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Monday, June 2, 2003
Viva la Freedom Open!

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Mais oui, dwellers!

Is that French for "Welcome to the Freedom Cooler"?

Albert Costa Nicolas Lapentti
Nicolas Lapentti and Albert Costa aren't exactly household names in the States.
It better be, or that 10-week French class I took at UCLA went for naught.

We're fresh off a weekend catching the French Open, and let's go ahead and call it one of the more underrated sports events on our annual calendar.

You got your French-language advertisements around Roland Garros. You got your clay. You got your Parisian backdrop.

You got your Freedom Fries, avec ketchup.

I feel so civilized.

What I love about the French Open is the feeling that, at any point, an NBC camera will cut away to a courtside box to catch Cary Grant wooing Ingrid Bergman, with a stewing and jealous Claude Rains in the box across the way, studying them through binoculars.

What I also love is catching a third-round, five-set match between defending champ Albert Costa -- and, let's be honest, about 25 of you knew that -- and Ecuadorian Nicolas Lapentti. I was transfixed by the clay stains on the socks, the cramps paralyzing Lapentti and the expensive sunglasses worn by the Parisian babes courtside.

Of course, I was at the laundromat, so I had no choice but to be transfixed. It was that, or watch the dryer tumble.

I also love that we Americans are so ignorant about the French Open competitors, an NBC analyst had to tell us the whole family history of the Lapentti clan, ending with the strident exclamation that Lapentti is "a very, very important sportsman in Ecuador."

Andre Agassi
Andre don't need no stinking Rogaine.
A very, very important sportsman in Ecuador.

Chew on that, dwellers, while you enjoy a Freedom Dip sandwich.

And then there's the whole Andre Agassi thing. If any American can pull off the American Abroad in judgmental France, it's Agassi: He's articulate, has a vaguely Euro air about him and he can play the game.

Hey, it beats Mike Tyson's tired act, no?

Plus, Agassi is the rare white guy willing to go with the Shaved Head. I think the French admire his ability to so boldly deal with premature baldness.

So, dweller, crack open your dog-eared copy of "The Sun Also Rises," pour yourself a dollop of Pernod and dive into some Freedom Toast.

On, then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Eric Byrnes: Call the dalmatians and the hose
When Eric Byrnes was called up to the A's in 2000, GM Billy Beane told reporters that he liked Byrnes, because he "plays like his hair on fire." An amusing concept. Hair on fire is always good comedy, because it might involve seltzer water and hijinks and general Lucille Ball/"The Honeymooners"-type madness.

Now, after a 22-game hit streak, and a game-winning home run in the ninth on Saturday, we have come to appreciate the concept of the Hair-on-Fire Ballplayer.

Eric Brynes
Eric Brynes has made the A's faithful forget about Jason G.
More important, we have come to embrace what the Oakland franchise has missed since 2001 -- The New Giambi.

Critically, there is something special about the California-bred ballplayer, especially the type who frost their hair and talk in dialogue straight out of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." Giambi perfected this as an Oakland Athletic. He wore a hat that read "Drive It Like You Stole It," ate from McDonald's bags before games, and dished perfect quotes -- "The dude had a sweet tan, he's definitely been dropping some tokens in the booth," he said of a streaker at a 1999 A's-Red Sox game.

Byrnes has not perfected GiambiSpeak -- a phenomenon crushed by the oppressive New York media, I might add -- but he runs into walls, makes catches with a glove cartoonishly big, and does it all with Spicoli-esque locks and a "What's up, dude?" mentality.

The guy went to UCLA, we might add. Not that all Bruins are ass-busting, frosted-hair, dude-speak characters. It just helps the rep that at least one more has made it on the national scene.

2. Kenny Perry: Would you recognize him in an airport?
Question: Is America ready to embrace the chipmunk-faced Kentuckian, Kenny Perry?

You'd better be.

The guy with the three-part swing, the guy with the Tabasco shirts, the guy who 99.9 percent of America would confuse with Kenny Loggins and/or Steve Perry is your newest American Golf Star.

Catch is, nobody knows it.

He won at Colonial when AnnikaPalooza obscured all things rational. Now, he won at the Memorial when Annika was getting busy winning her return to the LPGA.

Kenny Perry
Kenny is ready for his closeup.
Kenny Perry: Annika's PGA Tour Doppelganger?

Speaking of which, it must be noted that some of the more strident members of the P.C. Police kicked up a fuss when some papers across the nation referred to Annika Sorenstam as "Annika," and not "Sorenstam."

Say what?

You go by one name, at The Cooler and at all other places rational, you're it. You're good. You've arrived.

