2012

Dirtbag

Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from Amanda Koval, an Iona College journalism student who wanted to interview me.

“Sure,” I replied. “Give me some dates.”

Amanda responded, and we agreed I would come to campus on a weekday morning. Fine. Great. No sweat.

Well, some sweat—I suck at keeping a schedule. On the agreed upon morning, I dropped my kids off at school, returned home and prepared to hit Starbucks for some writing. I checked me e-mail … CRAP. It was Amanda, reminding me she’d be on the third floor and …

I bolted out the door and jumped into my car. I forgot what Amanda was doing this for—print, web, radio. I arrive, and there’s a TV camera. I’m wearing my typical dirtbag attire. Gray sweatshirt with the pocket stuffed with wallet and cell phone. Baggy maroon hoops shorts, straight off the Marshall’s clearance shelf. Sandals.

Amanda did a wonderful job.

I look like a fool.

My worst date ever

Not sure why I’m writing about this today, except that it popped into my brain and is sorta funny.

I’ve had, in my life, many good dates, many bad dates, many forgettable dates.

There is only one awful date.

The year was 1996. The month was, I believe, June or July. I was living in Nashville, writing for The Tennessean, painfully lonely. I had broken up with my college girlfriend a few months earlier (or, I suppose, she had broken up with me), and was hurting … hurting … hurting. Oddly, I found myself hitting a lot of black dance clubs, mainly because my closest friends at the newspaper were African-American women, and, well, where they went, I followed. I actually enjoyed the nights out. A. Because the music was guaranteed to be great (no country in those joints); B. Because the company was fantastic; C. Because there was something, admittedly, cool about being the only white guy in an establishment.

Of course, that cool factor extended only as far as the dance floor. I am, at age 40, the same painfully awful and awkward dancer I was at 24. I either do the Jogging Two Step or the Try and Look Macho Knee Bend. This is embarrassing anywhere—but especially embarrassing when you’re the only white guy, and stand out like a neon sign. And you’re tall. And angular. And gawky.

I digress. One night, while out at some club, I spotted a breathtakingly gorgeous woman. When I say breathtaking gorgeous, I don’t exaggerate. She was stunning—and happened to know one of my friends. Because I lacked any sort of testicular consistency, I lacked the nerve to approach her that evening, but I did, ultimately, acquire her e-mail address. We chatted back and forth and, a couple of weeks later, decided to go out.

Before I go on, let me say once again:

1. I was 24.

2. I was painfully awkward with women.

3. All I wanted was to get laid. By anyone. Ever. Please. Dear friggin’ God.

OK. Her name was Michele. We decided to play miniature golf. I loathe miniature golf. She hit a ball in a water trap. I believe on purpose. “Get that,” she said.

“Uh, what?”

“Get my ball. Be a gentleman.”

I got the ball.

A few moments later, if memory serves, she did the same thing again. I, of course, fetched the ball.

Later on, post-golf, we stopped at a Burger King or McDonald’s. Not sure which, or why. We ordered via the drive-thru. She received her food, rolled down the window as we pulled away and tossed out her garbage.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You see what I’m doing.”

“You just threw your garbage out the window!”

“So?”

So, indeed. She was dreadful. Sub-dreadful. But, again, really, really hot. I tried kissing her good night. She rebuffed my efforts and exited the car.

We never went out again.

Fred Claire

The reason I started the Quaz last year was, simply, to be able to interview people like Fred Claire.

Now, let it be said, I’ve interviewed Major League officials, oh, hundreds upon hundreds of times. About free agents, about trades, about an underperforming ballclub in the midst of a July swoon. Yet thanks to this medium, I really get to dig in; to escape the expected and the cliche and learn how a fascinating human genuinely thinks.

That, again, is why the Quaz exists.

As most of you probably know, Claire is the former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers; a person who took over running the team when Al Campanis made his infamous comments about the managerial capacities of blacks on national TV. Claire built the 1988 world champions piece by piece, then—when Fox bought the ballclub—was introduced to life in living hell. He may well be the only GM in history to have his star player (Mike Piazza) traded behind his back.

Here, Fred explains how a newspaper guy became the GM of one of baseball’s marquee franchises; how it felt to step in for Campanis and what it takes to build a champion. Fred loves Tommy Lasorda (he explains why), Mike Sharperson, Eric Dickerson and the idea of an *Nsync reunion tour.

Fred Claire, you’ve been called up to the Quaz. Get loose …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Fred, you are my absolute favorite genre of people, because you’re living proof that we journalists are smart and capable—dammit! To explain: You were a Dodgers beat writer in the early 1970s when you expressed an interest in working for the team. You eventually rose from VP of Public Relations to, ultimately, General Manager. Fred, this is admittedly self-indulgent, but did your background give you a greater appreciation and understanding of the media? Did it cause you to not be one of those executives who thinks, “What the hell do you know?” when a reported asks a particularly irksome question?

FRED CLAIRE: I believe I did have a good understanding of the role of the media as far as covering a Major League baseball team and I’m sure part of this understanding came from my background as a sports writer,  sports editor and beat reporter. That being said, I covered Major League teams (the Angels and then the Dodgers) on a daily basis for a relatively short time—from May of 1968 to July of 1969 when I joined the Dodgers as publicity director.

I was a journalism major in college and enjoyed my time working for newspapers from 1957 through July of 1969. I particularly enjoyed the role of being the sports editor of the Pomona newspaper because I had the responsibility at a rather young age of running the department as well as writing a column and covering both local and national events.

During this time I developed relationships and friendships with other members of the media and I was proud of my profession and respected my fellow writers even though I always looked upon this as a competitive field (and part of the appeal). I approached my job in what I felt was a professional and dedicated way and I didn’t think that made me different but simply a part of the media. I think the respect I had for others in the media field as a writer is what helped with my understanding of the media’s role when I joined the Dodgers.

I knew the media had a job to do and when I became the publicity director of the Dodgers I wanted to see the team get all of the coverage and attention it could. I knew all of the attention wouldn’t be positive but I saw this as part of the landscape. I didn’t feel the media owed the team positive stories. The only thing I hoped for was objective coverage and felt the media was entitled to whatever views it developed. Lastly, I dealt with the media for all of my 30 years with the Dodgers and I don’t ever recall telling a writer or sports announcer that I felt they were unfair in their coverage. That last statement may seem strange to some in that I certainly took my share of criticism during my time as the general manager of the Dodgers.

With the late Roy Campanella, legendary Dodger catcher.

J.P.: From a purely personnel/career basis, nobody benefited more from Al Campanis’ infamous “necessities” Nightline appearance than you did. Pre-April 6, 1987, he’s the GM and you’re not. Days later, you take over. I’m beyond fascinated by this—do you recall, literally, watching the show when Al made his statements? How did you feel? What did you think? And when did you realize, “Crap, this is a helluva lot bigger than a bad TV moment”?

F.C.: I didn’t watch the “Nightline” program when Al made his “necessities” comment because none of us in the Dodger organization knew Al was going to be on the show. The show tied in to the 40thanniversary of Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American to play in the majors. Al didn’t tell anyone in the organization that he was going to be a part of the show.

I covered this subject in detail in my book, Fred Claire: My 30 years in Dodger Blue, because I thought it was important to know the background on Al’s appearance on the show and his statements. Bottom line, Al attempted to defend his beloved game of baseball in an area where there was no defense for a lack of progress when it came to minorities advancing to top level positions.

My first knowledge of Al’s statements on the show came the following morning when I picked up the Los Angeles Times and saw the story. I can still recall the placement of the story on the front page of the sports section, running down the right hand column. My first thought was a sense of shock and sadness.  I felt bad for Al and I recognized that this was a story that was only going to grow in controversy and public reaction.

