Guillen attempts to do about-face

Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen, known for his mood swings, says he'll no longer criticize his teammates.

Baseball Week

April 17, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN STAFF

There's the scowl, complete with clenched teeth and burning dark eyes. It's what an opposing pitcher must see in the ninth inning of a tight game.

There's the frown, best delivered with a furrowed brow and complimentary headshake when a reporter asks an obvious question.

And then there's the megawatt smile, an advertiser's dream if he only were somebody else.

Forget about emotions on the sleeve, if you want to check Jose Guillen's mood, study his face.

It's a mug that could become - maybe even should become - the face of the new Washington Nationals. That is, if Guillen is careful. If he is in control. If he really has learned from the past.

"I am going to be a completely different player this year," Guillen said. "Everything is going to be completely different than the last few years."

Cue the band and play that familiar tune. The last time fans around here heard the tired, "I've changed" mantra from a pro athlete, Albert Belle had a good hip.

Belle's health changed; nothing else did.

But Guillen is no Belle. He's much faster and an all-around better outfielder. He also has less raw power, and is less raw in general, to teammates, fans and even reporters.

"This is my game face, but you can come and talk to me," Guillen said. "I am not going to be a mean guy like, `Get the hell out of here.'"

Regardless, the 28-year-old outfielder carries plenty of baggage. The Nationals are his seventh team since 1999. His last squad, the Anaheim Angels, permanently suspended him in the middle of a pennant race last September for reacting poorly after being pinch-run for. He tossed his helmet toward the direction of Angels manager Mike Scioscia and slammed a glove against the dugout wall. He and Scioscia exchanged words, and he never played for the team again.

Guillen had irked some teammates earlier that season when he criticized the pitching staff for not hitting opposing batters after Angels hitters were hit by pitches. He later apologized for taking baseball's secret code public, but it might have signaled the beginning of the end.

"Sometimes when you tell the truth people are going to be upset," he said. "A lot of people can't handle that, so it is better to stay quiet and let the coaches handle it."

In November, Washington's interim general manager, Jim Bowden, who had revitalized Guillen's career by giving him a full-time job in Cincinnati in 2003, acquired Guillen for reserve outfielder Juan Rivera and infield prospect Maicer Izturis.

"At the end of the day the decision was, `Do you give up a fourth outfielder and a utility infielder for an everyday cleanup hitter that can hit 30 [homers] and drive in 100?'" Bowden said. "And that was the decision baseball-wise."

In the baseball world, Guillen comes cheap. He costs $3.5 million this year with a $4 million club option in 2006.

"I would have taken him in a heartbeat," said Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. "He got a chance to play in Cincinnati and, boom, he became one of the tougher outs in baseball."

For now, he's Washington's budding star, and potential headache. Although all he's shown so far is his impressive potential. He hit five homers in his first nine games, made several nice plays in right field and keeps getting clutch hits.

And he has kept his mouth shut.

"You can be a leader by not saying a word. Just by the way you go about your job, the way you play the game," said manager Frank Robinson. "You can be a leader vocally, and in the way you play the game ... It's just what fits you. And that's the way [Guillen] is. He's a very quiet-type guy, but very determined."

Guillen, who took anger-management classes in the offseason, is saying and doing all the right things. He wants to sign an extension with the Nationals, but Bowden is not negotiating with anyone until a new ownership is in place.

So Guillen will have to wait, piling up numbers and proving that, unlike all those who have come before him, he really has changed.

EXTRA BASES

Say what?

"Always expect a bad throw. Be surprised when it is not."

- Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson on what he tells players who have to catch ceremonial first pitches.

Who's he?

San Diego's Xavier Nady picked up some starts in center field this April only because Dave Roberts began the season on the disabled list. Now it is going to be tough to get Nady out of the lineup. He had three homers and 10 RBIs in his first 25 at-bats and twice had four-hit games in the season's first 10 days. A second-round pick in 2000, Nady also can play the corner outfield positions and maybe third base on occasion.

Fan appreciation

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.