The days of the hot foot and the fake vomit are essentially over in baseball. Sadly, they perished with the advent of the $15-million salary, the breakup of the '93 Phillies and the unfortunate retirement of the funniest man in baseball history, Larry Andersen. The closest thing we have to a prankster or a flake is someone who refuses to tell us that they're taking it one day at a time, one who isn't afraid to be different and can smile even in hard times.
And that is Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, our choice for the biggest character in baseball.
"We forget sometimes with all the money and the fame, this is still baseball, and you have to enjoy it,'' Millar said. "This is what you have dreamed about since you were a kid, playing in the big leagues. It's about playing cards with your teammates, it's about having a beer in the lobby with the guys, talking about the game. You gotta have fun, man.''
Millar always has. Maybe it's because he didn't have an easy road to the big leagues. He played in the independent Northern League. He played winter ball for five years, in the Dominican, in Mexico, etc.
"You're not staying at Hiltons,'' he said. "You're not eating Caesar salads. I've had to grind it out.''
When he played for the Marlins, he was the team comedian, which included the assigning of nicknames. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez was "Sea Bass'' because he never smiles, and his scowl, with that mustache, makes him look like an irritable fish. Catcher Mike Redmond was Krispy Kreme, Millar said, "because his oblique area looked like a Krispy Kreme donut.'' Catcher Ramon Castro was "Jay Leno because he had a big chin.''
His antics were somewhat lost in the obscurity of the Marlins. In Boston, he has become famous for his free-spirited nature. In 2003, he helped invent the team slogan, "Cowboy Up." He coaxed the players to shave their heads for the postseason; even general manager Theo Esptein did. "That was the best thing that ever happened to Boston,'' Millar said. "Do you know how much fun the fans had with that? It's all about being a team. If we decided not to shower until we lost a game, it's all about bringing the players closer together.''
Last year, Millar grew what he calls a "god-awful goatee.'' But, the Red Sox started winning, and "all the guys said 'you can't shave that, you can't shave that,' '' Millar said. "By the end, I looked like some Amish guy. But we went like 23-5 with it. I shaved it after we lost three in a row at Yankee Stadium. Then we won eight in a row after I shaved it. Now, was that beard the reason we went 23-5, then won eight in a row? Of course it was.''
During the American League Championship Series against the Yankees last year, Millar and some of his teammates drank a shot of Jack Daniels minutes before the last two games. "Too much was made of that,'' he said. "That had nothing to do with alcohol. That was symbolic. That was about unity. We won, so we had a toast. We won, we had a toast.''
Millar is most responsible for transforming Manny Ramirez into a more approachable character last year with the fans, and the media. Ramirez had a fabulous season, and was the MVP of the World Series.
"We've lost a lot of guys during the last year,'' said one member of the Red Sox. "We lost Nomar, Pedro, and some other really good players. They'll be missed, but it's impossible to think about going in our clubhouse and Kevin not being there.''
You can hear him as soon as you walk in.
"I'm thankful my wife is so understanding,'' Millar said. "She understands that I'm a complete idiot. I have different hair colors, I shave my head, I have an Amish beard. Look, I don't have a lot of tools. I just love baseball.''
Two years ago, the day Millar arrived at Red Sox camp for the first time, he laughed when telling a writer, "Can you believe they signed me to a two-year deal? What were they thinking?''
Millar, as always, will arrive in camp riding a big Harley.
"People want to know, 'What's the new slogan going to be this year?''' Millar said. "We've got a bunch of new guys, Boomer Wells, (Matt) Clement, (Edgar) Renteria. We'll have to see how it plays out. By July we'll have an idea. Maybe by August, we'll have David Wells with a mullet.''
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight.