Heath Bell wears the black hat in a dud of a season for Miami Marlins

09/26/2012 12:00 AM

09/08/2014 6:05 PM

Usually it’s Ozzie Guillen who suffers from foot-in-mouth disease.

But now it is Marlins pitcher Heath Bell extracting his shoe in order to stamp out incendiary comments he made criticizing Guillen for lack of leadership and honesty.

Guillen responded with the kind of diplomatic restraint that would impress Kofi Annan. Not a single F-bomb crossed Guillen’s lips when he talked about the disgruntled Bell.

“I respect his opinion,” Guillen said Tuesday on his 790 The Ticket radio show. “I talk a lot, so I can’t tell anybody to shut up.”

Who knew a last-place team would be so entertaining as it staggers toward season’s end?

There’s the spat between Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was fired by Loria after a slow start in 2010 following the team’s two most recent winning seasons in 2008 and 2009.

Gonzalez called Loria fickle and impossible to please. Loria called Gonzalez “a colossal failure,” and said his comments were “classless” and “not nice.”

No quiet ending

The wretched Marlins are going out with both a whimper and a bang.

Dissension and distrust. Back-stabbing and backpedaling. Insults and innuendo.

If only the Marlins showed this much fight on the field.

But, alas, no. In a comedy of errors, they were recently swept by the Mets, their rival for the bottom of the National League East.

They have a three-game series in Atlanta. They return home for a six-game dirge, three against the Phillies, three against those awful Nyets.

Marlins Park, so groovy at the start of a season that seemed so promising, could be an echo chamber.

Unless Bell pitches. Then you’ll hear the boos rain down like an afternoon thunderstorm.

Bell, closer turned whiner, has become the most unpopular sports figure in South Florida since Nick Saban.

He’s the emblem of the Marlins’ 2012 Grand Reinvention: A dud. A colossal dud. An overpriced, overrated, overweight dud. In April and May, Bell could not close a game — or the refrigerator.

Bad news bell

He blew save after save, walking in runs, giving up home runs, wasting leads. The Marlins never recovered from their poor start. Bell’s ERA ballooned like his waistline and even now it’s still an unsightly 5.19. He was demoted to middle reliever in July, and the Marlins tried to trade him twice.

Loria, enamored of Bell’s 40-plus-save record for San Diego in each of the three seasons previous to this one, paid dearly to sign him to a three-year, $27 million contract despite murmurs that he was past his prime. Bell, along with other marquee signings, was to fulfill Loria’s promise that he would finally spend for winning talent once he got his own stadium.

Instead, the Marlins could finish with a record worse than last year’s 90-loss mark. Bell was the biggest of many mistakes and misguided expectations. Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante, Gaby Sanchez, Edward Mujica and Anibal Sanchez were all traded away.

Bell is still here, much to the dismay of his teammates, who dislike him and have come to Guillen’s defense. On Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. in the visitors’ clubhouse in Atlanta, Guillen’s radio show was broadcast at full volume — this was by design — while Bell and the rest of the Marlins listened in silence.

Bell had told Miami’s WQAM 560 radio host Dan Sileo on Monday that “it’s hard to respect a guy that doesn’t tell you the truth or doesn’t tell you face-to-face.” On Tuesday morning, he tried to take it back, saying his live comments were taken out of context.

Bell’s excuses have become tiresome. He has blamed trainers, coaches, scouts and catchers for his struggles. He even blamed Showtime for a negative portrayal of him on The Franchise. His teammates say he’s a phony.

Ozzie’s honesty

To call Guillen untruthful is like calling Lady Gaga modest.

“Have fun, win games and be honest — that’s the way I’ve been my whole life,” Guillen said on his show. “Of 35 players, the one I fight for the most was [Bell]. Fans call me ‘idiot’ for keeping him so long as closer. He lose his job; he did it to himself. We gave him a lot of opportunities to come out of it.

“I think Heath Bell gonna bounce back. But I losing respect for him because of comments he make. He put me on the spot with my players. My biggest concern is what I do for my players. I worry about them, I care about them. My job is to get the best out of them. Obviously, this year I didn’t do it.”

Nor did they get the best out of themselves, which is why they have approached Guillen to convey their support.

Guillen is taking heat for this bomb of a season, but he deserves another shot with a recalibrated roster. Don’t expect the Marlins, with a projected payroll of $80 million, to be significantly better.

But Bell will be gone, even if Loria has to eat the $18 million left on his contract. Bell’s presence has turned toxic, and the Marlins must clean up the mess.

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