Manny’s first day with White Sox is a cartoon

CLEVELAND – The easy-to-miss alcove that serves as Jesus “Zeus” Corporan’s makeshift barbershop is as antiseptic as the spray he uses to keep his combs clean: white, sterile walls, and zero hints that it’s in the bowels of a baseball stadium. For more than a decade now, Zeus has cut the hair of major leaguers at Progressive Field. One of his first clients was Manny Ramirez(notes), then a star with the Cleveland Indians.

Ever since Zeus can remember, Manny has been particular about his hair. Now is no exception. There was something of a to-do Tuesday afternoon when Ramirez arrived here to join the visiting Chicago White Sox: His new team has a grooming policy that prohibits unruly coifs, and Ramirez’s dreadlocks are nothing if not ostentatious.

Manny Ramirez got only to the on-deck circle on Tuesday.
(Jason Miller/US Presswire)

“I’ve cut a lot of his hair off before,” Zeus said. “He had curls. He had a short front with a fade. Then he dyed it red and blond. It’s funny. My family lived like five minutes from the stadium. I’d come home sometimes late on a Friday night from playing basketball with my brother. We’d see somebody on the porch. It was Manny. We’d ask what he’s doing, and he’d say, ‘Waiting for you, man. I need a haircut.’ It was after a game, at 10:30.”

[Photos: See images of Manny and his famous dreads]

On this particular evening, Zeus did not wield his clippers. Manny simply needed a little tightening around the edges. The braids stayed, partially covering up the second digit on his No. 99 jersey. And the minor hullabaloo over the hair passed as all things do in Mannyland these days: miniature controversies so inane, so very silly and yet so germane to what Manny has made himself.

He is a caricature: outlandish and outsized and calculating, a personality on even more steroids than the corpus it inhabits. Manny does things to elicit a reaction, something fostered in his earliest days in Cleveland when he saw how he could make teammates laugh, something perfected in Boston when he played puppeteer with the Red Sox’s front office toward the end of their broken marriage and something expected in Los Angeles, where caricatures are celebrated.

Manny Being Manny is really Manny Being Absurd. The cutesy sobriquet attached itself to Ramirez because he could hit a baseball 450 feet. If he were an average player, they’d call him a flake.

About an hour after Ramirez arrived at the stadium, visiting clubhouse manager Willie Jenks popped his head into Zeus’ work area.

“Did Manny leave his sunglasses down here?” Jenks said.

“I think he left ‘em in the cages,” Zeus said.

“OK,” said Jenks, who turned around and sprinted down the hall toward the batting cages.

He’s Manny, and he gets what he wants. Like during his first press conference with the White Sox. Ramirez, channeling Sammy Sosa, conveniently forgot English. Never mind that for the last 18 years he has chatted like the king himself, even as a 20-year-old rookie in 1993, when he told The Plain Dealer he likes baseball “[b]ecause I’m good at it and you can make some money playing the game.” No, on this day, because antagonism now seems wired into his DNA, Manny said he would only speak Spanish, with White Sox bench coach Joey Cora translating.

The 13-minute session was as revealing as a muumuu. Manny spent a good amount of time thanking God, his new-found piety surpassed only by Glenn Beck’s. He refused to talk about why he got himself thrown out of his last game with the Dodgers after one pitch for arguing a borderline strike call, or his ugly exit from Boston, or whether he’d cut his hair, to which he replied: “That’s a stupid question.” (Cora didn’t bother translating that one.)

When the interview ended and Cora retreated back to the White Sox’s clubhouse, a staff member asked him: “Why’d he need an interpreter?” Cora shrugged his shoulders. The answer, as the White Sox soon will learn, is: When it comes to Manny, don’t waste your breath asking questions.

Because everything he does elicits one. Why wasn’t he in the lineup Tuesday? Well, he woke up at 5 a.m. to catch a flight from Los Angeles. And why did he wait until Tuesday morning when word of the White Sox claiming him came through early Sunday evening? Um … uh … hmmm.

Manny arrived at the stadium around 3:15 with a Louis Vuitton man purse, carry-on and a Dodger-blue suitcase with an LA insignia and a warning issued by Continental: HEAVY, it read. The tag could well have been placed around Ramirez’s neck, too, because as his former employers learned, and as the White Sox are beginning to learn, dealing with him can weigh on a person. It’s the hair and it’s the lingual amnesia and, if not one of those, it’s always something.

More and more, it’s not about baseball. Ramirez hasn’t hit a home run since June 19. He has spent three stints on the disabled list. Used to be that he could hit his way out of his chicanery. To do so now will take the sort of effort he used to push the Dodgers to the playoffs in 2008, and even if his .311/.405/.510 line shows he’s capable of punishing balls, all it takes to sideline him is an early wakeup call and a cross-country flight.

Ramirez did stand on deck in the eighth inning, ready to pinch hit for Brent Lillibridge(notes), when A.J. Pierzynski(notes) cracked a three-run home run to give Chicago a 4-1 lead over the Indians. Cora motioned for Ramirez to come back into the dugout. It took a second for Manny to go, and for the first time in months, he looked eager to take an at-bat.

So in the clubhouse after the game, as Manny finished the first day of his new life, he was asked whether he was indeed excited for his first plate appearance, which is expected to come Wednesday when he bats fifth as the designated hitter.

“I don’t know,” he said, like he knew English or something, and off he went, his sunglasses found, his hair intact, a caricature that gets bigger by the day.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Sep 1, 2010