PHILADELPHIA — Nearly all the Miami Marlins rushed over to the dugout railing and playfully pretended to listen when Joey Cora sat down to speak about filling in for suspended manager Ozzie Guillen.
Shortly after Guillen addressed the team in the clubhouse Wednesday and apologized for saying he admired Fidel Castro, it was business as usual for the players.
To a man, they had his back.
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“It’s really a hard time for him and his family,” closer Heath Bell said. “We felt bad for him. You have to understand that occasionally guys make mistakes. At least he’s owning up to it and not trying to hide or shy away from it. He’s going to try and make up for his mistakes.
“He can only be a better person out of it. Like he said, if he doesn’t learn from this, he’s stupid. That’s what he said.”
Guillen’s comments led to his five-game suspension that started when Miami played the Phillies in the second game of a three-game series. The Marlins, who opened a new ballpark last week and added several marquee free agents over the winter, are off to a 2-3 start.
A day after a contrite Guillen held an hourlong news conference in Miami, he talked to the team for less than 10 minutes and expressed similar emotions.
“There’s nothing he needs to apologize to us about,” reliever Mike Dunn said. “He’s our manager and we back him 100 percent.”
Outfielder Logan Morrison said: “I love the guy.”
The Marlins conclude the series with Philadelphia on Thursday, before returning home to play Houston on Friday.
Guillen’s praise of the Cuban dictator in an interview with Time magazine outraged the Cuban-American community in Miami and led some politicians to call for his dismissal.
“This one was big and he felt it from the beginning,” said Cora, a close friend of Guillen who’s been coaching under him since 2004 with the Chicago White Sox. “He got shaken, he felt it. After he analyzed what happened, in retrospect, he wouldn’t have said what he said. He apologized and it came from the heart and hopefully he makes amends with the community.
Cora has filled in for Guillen before, though never under these circumstances. He said he planned to manage games the way Guillen would and was certain players wouldn’t be affected.
Things weren’t quite the same for him, of course.
“I’ve never had this many people try to get me to talk,” Cora joked. “You guys know me. I don’t talk. I barely say ‘Hi’ to people.”
Guillen apologized over the weekend after his remarks were published, and called it the biggest mistake of his life at his news conference on Tuesday.
“We’re not worried about it,” Morrison said of the situation. “We’re worried about winning games. It’s not a distraction. It’s not an excuse to play [poorly].”
Former NBA player Charles Barkley understands the backlash Guillen is dealing with, and how tough it can be to cope with the ensuing frenzy.
“I tried to reach out to Ozzie yesterday, because when I got my DUI, or when I spit on the girl back in the ’80s, hey man, when they’re burning down your damn house, it’s tough, man,” Barkley said on “The Waddle and Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “It’s tough when you really screw up and you can’t watch TV or listen to the radio.
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“… Everybody makes mistakes; unfortunately when you do them publicly, you get nailed to the cross, but you have to ride it out. I always tell people, the good thing about it is somebody else is going to screw up soon.”
The team didn’t consider firing Guillen or asking him to resign five games into his tenure, Marlins president David Samson said on Tuesday.
Guillen said he doesn’t love or admire Castro.
“I was saying I cannot believe somebody who hurt so many people over the years is still alive,” he said.
Time said Tuesday it stands by its story.
“You have to be really careful when you talk about the Cuban situation in Miami,” Barkley told the radio station. “Obviously, it’s a hot-button issue. It was unfortunate. It’s interesting when I sit back, all you can do is apologize. Some people are going to forgive you and some people not. I always sit back and people are like was his apology sincere? … All you can do is apologize. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment.”
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the remarks “have no place in our game” and were “offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world.”
“As I have often said, baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities,” Selig added in a statement on Tuesday. “All of our 30 clubs play significant roles within their local communities, 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.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Guillen speaks to Marlins players in clubhouse
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