MIAMI — Ozzie Guillen sat alone at a podium and began in Spanish, then halted in the middle of a sentence when his voice wavered. The chastened Miami Marlins manager took a sip of water and cleared his throat, then continued.
Suspended for five games Tuesday for his comments lauding Fidel Castro, Guillen again apologized and said he’ll do whatever he can to repair relations with Cuban-Americans angered by the remarks.
“I’m very sorry about the problem, what happened,” said Guillen, who is only five games into his tenure with the Marlins. “I will do everything in my power to make it better. … I know it’s going to be a very bumpy ride.”
The suspension by the team takes effect immediately. It was announced shortly before Guillen held a news conference to explain what he said.
Guillen, a 48-year-old Venezuelan, told Time magazine he loves Castro and respects the retired Cuban leader for staying in power so long. In response, at least two local officials said Guillen should lose his job.
At the news conference, Guillen said his comments were misinterpreted by the reporter, and he doesn’t love or admire the dictator.
“I was saying I cannot believe somebody who hurt so many people over the years is still alive,” Guillen told the news conference.
There was no immediate response to an Associated Press request for comment from government and sports officials in Cuba.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said he supported the decision to suspend Guillen. He called Guillen’s remarks in the magazine “offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world” and “have no place in our game.”
Guillen took responsibility for the uproar, and said it left him sad and embarrassed. He also said he accepted the team’s punishment.
Outside an entrance to the Marlins’ new ballpark, about 100 demonstrators wanting Guillen’s ouster shouted and chanted during the news conference. The team didn’t consider firing Guillen or asking him to resign, Marlins President David Samson said.
“We believe in him,” Samson said. “We believe in his apology. We believe everybody deserves a second chance. Politics are a conversation I don’t think you’re going to be hearing more about from Ozzie.”
With reaction to Guillen’s praise of Castro escalating in South Florida, he left his team in Philadelphia and flew to Miami in an attempt at damage control. The Marlins and Phillies had the day off and resume their series in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Guillen said he’ll be there to apologize to his players — but he won’t be in the dugout. Bench coach Joey Cora will be the interim manager. Samson said he expected no further discipline by Major League Baseball.
“The Marlins acknowledge the seriousness of the comments attributed to Guillen,” read a statement from the team. “The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized, especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship.”
Selig said in his statement that “baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities.”
“All of our 30 clubs play significant roles within their local communities,” he added. “And I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game’s many cultures deserve.”
The suspension recalled the punishment given to Marge Schott, the late owner of the Cincinnati Reds. Schott so embarrassed baseball in the 1990s with inflammatory racial remarks and fond recollections of Adolf Hitler that she was suspended from ownership duties for a season.
About 100 reporters, photographers and cameramen attended the news conference. Guillen sat alone at the podium and began in Spanish, speaking without notes for several minutes before taking questions. Shortly after he started, his voice wavered in the middle of a sentence, and he paused to take a sip of water and clear his throat.
“This is the biggest mistake I’ve made so far in my life,” Guillen said. “When you make a mistake like this, you can’t sleep. … When you’re a sportsman, you shouldn’t be involved with politics.”
The news conference lasted nearly an hour, with about 80 percent of it in Spanish. Guillen said he was suspended without pay, but Samson later said the manager will be paid and will donate the money to Miami human-rights causes.
The firestorm came shortly after the Marlins opened their ballpark last week in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. The team is trying to rebuild its fan base with the help of South Florida’s large Cuban-American population.
Guillen apologized over the weekend after the story broke, but some Cuban-Americans remained upset. One group planned a demonstration Tuesday before Guillen said he would fly to Miami.
Francis Suarez, chairman of the Miami city commission, said Guillen should be fired. Joe Martinez, chairman of the Miami-Dade County board of commissioners, said Guillen should resign.
Polarizing comments are nothing new for Guillen, who once used a gay slur referring to a reporter, defended illegal immigrants and just last week he said he drinks to excess after road games and has done so for years.
The manager twice appeared on a radio show hosted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in October 2005, when Guillen led the Chicago White Sox to the World Series title. Chavez is unpopular with many Venezuelans, especially those living in the United States.
“Not too many people like the president,” Guillen said at the time. “I do.”