestorm erupted immediately following Time’s release of Guillen’s remarks.
“I join the rest of our Miami-Dade County community and all freedom-loving people in condemning the statement made by Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement Monday afternoon. “For too long, the Marlins organization has been the source of controversies in our community and I now challenge them to take decisive steps to bring this community back together.”
Late Monday, a Cuban exile group, Vigilia Mambisa, called for a protest outside Marlins Park against the Miami Marlins stadium in Little Havana, in response to the statements made by the Venezuelan-born Guillen to Time Magazine.
“We strongly disagree with the opinion of Ozzie Guillen, and consider it a provocation against the Cuban and Venezuelan communities,” said Miguel Saavedra, head of Vigilia Mambisa. “Tomorrow starts a boycott. We are asking for the resignation of Guillen.”
Hours before the Mayor’s statement on Monday, Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez also called for Guillen’s resignation.
Guillen has a home in the Miami area. His Hispanic background made him the perfect choice as Marlins’ manager. What Loria should have realized when he hired Guillen would become one of organization’s leaders both on and off the baseball diamond. Loria had to realize Guillen came with a reputation, one that could hurt the team’s image.
Guillen decided he wouldn't join the White Sox in the traditional White House visit after the team's 2005 World Series win, after Guillen visited President Hugo Chavez with a Venezuelan flag as part of the World Series celebration. In June 2006, he was quoted as calling then Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti a "fag." He later apologized for offending any homosexuals, but did not back down in his criticism of Mariotti.
In 2010, he spoke against Arizona's new law to deal with illegal immigrants, referring to the immigrants as "workaholics."
"And this country can't survive without them," he said. "There are a lot of people from this country who are lazy. We're not. Prove me wrong. A lot of people in this country want to be on the computer and send e-mails to people. We do the hard work. We're the ones who go out and work in the sun to make this country better."
In August, Guillen said that Asian baseball players were treated better than Latino players, stating that while it is common practice for major league clubs to provide a Japanese or Korean translator for their Asian born players, no such translator is provided for their Spanish-speaking Latino ballplayers.
On Monday, the Marlins announced Guillen would be flying back from Philadelphia where the team played, to address the media on Tuesday morning.
Moments prior to the start of the Tuesday morning press conference, the team released the following statement: “The Miami Marlins announced today the suspension of Manager Ozzie Guillen for five games effective immediately. The Marlins acknowledge the seriousness of the comments attributed to Guillen. The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized, especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship.”
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said he supported the Marlins decision to suspend Guillen. He called Guillen's remarks “offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world” and “have no place in our game.”
“As I have often said, baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities,” Selig added in a statement. “All of our 30 clubs play significant roles within their local communities, and I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game's many cultures deserve.”
The Marlins signed Guillen to a $10 million four-year contract on September 29, 2011. As impossible as it may seem, the Marlins likely considered firing Guillen five games into his four-year contract. One of the keys to the Marlins long –term business success is their interaction with the Cuban-American community.
Cuban–American relations haven’t existed since Castro came to power in 1958. There are those who believe once Fidel Castro dies, relations between the two countries will allow Cubans to travel to America (and Americans to travel to Cuba). Currently there are severe travel restrictions between the two countries. If travel restrictions are lifted between Cuba and the United States, given the proximately of Cuba and Florida, the Marlins can look forward to Cuban’s attending games at Marlins Park.
More than 100 Cuban-Americans gathered outside of Marlins Park Tuesday morning during Guillen’s press conference.
"I hurt a lot of people's feelings, a lot of victims," Guillen said during a news conference at Marlins Park. "I've apologized twice and I meant it.
"I say a lot of things and I never apologize but now I have to because I did the wrong thing. I'm behind the Cuban community. ... How am I going to make it better? ... I'm going to show the community that I support them 100 percent."
Guillen had this to say after learning he was suspended by the team and not by Major League Baseball for his remarks.
"The way I feel right now, I cannot say whether it's a good or not good decision," Guillen said. "But I respect their decision. I'm not in position to be complaining.
"It's not what happened today. It's what's going to happen in the future. I expect to be here for a long time. I live in Miami. My family's in Miami and I'm willing to do everything to try to make it better. I will help the Cuban community, the Latino community, like I always do. I hope I get better and people understand my situation and I'm willing to do everything in my power and the Marlins' power to help this community."
Marlins team President David Samson insisted the team didn’t consider firing Guillen nor was he asked to resign. Samson believes everyone deserves a second chance and Guillen’s five-game suspension represented both his second chance and how the organization was prepared to deal with Guillen’s off-color remarks.
It’s likely the Marlins included a morals clause in Guillen’s contract. The standard morals clause in sports and entertainment contracts protects organizations when an employee makes statements that do damage or harm to that business. There is little, if any, doubt Guillen has damaged the Miami Marlins and the organization’s ability to succeed in South Florida.
Ultimately, the fate of a baseball franchise is based on their success on the field.
The Marlins 2012 payroll exceeds $118 million; their 2011 payroll was $56 million. The franchise more than doubled their payroll. In a $515 million stadium largely built with taxpayer dollars, Loria invested in his team – sending a clear message to South Floridians – the Marlins are ready to be competitive on the field with an improved team, and off the field with a new stadium. Guillen is a key to the team’s success. It remains to be seen if Guillen is a part of the Marlins long-term plans.
For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom