JOSE GUILLEN swears it's true. "I'm a new man," says the Nationals' rightfielder. "I've made mistakes, but I'm ready to move on and show everyone the real Jose Guillen."
A known hothead who has a history of clashes with management, Guillen has been rejuvenated by his trade in November from the Angels to the Nationals--his eighth team in nine years. Washington, meanwhile, is thrilled to have the talented slugger, despite his troubled past. "He's a 28-year-old player who we think is just taking off," says Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, who dealt outfielder Juan Rivera and shortstop Maicer Izturis for Guillen. "We're not worried about what's happened with him before."
The latest and most publicized incident in Guillen's checkered past occurred during a game last Sept. 25, when Guillen flung a helmet in the direction of Angels manager Mike Scioscia after he had been removed for a pinch runner, then got into a postgame shouting match with the manager in the clubhouse. At the time the 5'11", 190-pound righthander was Anaheim's best slugger not named Vladimir Guerrero--he was hitting .294 with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs--but the Angels, in the thick of a pennant race, believed they were better off without him: The next day the team suspended Guillen for the rest of the season.
"I was shocked," says Guillen, who watched from his home in Miami as the Red Sox swept the Angels in the Division Series. "What I did was wrong, and it will never happen again. But people misunderstood the situation. They said I was throwing the helmet at Mike Scioscia. I was throwing the helmet to a batboy. I talked to Mike [after the season], and he admitted that the team overreacted. But I have no hard feelings." (Scioscia disputes Guillen's version of their conversation, saying, "I don't know where he got that from.")
Guillen's tantrum was only his most recent: In July '03 the Reds traded him to Oakland a month after he threw several bats against the clubhouse wall upon learning that manager Bob Boone was benching him. Later that season Guillen ripped A's manager Ken Macha to reporters for not telling him the day before that he wouldn't be in the lineup. "I know Jose, and he's got a great heart," says Bowden, who was the Reds' G.M. when he signed Guillen as a minor league free agent in 2002. "He needs to work on his temper, but the only times he's gotten into trouble are because he just wants to play."
This off-season Guillen voluntarily enrolled in anger-management classes, met with a therapist three days a week and read self-help books about controlling his temper. "I know what I need to do to stay in control," he says, "how to be more polite and not always say what's on my mind. I know a lot of eyes will be on me. I've learned my lessons, and I'm just ready to have a big season." -- Albert Chen