Guillen's tirade clearly unacceptable
Manager reprimanded by Commissioner for comment
CHICAGO -- In the first place, Ozzie Guillen's use of a three-letter derogatory term describing a homosexual was inexcusable, regardless of the context.
At this late date, reasonable people ought to be in nothing short of unanimous agreement on that point. The Commissioner of baseball is on board. On Thursday, Bud Selig announced punishment for this usage, fining the manager of the Chicago White Sox an undisclosed amount and ordering him to undergo sensitivity training.
"On Tuesday night, Ozzie Guillen used language that is offensive and completely unacceptable," Selig said Thursday. "Baseball is a social institution with responsibility to set appropriate tone and example. Conduct or language that reflects otherwise will not be tolerated. The use of slurs embarrasses the individual, the club and the game."
Guillen, who used the term in a tirade directed at a Chicago columnist, one day later apologized for using the term. Thursday, he said of his conversation with the Commissioner:
"Mr. Selig told me he had to do something about this. It wasn't good for me and baseball to be involved in this."
Guillen at one point suggested to reporters Thursday that he was going to talk less as a result of this episode. Forty-five minutes later, he was still talking to reporters. There is a chance that, aside from dropping the usage that got him in trouble, Guillen is not going to undergo a fundamental change in behavior.
"We're in a country where you have to be careful of what you say," Guillen said. "Besides that, I'm not going to change. I went to the dictionary this morning and learned a couple of different things to say about people."
Guillen reiterated his apology to the gay community, stating that "at least six" of his best friends in Chicago and his best friend in Venezuela were members of that community.
Guillen has said that in Venezuelan culture, the term he used had nothing to do with sexual orientation, but connoted a lack of manliness. That's fine, but after more than two decades in the States, Ozzie has a pretty good idea of what the term means in English, too. The use of the term remains outside the bounds of reasonable public behavior. But it also appears to be true at this point that when Guillen says he has nothing against the gay community, he is being completely sincere.
What follows are not mitigating circumstances, or extenuating circumstances, but they are relevant circumstances. Ozzie Guillen had no right to use the term in question, but he had plenty of reason to be angry with the columnist in question, Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Mariotti has criticized Guillen persistently and in highly personal ways. This happens between columnists and managers, but from Guillen's comments the last three days, what really bothers this particular manager is that this columnist never enters the White Sox clubhouse.
The columnist has acknowledged this publicly, stating that he fears for his personal safety in the White Sox clubhouse based on past incidents with Sox players.
The unwritten, but universally understood baseball writing code is that you can write whatever it is you feel you need to write about a manager or a coach or a player, as long as you show up in the clubhouse the next day so that the manager or coach or player can confront you about what you have written. This does not seem to be an unreasonable price to pay for this particular use of the First Amendment.
Most of Guillen's recent remarks regarding the columnist cannot be reproduced in full due to their profanity-laced nature. However, "He's garbage, still garbage, he's going to die as garbage," gives you the general flavor.
But Thursday, Guillen produced his bottom line on the argument with Mariotti: "The only thing I want, the people who own the paper, I want them to make him show up here and work."
You might ask, what effect will this controversy have on the actual White Sox baseball team, the defending World Series champions? The correct answer is none at all. In the two games after this episode began, the Sox scored 33 runs. They did not seem to be particularly demoralized. The players who have been around the block understand that Guillen is a verbal loose cannon, likely to say anything at any time. Other than that, the record clearly states that they not only enjoy playing for him, they also respect him.
There has never been another manager in baseball anything like Ozzie Guillen. This incident aside, he has generally exhibited a basic honesty in his public function as White Sox manager that has been, if sometimes a bit salty for general consumption, commendable.
If he emerges from this incident with a better grasp of what constitutes unacceptable speech, particularly for someone in his highly public position, that would obviously be good. But there is no reason to believe that he will come anywhere close to closing his mouth on a regular basis.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.