By Jorge Arangure
Let’s get this out of the way early: We can all agree that Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is a bit nuts in running his franchise, especially when it comes to managers. The organization is a bit of a mess right now, with egos abounding and a seemingly uncharted future, and the firing of Ozzie Guillen after just one season by a front office in chaos hardly inspires confidence.
All you need to know about the Marlins right now is that the person asked to speak publicly about Guillen’s firing, Miami president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, is himself reportedly going to be fired sometime soon. Even Beinfest, during his conference call with reporters on Tuesday to talk about the Guillen firing, could not make any assurances about his long-term future with the team. If the guy who is supposed to talk about the future of your team might not have a future with the team, then your franchise should be designated a disaster area.
The Marlins not only appear as a team without a plan, but also one with nobody to even implement a plan. Contenders? Rebuilding? Who knows? The team, with a gaudy new stadium whose attendance fell below expectations and a team president -- David Samson, Loria’s son-in-law -- who constantly starts PR firestorms, has become baseball’s punch line.
Yet it doesn’t mean that everything they do these days is wrong. Amazingly, after almost a decade of firing managers -- he’s gone through seven of them since buying the Marlins in 2002, including one (Joe Girardi) who was named Manager of the Year only weeks after being dismissed -- Loria finally got one right.
If Guillen was not owed $7.5 million from his four-year deal, would this move really be questioned? And if money was no object -- due in part to the Marlins suckering Florida lawmakers into giving them a sweetheart stadium deal, but that’s another story -- then could anyone truly blame Loria for extinguishing what was a disastrous managerial stint, as awful as Bobby Valentine’s year in Boston?
Arguably, Valentine’s biggest misstep was insulting Kevin Youkilis. Guillen somehow was insane enough to insult the city’s entire Cuban community during the first month of the season. Eerily, Valentine and Guillen ended their seasons with identical 69-93 records.
For Guillen there was an even bigger embarrassment. His .426 winning percentage is the worst in Marlins history for a manager, a dubious mark to set for a former expansion team.
The intentions of neither the Marlins nor Guillen appeared genuine during their courtship last year, and that may be why this ended so badly. The team was looking more for someone to promote the new stadium, and less for a tactical genius. Guillen was simply looking for a payday.
“I want more money,” Guillen told the Chicago media just a few days prior to his exit from the White Sox last year. “Life is about money.”
Guillen then spent the next year proving that money had made him complacent. He had gone straight for the cash grab, and that rarely works out in sports.
Guillen was hired to bring harmony to the clubhouse, to inspire leadership in supposed franchise player Hanley Ramirez, and to win division titles. Instead, Ramirez never appeared to get along with Guillen, which led to his trade to the Dodgers. Several players -- most notably closer Heath Bell -- publicly criticized the manager, and the team ended up in last place.
Guillen was hired to energize a passive South Florida fan base, specifically the Latin American community. His comments in support of Fidel Castro ended any hope of that. Although Guillen apologized, he never really recovered from the incident.
Perhaps Guillen had sensed he was doomed as the year sputtered to an end. Shortly after the season, Guillen departed for a long trip to Europe to watch soccer and bull fights on what seemed more like an evacuation rather than a vacation.
Guillen’s messy exit demands a dramatic image makeover.
It bears mentioning that the White Sox surprisingly contended for a division title after hiring someone who was Guillen’s absolute opposite. The quiet and worry-free Robin Ventura proved to be the perfect antidote for what had become a sideshow on the South Side.
Who or what is Ozzie Guillen anymore? Is he the astute manager who deftly managed the White Sox in the in mid 2000s, or is he the caricature who spouts whatever he wants, often to his own detriment? Does Guillen want to be the clownish manager, or the manager with the comedic streak? There is a stark difference. It’s something Guillen needs to quickly figure out. Otherwise he’ll spend the rest of his possible managing years watching bull fights in Europe.
His ability to sneak in and then out of trouble in Chicago appeared to empower him to believe that he could do no wrong that couldn’t be swept away by an apology. He was no longer the humble third-base coach who Loria had admired and pegged as a future manager in 2003. Instead, Guillen was a superstar, the owner of a championship ring, one of the highest paid managers, with just as healthy an ego as the players he managed and the men who paid him.
The most disappointing aspect of all of this is that Guillen is no fool. He has been an active spokesman and advocate for fair treatment of Latin American players. He is a trailblazer, a pioneer, the first marketable Hispanic manager and a beloved figure in his native Venezuela. But that’s gotten lost in a sea of controversies, bleeped out curses on television and a cascade of illegible tweets.
Just what owner would want to have Guillen manage their team right now? Why would he possibly be worth the trouble? The Marlins found out that the guy they hired to be an attraction instead turned out to be a distraction.
Ultimately, the greatest thing Guillen accomplished as Marlins manager was making Loria appear, for the first time in ages, as a smart baseball man on the day he pulled the plug on the whole miserable experiment.
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Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.