Just ask Tiger. Or Kobe. Or Elvis.

Or Napoleon.

If it's good enough for a 5-foot-2 European general who jammed his hand between his chest buttons, it's good enough for a distaff fairways-and-greens machine from Sweden.

Or, perhaps, we should go with: "Woods Wins Masters" or "Bryant Leads Lakers to Title" or "Presley Shags Priscilla."

No way. They don't call the layered custard pastry the "Bonaparte."

'Nuff said.

3. The Rocket: What's up?
Not getting 300 against the Red Sox -- hey, we all understand. Tough gig. The Red Sox did not want that yoke.

Roger Clemens
Another shot at 300 down the tubes for the Rocket.
However, when you have 299 wins and you pitch against the Detroit Tigers ... well, now.

Room service, right?

But!

No, sir!

Ever since The Cooler officially put the call out to all Michigan sports fans to Keep the Faith with the '03 Tigers, Alan Trammel's scrappy crew has gone from 4-25 to 14-40. That's 10-15, dwellers!

That's awesome.

Granted, the Yanks won Sunday's game in 17 innings, but the fact that Clemens did not get No. 300 at Detroit goes down as one of the Great Moments in Tiger History. A proud franchise in the midst of an unspeakably bad spell in team history, the Olde English Cap Wearers refused to take their place as ignominious saps in baseball's 2003 tale.

I take profound inspiration in this.

And I wonder: What sort of Riot Act awaits in Wrigley when Clemens dares bring his 299 Act to the North Side? I'm counting on the good denizens of Murphy's Bleachers to do your Midwestern best to prevent the heinousness of a Clemens victory in your yard.

Keep the faith, Cubby fans. Next round's on me.

4. Ratings Winner: Jennie Finch on "TWIB"
Nothing says summertime like "This Week in Baseball."

Most anyone between the ages of 25-40 should be able to hum, out loud, the orchestral closing theme to Saturday morning's surefire baseball pick-me-up, "This Week in Baseball." From the mid-'70s to the late '80s, the tune was unmistakable: highlights of Mike Schmidt's 500th, Jerry Reuss' no-hitter at Candlestick, Reggie Jackson going deep in an Angels uniform -- all played out to a tune that was a combination of Bach and Muzak. Sweet music. That orchestral score meant school was nearing an end, and meant "TWIB" was airing before NBC's "Saturday Game of the Week," and meant Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola were about to bring you a Dodgers-Reds game from the AstroTurf of Riverfront Stadium. (This airing, of course, bummed you out, because your Giants were never contenders and they never made Game of the Week, but that's a whole 'nother thing.)

Jennie Finch
The Cooler is preaching to the choir when he says Jennie's hot.
I digress.

Which brings us to "TWIB 2003," and the genius marketing stroke of including former University of Arizona softball star Jennie Finch -- and, we must add, a decorated winner of a Page 2 poll choosing her as the Hottest Female Athlete -- as a roving contributor. Caught her "Infield Tips" with Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins this Saturday, and watching the Lovely Jennie mimic Rollins' dive-and-roll routine on grounders up the middle, all we can say is ...

How about that?

Mel Allen would be proud.

(Although the claymation Mel Allen, we all must admit, is rather creepy. Gives me nightmares.)

5. The ThirtySomething Shaved Head: disturbing
The Colorado Rockies rolled into San Francisco this weekend, and their arrival produced an alarming sight: Larry Walker, with a shaved head.

Run for your lives, dwellers!

Now, seriously. The Cooler received e-mail from an alert reader citing concerns of racism in our labeling of Bill Laimbeer as a "doughy white guy" in the Page 2 Whiners Hall of Fame. The reader raised, legitimately, the problem that calling a doughy white guy a doughy white guy would be big trouble if you called a doughy black guy a doughy black guy.

Larry Walker
They give you a cap for a reason Larry -- put it on.
All that said -- let us dabble in some more racially-dicey territory: The ThirtySomething White Guy With the Shaved Head -- not a good thing.

God bless Larry Walker. He can rake like few others. I would have given many things to have him in black-and-orange the past few years, protecting Barry Bonds in the lineup with that wicked left-handed stroke of his.

But the Shaved Head? Come on, brother. You're Canadian. Did Mike Myers ever shave his head?

(I mean besides the Dr. Evil thing.)

I understand that a massive slump may cause a ballplayer to do drastic things. But to have Uncle Fester hitting behind Todd Helton -- that's not a good thing for the Grand Old Game.

Larry: Grow it back, my man.

Then again, a thought: Take the bald head to Paris, and work a career as Agassi's body double.

Sacre bleu!

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.