Al’s appearance had come after the Dodgers’ opening game of the 1987 season at the Houston Astrodome. Dodger owner Peter O’Malley was in Houston for the series. Two days later Peter called me before boarding a flight with Al to return to Los Angeles. “Fred, “ he said, “you have to take this job. I have asked Al to resign and I need you to take this job.” Another call came in almost immediately. It was Al. “I wish you could have been with me the other night before I went on the show,” Al said.

I told Al that I only wished that I knew he was going to be on the show because I would have helped him with guidance in any  way that I could. Al’s life and my life had changed but our friendship continued.

J.P.: The Dodgers stunk in 1987, and then you made some absolutely dazzling acquisitions—Alfredo Griffin to play short, Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco for the bullpen and, of course, Kirk Gibson. In the media (and among many players) Gibson always had a sorta gruff, irksome, irritable reputation. What made you decide to sign him? What was it about him you liked? And, when he came up to hit against Dennis Eckersley, dragging a leg, were you at all thinking, “Uh, this doesn’t end well for us?”

F.C.: We not only finished 16 games under .500 (73-89)  in 1987; we had the same mark in 1986. I was new in my role as general manager but certainly not new to the game as I had spent nearly 20 years working and learning alongside Walter and Peter O’Malley; Al Campanis; Bill Schweppe; Walt Alston; Tommy Lasorda and some of the finest coaches, scouts and player development people in the history of the Dodgers.

I had made a couple of moves in my first weeks as the Dodger GM in 1987, signing Mickey Hatcher and trading for John Shelby; and I traded for Tim Belcher at the trading deadline but I knew there was much more to be done. I went to the winter meetings knowing we had three key positions we needed to fill—a dependable shortstop; a closer for our bullpen; and a left-handed relief specialist.

We were able to fill all three positions in a three-way deal as we obtained shortstop Alfredo Griffin and closer Jay Howell from Oakland; and lefty Jesse Orosco from the New York Mets. I had several meetings during the Winter Meetings with Detroit GM Bill Lajoie in hopes of working out a trade for Kirk Gibson. I felt Kirk could give us both power and speed and I knew he had the ability to be a leader.

One of the great scouts of Dodger history—the late Dale McReynolds—had followed Kirk since college days and every time I spoke to Dale I became more determined to add Gibson to the Dodger team. Dale liked everything about Kirk, especially his make-up.

I offered Pedro Guerrero in exchange for Gibson even though both Lajoie and I knew that there was the potential for Gibson to be declared a free agent in view of the Player Association’s collusion suit against the owners. As it turned out, Lajoie didn’t want to make a deal in view of the confusion caused by the collusion suit and Gibson was a declared a free agent in January.

As soon as Gibson became a free agent I went full speed to sign him. I spent so much time talking to Kirk’s agent, Doug Baldwin, that we became good friends and are friends today. As for Kirk, he delivered everything we could have possibly expected and from spring training through his one famous at-bat in the World Series he earned his place in Dodger history.

Fred Claire at the 1988 press conference to introduce (from left) Mike Davis, Alfredo Griffin and Jay Howell.

J.P.: I’m gonna ask an awkward question, and you probably won’t like it. To be blunt, I’ve never heard many good things about Tommy Lasorda. Huge ego, treats people like crap, phony. I’ve watched him many times, and, well, my observations sorta went along with that. Just struck me as a phony bully in love with his own celebrity. Please tell me why I’m wrong. Or, perhaps, right.

F.C.: Jeff, this sounds more like a statement than a question and I will tell you that you are wrong in your summary of Tommy. I’ve known Tommy for 40-plus years and I consider him a friend. That being said, our relationship hasn’t been close since my Dodger days. I’ve reached out to Tommy a few times but he clearly isn’t happy with me and I accept that for whatever his reasons may be.

Tommy and I were very close during my early years with the Dodgers and it was at this time that I saw the man who treated people with respect and who truly loved his family, friends and the Dodger organization. There was nothing “phony” about any of that.

Does Tommy have an ego, sure. Tell me  someone of that celebrity status who doesn’t have an ego. I choose to think of Tommy for the good times we shared and the good things he has done for the Dodgers; the game of baseball; and his many contributions to good causes.

