NEAL CONAN, HOST:
Ozzie Guillen's interview with Time magazine begins with the quote, "I love Fidel Castro" - controversial for any Major League Baseball manager, a flash point for the new manager of a team that just opened a new stadium in Miami's Little Havana. Earlier today, the Miami Marlins suspended Guillen for five games, and he appeared at a news conference to repeat apologies for what he called the biggest mistake I've made so far in my life.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
OZZIE GUILLEN: I apologize to the peoples here, outside, who are looking at me, and I'm very, very, very sorry about the problem, about what happened. And I will do everything to make it better, everything in my power to make it better.
CONAN: Now many wonder whether the apology and the suspension will satisfy those calling for his ouster, including protesters and a couple of local politicians. Joining us now from member station WLRN in Miami is Sergio Bustos, state and politics editor for the Miami Herald. And nice to have you on the program again.
SERGIO BUSTOS: Good afternoon, Neal.
CONAN: And Ozzie claimed, at least in part, that his remarks were misinterpreted by the reporter. But his sincerity, did that come across? Is that going to convince people, do you think?
BUSTOS: Well, I think it will in some ways, but it's still a long road to travel. The next home game is Friday. In fact, I have tickets for it.
CONAN: Friday the 13th, as it happens.
BUSTOS: Friday the 13th. So I think it - that'll be an interesting game to see if people feel strongly about it. Now, I think he's still going to be out on suspension, but to see if the crowd shows up, see if more protests, that'll be real telling. Whether he actually mended fences there, it's hard to tell, but he touched a third rail here that he really should have just avoided altogether.
CONAN: And some people outside of South Florida may find it a difficult third rail to understand. But there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who either fled from Cuba or are the children of those who did.
BUSTOS: Yeah, exactly. You've got your own grandparents at home, may have come over from Cuba as exiles. They're still living in your home, and you're planning on going to the ballgame. Are you going to offend your grandparents by going to support a guy who said he loved Castro?
It becomes kind of a very personal matter for folks and one that's very sensitive here. I've heard the comparison. It's like someone going up in - part of New York and going in a Jewish community and saying, yeah, well, Hitler wasn't that bad a guy.
CONAN: It was Marge Schott, the owner of the Cincinnati Reds, who said not quite that far, but comments along those lines and was suspended by Major League Baseball for a year.
BUSTOS: It looks like the suspension may have done at least something to say, look, you made a mistake, but you're going to pay for it immediately with five games. And that may have at least satisfied some folks here. But again, they've also got a public relations problem here beyond politics. They built this stadium locally with mostly taxpayer dollars, and there's a certain animosity toward the idea of this stadium now housing this man who may actually like Castro.
CONAN: We're talking with Sergio Bustos, state and politics editor for The Miami Herald, about Ozzie Guillen and his comments about Fidel Castro in Time magazine. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Ozzie Guillen is famous for being outspoken. He was when he was manager of the Chicago White Sox and got into some trouble there for appearing on radio programs with Hugo Chavez from his native Venezuela and later seemed to climb back from that. And Ozzie Guillen is not the kind of person to be quiet and to keep his views to himself.
BUSTOS: No. And even over the weekend, he's quoted in our paper talking about how he had - after every game, win or lose, he goes out and gets drunk, or at least drinks a lot. I mean, these kinds of comments, just not going to win him a lot of support here. And there was a lot of fanfare with his arrival. You know, this guy had won a World Series up in Chicago, coming to a town with one, two World Series, that the team was going to turn around. They had a new stadium. And boom, foot in mouth.
CONAN: A lot of people picked the Marlins to, in fact, go to the World Series this year. They did spend an awful lot of money and hired this flamboyant manager to be the Latin face of an increasingly Latin team, but it puts the white ownership of that team into a bit of a quandary.
BUSTOS: Yeah. And it's just an embarrassing episode here because, number one, what's he know? What's he care about Cuban politics? You know, even presidential candidates who wander down here, very careful not to say anything stupid like this, like he said. They'll go to the Cuban cafes, have a - sip a little cafecito, you know, and then move on and say something anti-Castro at, you know, at worst. And then you move on and you aren't put in this kind of situation. But this is truly a public relations nightmare for the Miami Marlins.
CONAN: So how long before we know whether it's going to have a chance to blow over, or whether a nice winning streak will get people's minds on something else?
BUSTOS: That might. Although, again, very hard to tell here, but I'm sure they want to wake up soon from this one.
CONAN: Are you going to be interested to see when - could you now file for your time on Friday night at the ballgame? You're going to be covering it, more or less, I assume.
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BUSTOS: I think I'll be tweeting something about it if - to see just the reaction. There's 200 protesters out there today at the news conference he held. There was a - there is some tension. Now, let me tell you though - 20 years ago, I think he'd been fired by today. But there have been some cultural changes here. The animosity toward the island is not as strong. But let me tell you, the anger toward the regime in Havana is still as strong, and that's where Mr. Guillen really messed it up.
CONAN: Sergio Bustos, state and politics editor for the Miami Herald, with us from WLRN, our member station in Miami. Thanks very much for your time today.
BUSTOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.