Guillen has company in putting foot in mouth
Other baseball, public figures have gotten in trouble with words
Ozzie Guillen isn't the first baseball figure to talk his way into trouble, nor is he the first public figure to find out that words can not only hurt others but sometimes affect one's employment status.Suspended for five games by the Marlins this week after comments he made to Time magazine portraying Fidel Castro in a positive light were met with anger in Miami's large Cuban-American community who oppose the dictator, the outspoken manager is the latest example of speech having consequences. Owners, general managers, managers, players -- people from all walks of baseball life have received suspensions for their verbal missteps, proving that while America is a land of free speech, that right isn't always free of repercussions. Former Reds owner Marge Schott was one of the most infamous examples of a baseball figure inciting public outcry over a statement she made -- twice. After making numerous racist remarks and using offensive language in regard to black players on her team and disparaging Jewish employees, Schott, who became majority owner of the Reds in 1984, was suspended for the 1993 season. Then in 1996, she said to Sports Illustrated of Adolf Hitler: "He was OK at the beginning. He rebuilt all the roads, honey. You know that, right? He just went too far." Schott repeated a similar statement to ESPN, and was banned from baseball through the 1998 season. She sold her interest in the team in 1999 and died in 2004. Other high-ranking officials have taken wrong turns verbally, including former Dodgers GM Al Campanis. Long respected as an executive and before that a player dating back to the Dodgers' days in Brooklyn, Campanis' appearance on "Nightline" in 1987 stirred a national debate over race and where America really stood two decades after the Civil Rights movement. The interview was scheduled in advance of Jackie Robinson's birthday, and Campanis seemed a perfect fit for a discussion about Robinson, whom Campanis befriended and helped mentor through his becoming the first African-American player in the Major Leagues. But the "Nightline" interview went in a direction no one anticipated when host Ted Koppel asked why there were no blacks in manager, general manager or ownership positions at the time. After giving a diplomatic answer that was in turn called "baloney" by Koppel, Campanis said of African-Americans, "I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager." From that sentence on, through a rambling interview that struck on many racial stereotypes, a lifelong baseball executive who actually played an active role in blacks and Latin American players getting into Major League Baseball had uttered enough that only hours were left in his baseball career. Within two days, Campanis resigned under intense pressure heaped upon the Dodgers organization. Among players, few have raised a firestorm the way Braves reliever John Rocker did in a December 1999 article in Sports Illustrated in which he talked about New York and how to him it means riding the No. 7 train through "Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids," going on to complain about all the "foreigners" in New York. Soon after, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rocker for 28 days and fined him $25,000 for having "offended practically every element of society." Rocker's suspension was knocked down to 14 days and the fine to $500 in a grievance hearing. Thirteen years earlier, another relief pitcher caused a stir by verbally attacking another group of people he found to be particularly dangerous fodder for vitriol: his team's owners. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage didn't go astray with ethnic remarks or the like, but he did have something to say about owner Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's fast-food magnate Ray Kroc, and team president Ballard Smith, who was Kroc's son-in-law. Upset that the team banned beer in the clubhouse in June 1986, Gossage famously said, "She is poisoning the world with her hamburgers, and we can't even get a lousy beer." Later in the year, he lamented to Newsday that he wished he were still with the Yankees and owner George Steinbrenner, whom he actually called "the fat man upstairs" when he was in pinstripes himself.
"I'd rather have a guy like George who wants to win every game than have the guy we have here who doesn't know anything and doesn't care," Gossage said.With that, Smith suspended Gossage for 30 days, essentially the remainder of the season. The suspension was negotiated down to 20 days, but his $25,000 donation to charity remained in effect. "Obviously, I'm concerned about what the players think," Smith said in the wake of the suspension. "I had to make it clear that somebody was in charge of every organization. In this case, it was me. Everybody has a boss." Often, the boss of verbal miscues is the public, whether it involves baseball or not. Nationally syndicated radio broadcaster Don Imus, for instance, was suspended for two weeks by NBC News and CBS Radio under intense public pressure for calling members of the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" in 2007. The only sports figure who comes close to causing the stir with his words that Campanis and Schott did was Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, the noted bookmaker and TV football analyst, who said in an on-camera interview, "The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way" during slavery. Snyder was fired by CBS shortly thereafter. More recently, broadcaster Larry Krueger was fired by Giants flagship station KNBR for saying then-manager Felipe Alou's players were "brain-dead Caribbean hitters," and nationally syndicated talk-show host Tony Bruno was suspended for a week for an inflammatory post on his Facebook page last year that went out on Twitter calling Dominican reliever Ramon Ramirez of the Giants "an illegal-alien pitcher." For Guillen, this isn't even the first time he has gotten in trouble for saying the wrong thing. He was suspended for two games last year for complaining on Twitter about being ejected -- while the game was being played. Most everyone sticks a foot in it sometimes. Some just have a knack for setting off wildfires with their words. But consider this: Yogi Berra might be the most quoted baseball figure ever, but he never really got in trouble for something he said. He never had to serve a suspension because one of his quips truly insulted another person or was insensitive to a group of people. A thousand quotes and zero suspensions. To paraphrase Yogi, that's a record that might stand until it's broken.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.