Decades ago, star athletes triumphed over the restrictive grooming codes of their day by arguing it was their bodies, not their hair, that played the game. Ability, not appearance, mattered.
But in the case of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, it may well be the hair is actually doing the work. How else to explain the sudden change in hitting fortunes -- not to mention the team's fortunes -- for Johnny "Refugee From 'The Passion of the Christ' " Damon?
Damon's hair must have known before Game 7 on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium that it was in danger of being sheared off by angry Beantown fans who'd watched the outfielder go 3 for 29 in the playoff series. The hirsute one -- if he experiences a Brandi Chastain moment we may discover exactly how hirsute -- suddenly awoke and bashed a grand slam and a two-run homer in the Red Sox's pennant-clinching victory. (The Red Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, which starts today).
Damon is just one strand -- maybe two strands including his George Michael beard -- in the hair universe that constitutes the Red Sox. It's difficult to glimpse pitching ace Pedro Martinez without thinking of Samuel L. Jackson's Jheri curls in "Pulp Fiction," or Kevin Millar and his unruly chin whiskers without envisioning a guest appearance on "Monster Garage." There's also Manny Ramirez and his Harpo Marx imitation as well as Bronson Arroyo's cornrowed tribute to Allen Iverson. And to round things out nicely, Manager Terry Francona is as bald as a baby.
But whatever you want to say about the motley crew's looks and locks -- the Boston Hair Club for Men, the anti-Yankees, the Idiots etc. -- it's working. America loves an underdog and apparently doesn't mind if they look like one too.
"To me their hair says they are hungry, they don't have time to have their hair cut," said Rich Ohnmacht, a designer stylist for Frederic Fekkai Salon in Beverly Hills who has fashioned the 'dos of Carmen Electra, Scarlett Johansson to name a few. "It shows they are into the game. They are cavemen."
And imagine the Hair Dream Team they could have had if the club had acquired the mullet-headed Randy Johnson instead of clean-shaven Curt Schilling. Perhaps it was too much to ask, but does it hurt to dream?
Players in other sports are breaking the clean-cut mold too; some NFL players have gone to a Rastafarian look while some in the NBA have moved beyond the Michael Jordan-inspired shaved head to '70s-style Afros.
Of course, without at least tacit approval from the suits upstairs, the Red Sox wouldn't be able to conduct their ongoing fun-with-hair experiments. (The Yankees for instance insist their players be clean-cut.)
Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein put his feelings about hair management to the Boston Globe this way: "I mean, let's say we had a policy of requiring haircuts and no facial hair. The benefits would be uniformity, discipline and perhaps a heightened sense of order. But we'd lose individuality, self-expression and fun.
"When we've played our best baseball the last two years, we've looked like this. It's a pack of sloppy, fun-loving renegades."
Epstein is right, according to Joseph Tecce, a psychology professor at Boston College who believes the team's grooming choices contributed to its historic comeback after losing the first three games of the series.
"Symbolically, it is like Samson," said Tecce, a Red Sox fan. "These are tough kids. They appear unusual, they do the unusual. Their hair is rebellious and it makes them different."
And once players begin to associate winning with their hairstyles, the athletes usually become superstitious.
"Damon's not going to cut his hair or shave his beard anytime soon," added Tecce.
But something that should come off are Arroyo's cornrows, say many fans. The pitcher looks more like Bo Derek than an NBA bad boy.
"He looks ridiculous," said Ohnmacht. "I'd have him cut the whole thing off. Start from scratch. Let it grow out a bit, then keep it short on the sides and the back."
Should the team keep their coifs once the World Series is over?
"If I were the manager, I'd have them shave off their heads and make them look presentable again," added Ohnmacht. "It works for the games, but not real life."