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Baseball for Dummies

The Boston Red Sox? Mangy, loopy, unruly, bizarre, rebellious and going in a thousand different directions.

No, wait. That's Manny Ramirez's hair.

The Red Sox themselves are all of that, plus hilarious, mischievous and more fun than Liza Minnelli's medicine cabinet. If you are any kind of American, you have to root for them in this World Series from the bottom of your rooter.

How can you not love a team that welcomes a midget into its clubhouse but not a razor? How can you not love a team whose centerfielder looks like he was called up from the farm club at Bethlehem? How can you not love a team whose batting helmets are so globbed with pine tar and dirt that the logo can't be seen? Whose players call themselves the Idiots? Who are--thank God--the anti-Yankees?

Would control-freak George Steinbrenner stand for ...

•Shortstop Orlando Cabrera hitting a game-winning home run in late September, being mobbed at home plate by his teammates and then revealing afterward, "The whole time, somebody was trying to pull my pants down!"

•Joyous giant David Ortiz knocking in the game-winning run in Boston's unforgettable ALCS Game 5 victory over the Yankees, wading through maybe 100 members of the media on the way back to his locker from the shower, and suddenly stopping and roaring, "Did this guy look at my nipples? Nobody look at my nipples!"

•Jesus look-alike Johnny Damon, the leadoff hitter, lying naked on the clubhouse couch five minutes before game time? "I've never seen a guy go from naked to first base so fast!" marvels first-year Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

"We don't have rules here," Damon says, "and if we do, we can't read them."

Hey, they have rules. For instance, sleeping is forbidden on the team plane. "You get pelted with grapes, pillows, tin cans," says second baseman Mark Bellhorn. Reading is out too. "I was told by Johnny, 'We don't do that in this clubhouse,'" says reliever Mike Myers, who tried. "And when you think about the IQ on this team, you realize--he's right."

Oh, and ego is verboten anywhere. "You walk in, and somebody hollers, 'Nice hair!'" says pitcher Curtis Leskanic. "And then somebody says, 'Nice damn shoes!' And then somebody else rips you for something else. And you get to your locker, and you're like, Oh, my God! I'm an Idiot!" Welcome aboard!

But the best thing about the no go on ego is that it leaves only team, and Boston has the closest team in the big leagues. "I've never felt this kind of kinship in my life," says starter Curt Schilling.

"Every player in there," says the kid genius who brought them together, 30-year-old general manager Theo Epstein, "has more concern about his teammates than himself. Because you don't come back from 0--3 against the New York Yankees for yourself."

Take Schilling. To pitch Game 6 of the ALCS and Game 2 of the World Series, he underwent an improvised surgical procedure his doctor tried out beforehand on a cadaver. (Not to worry--Bud Selig never felt a thing.) "I [did] it for these 24 guys," Schilling says. "They're my family."

If so, it's the Addams family. Even Francona looks like Uncle Fester's grandson. "I've got no hair, and I've got a nose that's three sizes too big for my face," says Francona, whose claim to fame before the playoffs was being Michael Jordan's manager with the Double A Birmingham Barons. "My skin's pretty thick."

He needs it. Every sports section and baseball website gave the edge in Series managing to reigning wizard Tony La Russa of the Cards. "Hey, I don't blame 'em," says Francona, whose Sox took the first two games from La Russa's Cards. "I'd have picked him too."

A voice from the corner adds, "Me, too." It was Epstein, grinning.

These woolly Sox respect the sanctity of the World Series as much as they would a cafeteria food fight. During player introductions before Game 1, when it was Ramirez's turn to jog up the dugout steps in front of the worldwide TV audience, he didn't come out. Turns out first baseman Kevin Millar was holding on to him by his pants pockets.

"We're not very smart," says Damon, issuing the baseball quote of the year. "We're just playing baseball. If we use our brains, we're only hurting the team."

But here's the most idiotic thing: It actually makes sense.

In a pressure-treated town where a Tuesday-night game in June gets a lead, a column and five sidebars in The Boston Globe; where the fans would sell their first- and third-born for a World Series title; where fall has brought only winter and heartache for 86 years, maybe only a bunch of idiots would try something as crazy as making the Boston Red Sox world champions.

They're not idiots.

They're idiot savants.

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"We're not very smart," says Johnny Damon. "We're just playing baseball. If we use our brains, we're only hurting the team."