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Original Issue

Centerfield Centerfold

THE HAIR. Johnny Damon almost cut his hair. Happened just the other day. The Boston Red Sox' All-Star beefcake centerfielder was getting his long, luxurious L'Oreàl locks trimmed when the stylist pulled them completely back. "I saw someone I hadn't seen in a long time," Damon says. "Me. And I almost did it. But I thought, Nah, I better consult my teammates first." They might have hanged him. After all, a lot of people think Damon's hair won the last World Series.

"Bottom line," says Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, "we'd been cursed for 86 years. Mel Gibson makes The Passion of the Christ, and he's taking all kinds of heat for it. Next thing you know Johnny comes in looking like Jesus, and we break the curse."

Worse than that, he'd have been pummeled by the purses of millions of American women, who'd give anything to help him work up a lather. "That's the line I get the most from women--'I'd just like to pull on your hair all night long,'" Damon says. "Sometimes they hit on me right in front of my wife! I mean, women are relentless, man, relentless."

You poor, poor bastard.

THE BEARD. Actual e-mail:

Dear The Red Sox,

I kind of promised this girl I would get her a sack of Johnny Damon's face hair. And, well, she's starting to wonder where that sack of face hair's at. I really like this girl (Suzanne, btw). Appreciate the help.

Can you blame the guy? What relationship isn't immensely enhanced by a bag of another man's whiskers?

This season a man in Oakland asked if Damon would help him propose to his girlfriend. Damon did it. The guy pretended he and his girlfriend had won an onfield picture with Damon, except the ring happened to be in Damon's glove. She said yes, though rumor is she was looking at Damon when she said it.

THE HEART. Damon, 31, leads the American League in hits, is third in average and has become arguably the best leadoff hitter since Rickey Henderson. "You just wind this kid up and let him go," says Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He plays hurt. He knocks in runs. He sacrifices himself. What manager wouldn't love this guy?"

Exactly. That's why there's talk the Yankees might try to sign Damon when he becomes a free agent this off-season. Would he go clean-cut for Furious George?

"Absolutely," Damon says. "I'd definitely abide by his rules."

You know the stylist will be named Delilah.

THE ARM. "He throws like a girl," says Millar. Some experts think he has the worst arm among major league centerfielders.

One time, Boston leftfielder Manny Ramirez dived to cut off a Damon throw so he could wing it himself--the rare 8-7-4-2 relay.

O.K., so nobody's perfect.

THE FEET. If you are driving in Boston, you may be surprised to see Johnny Damon, on foot, in your rearview mirror, and gaining. Damon does it not to catch the cars but to work on his speed. If he were a dog, he'd be a hairier, of course.

"I think I can run about 25 miles per hour, top speed," he says. "Sometimes I actually pass cars on Boylston [Street]." And their reaction? "They realize they're in the company of either a great athlete, or a criminal running from something."

Born to a Thai mother and a Vietnam-vet sergeant, he's always been a speed racer, challenging himself to run home through a one-mile wood in Tennessee that was fraught with wild boars. "They're mean little f-----s," he says. "You better outrun 'em."

THE MOUTH. As a kid Damon stuttered something awful. That was one reason he took to sports: no talking necessary.

"[The stutter] made me real shy," he says. "I didn't say much. Now you can't get me to shut up."

THE BUTT. Damon's gluteus seems to be of maximum interest to female connoisseurs of same. "That's the line I hear second most from women," he says. "'I want to see that ass everybody's talking about.'"

The Sox see it more than they need--Damon lying on the couch naked, Damon doing his famous naked pull-ups, Damon chowing naked. "The guy is always naked," says Francona. "And then, 15 minutes later, I'll see him standing on second base."

Even Damon's dad brings it up. "He tells me, 'When you're done, you retire with all that money and tell the rest of the world to kiss your ass,'" Damon says.

O.K., ladies, there's no need to form a line. That was a figure of speech.

Women tell Johnny Damon, "I'd like to pull on your hair all night long." Also, "I want to see that ass everybody's talking about."