Ozzie Guillen: the fish dies by his mouth

Venezuelans less supportive of baseball manager than one might expect

Maria Eugenia Diaz By Maria Eugenia Diaz

Ozzie Guillen attended a ceremony at Universitario Stadium in Caracas, Venezuela, after he led the Chicago White Sox to a World Series Championship in 2005. (Reuters)

Ozzie Guillen, the beleaguered Miami Marlins baseball manager, is still in the hot seat over his comments about loving Fidel Castro. Here in Caracas, Venezuela (where Guillen is from), there is an old Spanish saying, Por la boca muere el pez or “the fish dies by his mouth,”  which refers to people getting into trouble by what they say, just like fish, when they get caught by a worm on a hook.

It doesn’t matter that his eyes were red when he gave public apologies for what he said was “the biggest mistake so far in my life.” The angry Cuban American community has not shown any compassion. And, as it turns out, there is skepticism even here, Guillen’s home country, over the remarks.

Support — not so much

As the news of Guillen’s troubles in the U.S. have filtered through Venezuela, where Guillen has always been regarded as a folk hero and sports icon, there is actually less support of him than one might assume.

“His comments were so absolutely senseless  that it is difficult to understand how come he couldn’t anticipate that his words were going to get this reaction,” Humberto Acosta, a well-known baseball commentator for El National newspaper in Caracas, told Latitude News.

“I know Oswaldo (Guillen). He is a compulsive talker. He has verbal incontinence,” Acosta said, although he also recognizes that everybody is free to express his owns beliefs.

Where are the smarts?

People in Caracas appreciate the sensitivity of Guillen speaking his mind when he manages a baseball team in a city considered the most anti-Castro city in the world. Grappling with one of the lowest attendance records for any major league team, the Marlins, hoping to increase their fan base, built a new stadium smack-dab center in Little Havana – with lots of taxpayers’ support – hoping to draw more Latin American fans. Hiring Guillen was part of that game plan. So, it was not too smart, in that context, for Guillen to confess his love of Fidel.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with freedom of expression,” Acosta observed. “If Guillen were to say the same here in Caracas, or in Los Angeles or in Boston, nothing happens. But he shouldn’t have said that where he is now, in a community that has been struggling against Fidel Castro for 50 years, where people are so very sensitive about this matter. He probably underestimated the strength of the pressure that these groups could represent in Miami,” he said.

Fanatics of all faiths

Jose Grasso Vecchio, president of the Venezuelan Baseball Federation, agreed with Acosta. And, he noted, “there are fanatics of all faiths and beliefs, so it’s important to stay strictly in the area of competence.”

Even longtime, die-hard fans of Guillen in Venezuela now have their doubts about this controversial baseball icon, and that includes a doorman in Caracas.  “A sportsman should never be involved in politics,” admonished Miguel Plaza.

Guillen’s five-game suspension, imposed on him by the Marlins in response to his ill-considered remarks, ends next Tuesday.