Thursday, February 3, 2005

To determine whether the anger management class Jose Guillen took this winter worked, just ask him questions about what made him so angry in September or what pushed the Anaheim Angels to suspend him for the final week of the season and refuse to reinstate him for the Division Series. Just ask him whether he is still the Angry Man.

When he answers those questions for, let’s say, the 20th time this spring from writers who come to Viera, Fla., to write about the Washington Nationals and manages not to get angry, then maybe he is no longer the Angry Man.

The Angry Man was nowhere in sight yesterday. Guillen joined three of his new Nationals teammates — Cristian Guzman, Chad Cordero and Zach Day — at ESPNZone downtown to meet with reporters and sign autographs for a line of fans that stretched outside the restaurant and up 11th Street.

In his place, for the most part, was the Happy Man.

“I am coming ready to play this year, and I will show the world the real Jose Guillen,” he said. “I am excited to be here. We will have a lot of fun in this town.”

While the Angry Man didn’t make an appearance, the Still Slightly Perturbed Man surfaced when Guillen was asked about the circumstances of his dismissal from the Angels.

“A lot of people made such a big deal of it,” Guillen said. “They don’t understand and don’t know anything about it. I want to talk about it now to get it over, but it is something that is behind me. I don’t really think about it anymore. This is a fresh start for me.

“When I talked to [Angels manager] Mike [Scioscia] and [general manager] Bill [Stoneman] over there, I think they know they overreacted a little bit. There were some stories that were not true. There were some politics going on. But it is over. I took the anger management class on my own to learn how to react in those type of situations.”

As Ralph Kramden would say, “Pins and needles. Needles and pins. It’s a happy man that grins.”

Guillen, now with his eighth major league team in eight seasons, was hit by a pitch in the eighth inning Sept.25 against the Oakland Athletics. When Alfredo Amezaga went in to pinch run, Guillen stormed into the dugout, tossed his helmet near Scioscia and threw his glove against the wall.

It wasn’t his first outburst in the clubhouse. In May, after being hit in the head with a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays, Guillen went on a profanity-laced tirade, complaining that his teammates weren’t retaliating on his behalf.

At the time of the suspension, Stoneman said, “Unfortunately, this was not the first time something has cropped up with Jose,” and when he was traded to the Nationals for outfielder Juan Rivera and shortstop Maicer Izturis, Stoneman admitted the outfielder’s attitude was a motivating factor.

“I’m not going to deny that the issue had something to do with the trade,” he said.

After all, you don’t often trade 28-year-old outfielders who hit .294 with 27 home runs and 104 RBI in 148 games because you are unhappy with their performance.

Whatever caused the unhappiness in Anaheim, Guillen said it won’t be the case here, because he is being reunited with Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden, who brought the outfielder to Cincinnati in 2002. Guillen enjoyed his best season in 2003, when he hit .311 with 28 doubles, a career-high 31 home runs and 86 RBI in 136 games for the Reds and Athletics.

“I am a hard-working man, and I think that is one of the reasons Jim brought me here,” Guillen said. “I played for him in Cincinnati, and he knows my style and what type of player I am. I think that is the type of player [Nationals manager] Frank Robinson likes. I don’t think there will be any problems. I want people to tell me the truth, and when they do I don’t have any problems with anyone. I never had a problem with my teammates. I have to learn how to be a politician, and I think I am in the right town to do that.”

Bowden put himself on the line by giving up two young players to get Guillen. At the time of the trade, the GM said he would trust his children with Guillen. That was no exaggeration; apparently, the Bowden kids and Guillen are close.

“When I was talking to Jim before I got here, he said, ‘My kids are really pushing me to get you here.’ They kept saying, ‘Pop, you better get Guillen.’”

Bowden confirmed the hard sell by two of his sons.

“I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “Tyler and Chad, two of my boys, said, ‘Dad you have to bring Guillen. He throws the best [batting practice] of any of the players we had.’ That is why we made the deal.

“I have trusted him with my kids,” Bowden said. “He has a big heart with great character. We all get perceptions on mistakes we make in life, and sometimes those perceptions aren’t reality.”

The reality is Jose Guillen might be in the right place because he isn’t the only one with a fresh start. It’s a clean slate for baseball in Washington, and right now everybody is happy about it — even Misunderstood Man.

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