The Miami Marlins on Tuesday suspended manager Ozzie Guillen for five games, effective immediately, for stirring controversy by telling an interviewer, "I love Fidel Castro."
"The Marlins acknowledge the seriousness of the comments attributed to Guillen," the Major League Baseball team said in a statement.
"The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimised especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship."
At a news conference on Tuesday, the Venezuelan-born former shortstop apologised as 300 people demonstrated outside the team stadium in the Little Havana section of Miami calling for his dismissal.
"I'm very disappointed and very - very sad, I let those guys down," Guillen said.
"I let the ball club down... it's very important because that's the reason they hired me (was) to manage a ball club, not to talk about politics. And I think this is going to hurt me the most, not being with the ball club for that many days."
Guillen made the comments to Time Magazine. He later amended his remarks to say "I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but (he) is still there."
The team plays in a city with a large Cuban-American community, many of whom are rabid anti-Castro activists.
Guillen was an All-Star shortstop who played with the Chicago White Sox and other teams, then worked as a coach before managing the White Sox, winning the 2005 World Series. He began as manager in Miami this year.
After the controversy began, Guillen told reporters he did not intend to start a political debate.
"I think when I was talking about that specific man, it was personal. It wasn't politic," he said.
"I'm against the way he (Castro) treats people and the way (he) treats his country for a long time. I'm against that 100 percent."
Lost in translation
Guillen said his comments to Time were made in Spanish and their meaning was lost in the translation, but added: "I don't want to make any excuses."
"I feel like I betrayed the Latin American community and I am here to say I am sorry," Guillen said in Spanish.
"I want to say I am sorry to all the people I hurt indirectly or directly from the bottom of my heart."
On Tuesday, state fire marshals restricted access to the interview room at Marlins Park, which holds about 200, after it was filled to capacity for the news conference. Outside, protesters waved Cuban flags and held signs calling for Guillen's resignation.
News reports said some Miami officials were incensed by the comments and that the Cuban-American exile group Vigilia Mambisa planned to boycott the Marlins until Guillen steps down.