J.P.: In 1990 you signed Darryl Strawberry to a five-year, $20 million deal (which is sorta funny now, because it’s Daniel Murphy money). I was in New York at the time, and rumors about Straw were pretty strong—late nights, drugs, alcohol. I mean, I’m not saying there were verifiable facts, but buzz … talk. At the time, did you consider Straw to be, at all, a risk? Did you ultimately regret the signing? Or did he do enough—gate-and-buzz-wise—to ultimately justify it?

F.C.: I put too much of an emphasis on the talent of Darryl and not enough on the make-up. His talent was off the charts and when we signed Darryl he was at an age and stage where he could have gone onto one of the great careers in the game.

I should have focused more on what you term the “buzz.” At one time we seemed to think that if we got someone into the Dodger uniform and the organization’s structure we could help change that person. When I write that I’m reminded of an old statement—“If you think it’s easy to change someone, think about how difficult it is to change yourself.” Perhaps I wasn’t as aware of that statement at the time of Darryl’s signing. I don’t like to point to the character of Darryl because I like him a great deal. I consider Darryl to be a good person who was very vulnerable and made many poor choices in life. I thought bringing Darryl back to his hometown of Los Angeles could be a positive for him but I believe there were too many distractions and temptations.

We didn’t sign Darryl for the reasons of drawing more people; other than if he helped us win we knew we would do well at the gate. He did help with sales at the time we announced the signing and if my memory is correct he added excitement and benefit to a new television deal. I don’t look back at the signing with regret but I knew there were risks and I knew there was great upside.

I thought bringing both Darryl and Eric Davis to the Dodgers (two players from South Central Los Angeles)  in what should have been the prime part of their careers could produce a great part of Los Angeles baseball history.

It didn’t happen.

With Tommy Lasorda and Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, circa 1985.

J.P.: When FOX purchased the Dodgers in 1998, they famously traded Mike Piazza without your knowledge—in my opinion, one of the great asshole moves in modern baseball history. A. Because you’ve always been a very respected man; B. Because Piazza was en route to becoming an icon. How did you learn of the trade? What was your reaction? And how, do you think, Dodger history changes if Mike Piazza plays his whole career with the team?

F.C.: The trade of Mike Piazza changed the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It changed the history because it was the first time the Dodgers had made a trade without the general manager—the man in charge of baseball operations—being involved in a trade. It was a trade made by a Fox television executive for television reasons. Let that one soak in. The Dodgers make a major trade for reasons other than baseball reasons.

The date was May 15, 1998, when I was in my box at Dodger Stadium watching our game and received a telephone call from then Dodger president Bob Graziano. Bob was calling from the Dominican Republic to tell me, or rather relay the news given to him by the Fox people, that Piazza and Todd Zeile had been traded to Miami as part of a seven-player deal and the deal needed to be announced that night.

I told Bob if that was the case there would be two announcements—I would announce my resignation just after the trade was announced. My message to Bob was clear—“If someone else is making the player personnel decisions you don’t need me.” As it turned out, the trade couldn’t be announced that night in that Gary Sheffield (one of the players Miami wanted to unload due to his salary) had a “no trade” clause that needed to be resolved.

When Sheffield’s contract issue was resolved a couple of days later the trade was announced and I made it clear as to how the trade had come about. That approach apparently didn’t play well with Fox. In many ways, the trade of Mike was more than the loss of a great player. It resulted in the loss of a culture that had served the Dodgers well for so many decades.

Later in the season, three long-time Dodger coaches were fired after a game at Dodger Stadium. After the season, there was a general manager and a manager from outside the organization. Soon there would be departures in the player development and scouting departments; including such people as later-to-be Major League managers Mike Scioscia and Ron Roenicke.

On the day after he was fired by the Dodgers in 1988, Fred was joined by his wife Sheryl to help clean out his office.

