HOUSTON – Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, born in Havana and raised in Miami, was as surprised as anyone by Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen’s comments expressing admiration for Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Gonzalez knew the quotes, published in Time magazine, would put Guillen at the center of a firestorm of controversy and anger in South Florida’s large Cuban-American community, and they have.
Guillen was suspended for five games Tuesday by the Marlins and had a nationally televised news conference in which he explained his comments and apologized repeatedly, calling it the worst mistake he had made.
The former shortstop – he played for four teams including the Braves in 1998-1999 — said he had meant only to express surprise that Castro was still in power, although he was quoted saying “I love Fidel Castro.”
“I’m surprised that him being down there for so long, that he took that that lightly,” Gonzalez said of Guillen, who is Venezuelan and has lived for many years in Miami, where anti-Castro sentiment runs deep among Cuban exiles and their families.
“I have an uncle and a grandma that are still down there [in Cuba],” Gonzalez said. “I was born there and came [to Miami] when I was real young, and my mom and dad … take that pretty seriously. Those type of comments. When you’re dealing with that type of dictatorship, those leaderships….”
Gonzalez said he called his father in Miami on Wednesday and discussed the situation.
“He said, ‘Stay out of it,’” Gonzalez said of his father’s advice. “He goes, ‘Don’t touch that.’ But you feel like you’ve got to say something.”
Gonzalez said he watched Guillen’s press conference Wednesday morning. The normally brash and outspoken Marlins manager appeared contrite and shaken by the ordeal, which might not end with the suspension if Cuban-American leaders in Miami continue to ask that he be fired.
“I think he’s feeling it,” Gonzalez said. “And it’ll take a while to earn the trust of the people down there, and for them to forget and forgive. You could tell that press conference was hard on him. More than any suspension or fine or whatever they could do to him….
“Here’s a guy that came out and faced the music. It’s going to take a while, but hopefully he can win those people back.”