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Mario Russo, cutting Wendy Everett’s hair yesterday, said Johnny Damon gave Boston ‘‘a new identity, a new hipness.’’
Mario Russo, cutting Wendy Everett’s hair yesterday, said Johnny Damon gave Boston ‘‘a new identity, a new hipness.’’ (Pat Greenhouse/ Globe Staff)

End of the love affair

Many fans angry, disillusioned at Damon's move to archrival Yankees

What hairstylist Mario Russo remembers is the affluent men who would stop in their tracks while shopping at Louis Boston when they noticed Johnny Damon in his hair salon on the third floor of the Back Bay store. Affecting a casual air, they would stroll back and forth, trying to peek in.

Damon, with his chestnut locks and happy-go-lucky persona, captivated this city as few other athletes have. Russo ended up on national TV discussing the center fielder's hair.

''He gave Boston a new identity, a new hipness, a new style," he said yesterday, adding a few moments later, ''I have to go talk to ESPN now."

From the salons of Newbury Street to the banking circles of the Financial District and beyond, Bostonians were stunned yesterday to wake up to the news that Damon is no longer the face of the Red Sox. Carefree and open, Damon connected with fans in a deep way. It was his shaggy style, his love of the game and of life, and a willingness to be different that touched something almost spiritual with the public.

''He was Jesus to us," said bank employee Salma Haikal, 41, of Brockton, as she headed to lunch with a colleague. ''He was the Messiah. And he's going, actually, he's not coming."

The news that Damon is heading to the hated Yankees was especially difficult to absorb. And for some Sox fans -- a group not known for mellowness and emotional nuance -- disappointment was quickly replaced by anger. One jilted fan put Damon's soul up for sale on eBay.

At iParty in Brighton, which bills itself as ''the official party supply store" of the Red Sox, the price of the life-size cardboard cut-outs of Damon was slashed from $35 to $19.99 yesterday.

''I really hate him," said Kelley French, 17, of Cambridge, as she shopped for a Santa costume. ''All of a sudden, he's a traitor."

The mood in cyberspace was very dark. ''Judas Damon?" was a headline on universalhub.com, a round-up of Boston blogs. ''Mr. Damon, you are dead to me," wrote one blogger. ''You couldn't have retired to be an underwear model? You couldn't have done ANYTHING other than go to the Yankees?" wrote another.

Some fans took it in stride. Jack Bouchie, 73, who was having a late afternoon drink at Daisy Buchanan's on Newbury Street, shrugged.

''He went to the highest bidder," he said. ''I've been around this town long enough to know that when the price is right, you jump. There's no loyalty in sports, and the status quo never remains."

Anger at the team's management was also abundant. Michael MacLean, owner of a women's clothing store on Newbury Street, was on his cellphone bemoaning the situation yesterday.

''I feel like we went from having a team that would be in the top tier for the next 10 years to confusion," he said. ''He was the catalyst. He makes the team work."

But the conversations about Damon went beyond the cold, hard facts of roster-building. Damon was a rock star here, especially among the young, who appeared at Fenway with taped-on beards and Damon-like wigs, and T-shirts reading WWJDD?, for ''What would Johnny Damon do?"

He drew shrieks and marriage proposals from young women, who appeared to be in anguish yesterday. Amy Walsh, 15, of Roslindale, who was sharing a snack with her friends at the food court at the Shops at Prudential Center, hadn't heard the news until she heard a reporter talking about it. She stopped, french fry midway to her mouth, eyes wide.

''No-o-o-o-o," she said, stricken. ''That's very upsetting because he's so cute. He's not, like, hot, but he's so adorable. He's always smiling; his beard was amazing."

Across the table, her friend Lea Petrovic, also 15, said another friend had called her at 1 a.m., bereft.

''She was, like, crying," she said. ''She was just, like, ridiculously upset about it."

Some younger fans nearby were also deflated.

''In baseball, everyone just leaves for money," sighed Sophie Afdhal, 12, of Charlestown.

''He isn't going to do well with the Yankees," her 10-year-old brother, Mo, predicted. ''He's used to Boston and knowing the Yankees didn't really like him."

Nine-year-old Kristina Wolinski of Back Bay tried to look at the bright side: ''He'll look bad when he shaves his beard."

The news seemed to drain the cheer from Christmas shopping. Christine Goulette, 22, of Jamaica Plain, said she had planned to buy her grandmother -- a Red Sox fanatic who has been known to cut Yankees caps into pieces -- tickets to a few Red Sox games for Christmas. She is looking for other presents now.

Russo, who became friendly with Damon after he began styling the hair of the ballplayer's wife, Michelle, and whose idea it was to turn Damon's bob into a shag, hopes Sox fans will eventually calm down and remember that Damon is still the man they loved, despite his pinstripes.

Recalling Damon's ''incredibly full head of hair with great body which totally suited his features," Russo said he ignited a special passion here. Even Russo, who had never been to a game before he met Damon, became a fan. As a hairstylist for 25 years, he has listened to clients suffer through plenty of heartache.

''People are hurt," he said. ''It's like when you break up with someone you're really in love with. . . . It's natural for people to be angry. I hope that with time, people will become a little more forgiving."

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