J.P.: You were part of a group that recently tried buying the Dodgers. I’m curious—why did you want back in? And, even though it didn’t work out, are you satisfied with the team’s direction under the Magic Johnson ownership group?

F.C.: My involvement with a group attempting to buy the Dodgers was an interesting journey. The story of our group didn’t get much attention because (1) we didn’t want public attention and (2) we, of course, weren’t successful. Our group was headed by—now, you won’t believe this—a former Dodger batboy named Ben Hwang.

Ben went from a batboy role with the Dodgers to USC to a doctorate in biology from Johns Hopkins University to a successful business career. When Ben called me in June of 2011 he asked if I was interested in helping him with his interest in putting a group of investors together to buy the Dodgers. I told Ben I was interested in seeing the Dodgers be what they need to be and thus I would help try to restore the Dodgers to a proper level.

I became involved for that reason—to try to be a part of the Dodgers returning to what I see as their proper status and not simply return to  Dodger Stadium. I didn’t want back in, as you say, I wanted to see the Dodgers be  back to what I feel they need to be in Major League Baseball. I’m satisfied with what I’ve seen from the Magic Johnson ownership group because it has matched its opening words with the appropriate actions.

I want to see the Dodgers be a major factor and I believe they will be. When the new television deal is signed, the Dodgers will have the resources to return to the top. Fox bought the Dodgers for television reasons; McCourt bought the Dodgers because he is smart and it was a tremendous business deal.

Magic and Co. understand the game; the fans; and the wonderful treasure they now hold. If you have that treasure you should never let it go.

Claire and Tommy Lasorda welcome Hideo Nomo in 1995.

J.P.: Does winning live up to the hype? What I mean is, it seems as if sports are all about winning, winning, winning, winning. Then you win, the mound if converged upon, the bubbly is popped, the parade takes place—and, pfft, it’s on to next year. It just strikes me as a painfully fleeting high for such hard work.

F.C.: Jeff, in a way you have just described the beauty of the business. It’s the challenge; the day-to-day grind. The very things Jim Collins wrote about in “Good to Great.”

There’s nothing better than the competition and the working relationships you have within an organization. There’s nothing better than the daily grind. The moment of holding a World Series trophy isn’t supposed to last. You do it just once and the memory and relationships will last a lifetime. There’s absolutely nothing better than to be a part of an organization pulling together to achieve a common goal. And that goal is winning the last game that is played in a season. Anything else is falling short.

Sure, success can quickly be followed by failure. You get knocked down. You get criticized. You simply use it all as fuel because you know that holding that trophy even for seconds makes it all worthwhile.

Fred Claire with his mother a couple of days after being fired by the Dodgers.

J.P.: In 1950, when you were 14, your parents moved the family from Jamestown, Ohio to Torrance, California. What happens to Fred Claire’s life if Marston and Mary Francis Claire stay put? Who are you today?

F.C.: I’m Fred Claire. Because that’s who I am. Fred Claire from Jamestown, Ohio. My family left Jamestown, my heart didn’t. I was blessed with wonderful parents and a brother and sister. I had the wonderful experience of growing up in a small town in Ohio where my father owned the corner drugstore.

I had the opportunity to go to Crosley Field in Cincinnati as a youngster because my Dad enabled that to happen. The experience made an impact. I can’t say for sure where I would be without the move to California but I feel I would have had an involvement with sports because that was my love. It may have been as a high school basketball coach in a small town in Ohio. That would have been fine. My dream was to play basketball and baseball for Silvercreek High.

J.P.: What’s been the highest of high moments of your career? The lowest of lows?

F.C.: The highest moment was in winning the 1988 World Series because it helped to bring an organization back to the forefront after a couple of terrible seasons. It was the highlight for me because I was able to thank our Major League staff and our scouting and player development departments for making this possible. When they hang out the World Championship banners at Dodger Stadium, the 1988 title will be represented. That’s good enough for a high point in a career.

