You could trace the Miami Marlins' tailspin to last April, when new manager Ozzie Guillen pissed off the most important exiles in town by praising Fidel Castro. Surely the team had that fiasco in mind when news of the death of Miami's second-most-hated strongman, Hugo Chávez, was announced shortly before an exhibition game against the Venezuelan national team yesterday.
The ballplayers from Caracas requested a moment of silence for their fallen leader, and the Marlins promptly refused.
The Marlins, who consulted with Major League Baseball first, couched their decision by saying the request came too late.
"There wasn't enough time to honor the request," a Marlins spokesman tells the Miami Herald.
But how much time does it take to ask the crowd for a few moments of silence before a game begins? Truth is, the Marlins didn't want to risk any more public blowback than they've already gotten since a historic offseason firesale, even given an impassioned request from Venezuela's manager, Luis Sojo.
"He was a man of baseball," Sojo said of Chávez before the game. "It's always sad when someone dies. He was a human being, a president, a man who battled a lot for his life... We're in a tough situation in our country right now."
From a PR standpoint, there's no question the Marlins made the right call for once.
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But was it truly the right thing to do? It's not as if some random ballclub asked for a moment of silence -- this was the Venezuelan national team, which learned that its president had literally died moments before gametime.
Still, with visions of Venezuelan exilios marching in front of already barren Marlins Park turnstiles, Marlins execs probably made the only call they felt comfortable making.
Venezuela plays the Cardinals today in a final warmup before the World Baseball Classic. It will be interesting to see how the club from a town with little to no Venezuelan immigrants deals with what's sure to be a similar request.