Is there a thin line between “just kidding around” and bona fide hate speech? And are some public figures given a free pass with the latter compared to others? Newsday’s Wally Matthews snoops around the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium for a taste of Ozzie Guillen’s wit and wisdom : (link courtesy Tim Adams)

Before last night’s game against the Yankees, Guillen entertained a large contingent of reporters in the visitors’ dugout. The usual subjects were covered. Then the talk got serious. Guillen was asked his opinion of the recent comments of Larry Krueger, a San Francisco radio host who characterized some of the Giants as “brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.”

Krueger added that the mind of Felipe Alou, the Giants’ Dominican-born manager, “has turned to cream of wheat.”

“That’s just ignorant, man,” Guillen said. “The thing that made me mad is to talk about a guy [Alou] who worked very hard to be where he is, and then some idiot makes some comment and don’t know what he’s talking about.

“It’s ignorant. It’s just ignorant. You have someone dealing with the media, dealing with people, to say something like that, that’s ignorant, man.”

A perfectly suitable reaction, albeit a somewhat odd one coming from a man who once described former White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordoñez as “a piece of –. Another Venezuelan piece of –.”

As Guillen, too, is Venezuelan, this comment seems to have fallen into the category of “I can say this but you can’t,” often employed by obscenity-spewing hip-hoppers and people telling jokes about others of their own ethnicity.

But what Guillen said last night falls into an entirely different category. No more than a minute after the pens stopped scribbling his comments about Krueger, Guillen recognized a man standing outside the White Sox dugout. He smiled and waved. Then he addressed his adoring audience.

“Hey, everybody, this guy’s a homosexual!” Guillen (above) shouted. “He’s a child molester!”

The man being so addressed took no apparent offense. The two men hugged and laughed. But the feeling that lingered was of a comedian who had remained on stage for one joke too many. The juxtaposition of righteous indignation followed almost immediately by incredible insensitivity would actually have been funny if it had not been so uncomfortable. And hypocritical, not to mention offensive.

Clearly, Guillen meant no malice to the man, nor, it is safe to surmise, to the homosexual community. He doesn’t seem to be wired that way. Most likely, he was merely behaving within the long-established codes of a culture in which machismo is valued and the lack thereof scorned. In other words, locker-room talk.

But it wasn’t smart and it doesn’t bode well for Guillen’s apparent future as a media darling. It may very well have fit the definition of the word Guillen used to describe Larry Krueger. It definitely fit the definition of the word most often misused in place of “ignorant,” which is “stupid.”