The lowest of lows has to be the night I was watching the game at Dodger Stadium and received the call that Mike Piazza had been traded without my knowledge. I went back to my office; sat at my desk; and felt empty.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH FRED CLAIRE:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I did a lot of flying during Dodger days but never had a close call and never thought about dying in a crash. I worry more about being a passenger in a car than in a plane.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Eric Dickerson, Golden Girls, cranberry sauce, Malik Yoba, Bill O’Reilly, Eminem, Breakfast at Tiffanys, Mike Smrek, 18 holes of golf on a sunny day, your cell phone: I don’t care to rank anyone as least favorite when there are a couple of people I know little about (although I’m sure Malik and Mike are both good people). It’s not hard to rank the top favorite on this list—18 holes of golf on a sunny day. If you had 18 holes of golf on a rainy day that would rank No. 2.

As far as favorites, I don’t know what I would do without my cell phone. I just know when I leave the house I have to have my cell phone, wallet and car keys and I assume the second and third on this list won’t be needed in the near future.

I don’t know but really like Eric Dickerson and Golden Girls and can’t think of a Thanksgiving dinner without cranberry sauce. As far as O’Reilly and Eminem, I think both are accomplished rappers.

• Along with acquiring Kirk Gibson in 1988, you added Mike Davis. I remember, at the time, thinking, “Mike Davis! Awesome!” How come he didn’t quite work out?: Mike Davis is a great person and we stay in contact to this day. I think one of the reasons things didn’t work out as well for Mike as both he and we anticipated is that he suffered a serious ankle injury in a Spring game in Puerto Rico before the start of the 1988 season. He also didn’t have the opportunity to play on a regular basis. And just maybe Mike Davis did work out as a Dodger. It was his walk that ultimately led to Gibson’s home run. And Mike also hit a home run in the World Series.

• Mike Sharperson, a Dodger outfielder during your reign, died in a car accident in 1996. He was 34. What can you tell me about Mike?: I can tell you that Mike was one of the nicest people ever to put on a Dodger uniform. I traded for Mike in my first year as GM in 1987 and based the deal on the reports from our scout who had the Toronto Blue Jays organization. The scout, as I recall, rated Mike as one of the top prospects in the Blue Jay system.

Mike was a good Major League player but not really someone who was going to be a consistent regular, even though he made the National League All-Star team in 1992. When I think about Mike there are a couple of thoughts that come to mind—one happy and one very sad. The happy moment is when I see Mike running to home plate to greet Gibson after Kirk’s historic home run in the 1988 World Series.

The sad part is recalling the news that Mike was killed in a car accident in 1996 as he was driving  from Las Vegas to San Diego to join the Padres’ after being recalled from the minors. The accident made me think of a story that Terry Collins told me when he was managing our Albuquerque team and Sharpie was on the team. Terry said he was in the middle of one of his famed pep talks when he looked at Sharperson and saw his with his head down and looking rather depressed. “Mike, what’s wrong,” demanded Terry. “I don’t like being in the minors,” said Mike. “Then work hard and get back to the Majors,” offered Terry.

I can’t help but think about how happy Mike must have been when he was headed from Las Vegas back to the Padres and Major League Baseball.

• Should suspected PED usage impact a player’s Hall of Fame status?: A timely question and no easy answer. My solution: Judge players on their records, just as other players have been judged. For those who have been known to be PED users, make that point on the plaque at Cooperston.

• The world needs to know: What was it like working with Rafael Bournigal?: You are going to get the feeling that every player you ask about during my time with the Dodgers was a great guy (see Sharperson and Davis) but it was not only great working with Rafael Bournigal but we have stayed in close contact through the years. If you ask anyone who ever played with Bournigal, you will find that he was one of the smartest players and best teammates they have ever known.

Raffy spent eight years in the Major Leagues and he did this because of his intelligence and his ability to contribute to a team. When Raffy left the game as a player he reached out to me because of his interest in staying in the game. He was in a very strong executive position with the New York Mets when he decided to leave baseball and enter the business world. There is no doubt in my mind but that if Bourngial had stayed in the game he would be a general manager today. At least, he would have been deserving of such a position.

