Friday, April 13, 2012

The Wizardry of Oz

Down in Miami, Fla, the owner of the Florida Marlins baseball team, Jeffrey Loria, came up with an idea to increase fan interest and attendance (and revenue)!  Let's change the name of the team to the MIAMI Marlins, let's build a stadium in the Little Havana section of town, and let's try to appeal to the many Cuban-Americans here, who love baseball.

Yes, they love baseball in Miami. And they hate Fidel Castro.

So Mr Loria gets the former mayor of Miami to back his plan for a taxpayer-supported stadium, which cost the mayor his job in the last election.  And he goes out and hires Ozzie Guillen as his manager.  Perfect fit, he figures.  48 years of age, a Venezuelan by birth, and the sort of colorful character that baseball loves.  A good manager, winner of a World Series with the White Sox a couple of years ago, and a box-office draw all at once.  Pay him 2.5 million a year, and watch the fans stream in!

So they opened the stadium last week. They played one game there, and then the Marlins went on the road, during which time both The NEW YORKER and TIME magazines ran articles about the new-look team, new name, new $634 million ballpark, new manager.  And TIME quotes Ozzie as saying he loves and respects Fidel Castro. “You know why?” he said. “A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last sixty years, but that son of a bitch is still here.”

Well, Oz, a lot of people have hated a lot of murderous dictators for a long time, but don't allow that hate to be confused with love or respect.  The upshot of it is, of course, a major controversy, mad apologies from Ozzie and the team, pickets, placards, the whole deal.  Ozzie gets suspended by the team for five games, and the owner, Loria, must be kicking himself all over home plate for spending so much money - his and the public's - to put on a big show, only to hire a big show-off to manage the team.

Since Ozzie does acknowledge no love for Hugo Chavez, the dictator of his native land, you have to wonder if he only said what he said just to have something to say, as when he made homophobic remarks about a sportswriter in Chi a few years back.  As in the lovely way he told his son that he planned to celebrate his wedding anniversary (I'll let you read that in the New Yorker so I don't have to quote such a distasteful remark.)

Yes, Ozzie likes to speak and talk and say things, and the press gathers around and records his every utterance like young seminarians clustering around a bishop.  And some in South Florida are questioning the need for punishment, saying that to punish Oz is to take away his freedom of speech, which is what Castro did to Cubans.

Ozzie, with mouth closed for once
To set the record straight:  every person in this country has the absolute right to free speech.  Smart people in this country realize that when you are being paid two and half million a year to promote a product, the one thing you cannot do is extol the virtues of the one thing that is anathema to the potential users of the product.

It's like being hired as a spokesperson for McDonald's and showing up with a Whopper. 

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