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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Rays' David Price backs off a whisker on facial hair vs. Yankees

David Price pitches during the first inning against

David Price pitches during the first inning against the Texas Rangers during Game 5 of the American League Division Series. (Oct. 12, 2010) Credit: AP

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Would David Price really turn down a $200-million offer from the Yankees to keep his beard? Or avoid wearing a jacket and tie on road trips?

It was a question worth asking Price after the Rays' ace was quoted a day earlier telling that he "wouldn't sign a long-term deal there" and "that's not something I want to be a part of" because he'd have to shave his beloved facial hair if he were employed in the Bronx.

Apparently, a good night's sleep -- and a few urgent voicemail messages from his agent, Bo McKinnis -- helped him get his mind right by Thursday morning. He won't hit free agency until after the 2015 season, but he did retreat a bit from his dress-code rhetoric. And, smartly, give everyone the sense that, hey, I'd listen to the Yankees when my contract is up.

"Obviously, it's the greatest organization in baseball," Price said. "It's probably the greatest organization in sports, period. And the fan base is the most passionate fan base in sport. When that time comes, that's three years down the road from now. My hair might fall out. I might not be able to have any facial hair. I don't know."

Plenty of players have gladly picked up a razor to cash checks from the Yankees. Kevin Youkilis was the latest, showing up in spring training minus his trademark goatee. Johnny Damon shed his Captain Caveman look after leaping from Boston to the Bronx.

Price was familiar with those examples. But when asked how difficult it would be to play for another club in the AL East after knocking heads with them for so long, the conversation circled back to what could be perceived as an anti-Yankee bias.

"I never envisioned myself in pinstripes," said Price, who grew up in Tennessee watching the Braves, Cubs and Cardinals. "They're a great organization, but I never aspired to be a New York Yankee. And that's fine."

Price, 27, has spent his entire career in the Rays' organization after being picked No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft. So we can excuse the attachment to the beard as an outgrowth of manager Joe Maddon's flexible personal-grooming policies. As Maddon said Thursday, his dress code is "as long as you look hot" -- and he doesn't believe in dictating what exactly that should be.

"Beards, earrings, tattoos -- we like it all," Maddon said. "We definitely promote individuality around here. I'm all for that. When it comes down to attempting to coax or elicit discipline from forced behavior, I'm not into that whatsoever.

"This is according to me -- I'm not saying I'm right. I don't want [Price's] mind to be encumbered with a bunch of nonsense. If they show up and they're comfortable and they can just walk in that door and be themselves, we're going to get the best possible baseball player. To say that I'm going to make you wear a suit and tie and you'd be a better baseball player I think is nonsense."

Listening to Price, he sounds as though he's happiest in Maddon's environment, even if his time with Tampa Bay likely is running out. Barring some seismic shift in their financial situation, the tiny-market Rays aren't in the habit of springing for $200-million contracts. It probably makes more sense to trade Price as part of their perpetual restocking process.

Beyond that, Price ultimately will decide where he wants to play. If the cash is similar, other factors could sway his decision, and based on his initial comments, it's something Price has thought about.

Could this next generation of big-money players bristle at the rules of the more "old-school" franchises, as Price labeled the Yankees?

It might be an issue. And Price suggested it's the teams that would be better off switching things up -- not him.

"I think the guy that stands out most in my mind is Nick Swisher," Price said. "I feel like he did a lot of good for those guys. I remember talking to him and [he said] how quiet it was -- there was no music -- and he was able to get stuff going.

"That's cool. Everybody's susceptible to change. This game is constantly evolving, and not only do the players have to change but the organizations have changed a little bit with it. They lose a little bit of what they did in the past and they pick up new things."

Price said he's serious about the beard ("it's a part of me"), and if that's the case, he shouldn't hold his breath waiting for the Yankees to bend. He can always get his $200 million elsewhere, minus the razor burn.

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