Ozzie Guillen chosen to be fall guy, but Miami Marlins’ problems run deep
10/24/2012 12:00 AM
09/08/2014 6:07 PM
The short, unhappy reign of Ozzie Guillen is over.
The loquacious Miami Marlins manager dropped more F-bombs in a day than his team won games in an entire dismal season.
So Ozzie had to go. Somebody had to go after the Marlins’ debut in their spanking new half-a-billion-dollar stadium turned into a debacle. Guillen was chosen to be the fall guy.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria fired Guillen on Tuesday, which means the team will have its fourth Opening Day manager in 2013 in four years.
Assuming any manager wants to work for Loria, who has appointed seven since he bought the team in 2002.
Will a new skipper turn this dysfunctional ship around? Not likely, and not quickly. The Marlins’ problems are deeply ingrained; new uniforms and a retractable roof could not disguise them.
Declaring that the franchise has lost its way, president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest called Guillen to break the news, a task made more painful by Beinfest’s knowledge that his own head could have been on the chopping block instead. The composition of the failed 2012 team, the Marlins’ inability to advance to the postseason for nine consecutive years and a farm system that consistently yields poor harvests is the fault of Beinfest, the front office and micromanager Loria, not the guy in the dugout.
The players — some of them expensive free agents handpicked in a $190 million spending spree by Loria — deserve blame, too. Closer Heath Bell packed on pounds and blown saves while his constant excuses made him a pariah in the clubhouse. Catcher John Buck was unproductive at the plate. Ace Josh Johnson was not his old self after surgery. Aside from Giancarlo Stanton, nobody could make the wacky, tacky home run sculpture come to life.
“It’s cumulative. We all share in this,” Beinfest said. “We need to restore a winning culture.”
Guillen took over an overvalued, underperforming roster that was dismantled with the trades of six players in July.
“We felt we had a pretty good ballclub coming out of spring training and we just didn’t play well,” Beinfest said. “We knew we were handicapping Ozzie a little in the second half.”
Marlins executives, stuck on a stricken airplane losing altitude, are heaving ballast out the door. Hanley Ramirez, the former National League batting champion once hailed as the cornerstone of the franchise, turned out to be a loafer, not a leader, and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bell, signed for $27million, is now a Diamondback. Guillen departs with $7.5 million owed on his four-year, $10 million contract.
The season began awkwardly, with Loria driving a feeble Muhammad Ali around the field during Opening Day ceremonies that included Brazilian samba dancers escorting embarrassed players.
Then, five games in, Guillen praised Fidel Castro’s staying power in a magazine interview, piercing the hearts of Cuban Americans, the very constituency the Marlins wanted to win over with their move to Little Havana.
Guillen apologized, said it was the worst thing he had ever done and served a team-imposed, five-game suspension.
The Marlins knew what they were in for when they hired Guillen last fall — the Blizzard of Oz. His profane jokes, stories and political opinions (he has supported Hugo Chávez) were well-documented. Guillen also worked here as third-base coach for the 2003 championship team. His personality wasn’t going to change, but management couldn’t get comfortable with his candid talk, deemed it unprofessional and thought it contributed to a “lackadaisical” attitude among players.
“You never really know someone until you live with them every day,” was Beinfest’s explanation Tuesday.
Guillen didn’t seem perplexed about his future during the team’s closing series against the Mets. He even sounded somewhat defiant. He blamed himself, saying, “We stink,” but hoped the honchos would “look in the mirror, too.”
“Worried? I not worried,” said Guillen, who managed the Chicago White Sox to a World Series title. “I’ll always have a job in baseball.”
He left for vacation in Spain. He’s a bullfight aficionado. He appreciates a matador’s skill in finishing off his foe — something his players could not do in game after maddening game. The Marlins finished 69-93, last in the NL East and with attendance half a million short of projections.
Guillen is out on the eve of a World Series taunting the Marlins with could-have-been scenarios. The Tigers are led by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, let go by the penny-pinching Marlins five years ago in one of the worst trades in history. Pitcher Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante were sent to Detroit in July. Jim Leyland, Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila used to be Marlins employees. San Francisco catcher Buster Posey was drafted one spot before the Marlins picked catcher Kyle Skipworth, one of many whiffs.
Of course, if you connect on one-third of your chances in baseball, you’re doing well. Guillen wasn’t given enough time here.
Many are glad to see him go. They call him a clown who relied on assistant Joey Cora to be tactician.
“ Hasta la vista, communista!” read one sign in the stands.
After a Venezuelan TV reporter wearing strategically ripped jean shorts and suede boots showed up during batting practice to ask vapid questions, the typical manager would have swallowed his comments on the absurdity of the situation, but Guillen just laughed and discussed the popularity of plastic surgery in his country.
Guillen’s unfiltered honesty was bracing but genuine. He made mistakes – joking about getting drunk wasn’t funny – but baseball could do with more colorful characters. Most important, his players backed him all the way. He did not get a fair shot under the impatient Loria. He could have been a good fit for Miami, and the same could be said for the jettisoned Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez.
Instead, the Marlins face instability, rebuilding, cost-cutting, empty seats, alienated fans, angry taxpayers. Sound familiar?
Good luck to the new manager. Jack McKeon owns one of the 2003 championship rings, designed by Loria, the largest, gaudiest World Series rings ever made. McKeon, 81, is available for a third stint in the Marlins dugout.
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