• I’m not asking for names, dates, specifics. But did you ever know you had a gay member of one of your teams? And do you think, in 2012, an openly gay player could survive and thrive in the league?: I never knew we had a gay member on the Dodgers during my time with the team but the late Glenn Burke and Billy Bean later made their homosexuality known. If a Major League player came out today and said he was gay I believe he would be able to continue with his career. As far as “thrive,” I think that would be a matter of performance on the field.

• I’m thinking the world is ready for Justin Timberlake to get back together with his *Nsync band members and do a big world tour. What are your thoughts?: From what I know, I think Justin and his band would do just fine. I should leave this one to my son Jeff, who does concert production work and currently is on tour with Aerosmith and has been with most of the top performers and groups on the world concert tour.

• Most of my fellow New Yorkers view Los Angeles very negatively—surface, over-crowded, smog. Tell me why they’re wrong: Tell them to check out sunset with a view of the Pacific ocean.

• Five greatest ballplayers of your lifetime: I wouldn’t know where to start and where to stop. I would include Ted Williams because I was a Red Sox fan as a youngster (in addition to pulling for the Reds in the National League) and Stan Musial (because he was my brother Doug’s favorite player). And I definitely would include Jackie Robinson. What the heck, I’ll add Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale because they not only were great pitchers but great people. If there are five who can match this group you’ll have to name them.

 

Why Bobby Petrino is the Perfect Hire for Western Kentucky, by Jeff Tew

As most readers here probably know, I consider Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky’s new head football coach, to be the scumbag of all scumbags; an awful guy who should never been allowed within 100 feet of high school or college athletes. His hiring two days ago sickened me, in that it showed—yet again—that winning trumps all; that even colleges and universities care significantly less about character development and moral fortitude than Ws and Ls.

That said, many disagree with me.

One person with an opposing take is Jeff Tew, a college football fan and Petrino supporter. After we sparred back and forth on Twitter, Jeff kindly agreed to come here and offer his take. You can follow Jeff on Twitter here, and he blogs occasionally here. I thank him for taking the time …

Two days ago, after an eight-month hiatus from coaching which was sparked from an affair with an employee and subsequent cover up to authorities at the University of Arkansas and Arkansas state police, Bobby Petrino was hired as the head football coach at Western Kentucky University.

The hire has sparked angst and vitriol amongst some fans of college athletics who have called it everything from unethical to immoral, absurd to despicable. Moralists and those with the highest of standards have asked, “How could a university president hire a man who was fired from his former employer for not only having a public affair on his wife, but did so with a university employee he hired then lied to university officials and the police in the aftermath that ensued?”

The best answer to this question: Todd Stewart, Athletic Director for Western Kentucky University, hired the absolute best-possible available coach for his football program.

Those who despised the hire just spewed their beverage of choice all over their computer or smart phone after reading that statement. Let’s all take a step back, take a deep breath and reexamine the situation.

Bobby Petrino is a football coach.  Let me repeat that again so it sinks in—Bobby Petrino is a football coach. Petrino’s job is not to be faithful to his wife or to even tell the truth, nor is his job to provide a moral compass for 18-to-22-year-old football players. Petrino’s job is to win football games.

Looking at Petrino’s record, he does that pretty damn well.

At Louisville, Petrino went 41-9 in his four seasons as head coach. He averaged 10 wins per season, won two conference titles and took the Cards to a BCS bowl game which brought priceless attention and notoriety to a college which had been strictly known as a basketball school.

After a brief and embarrassing stint with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, Petrino was hired as head coach at Arkansas. In his final two years in Fayetteville, Petrino posted back-to-back 10-win seasons in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the nation and in the 2010 season took the Arkansas Razorbacks to their first BCS Bowl in the BCS era.

To some of you, these stats mean nothing and Petrino’s shortcomings in his personal life fully engulf any good he has done and could possibly ever do on the sidelines as head coach. There is absolutely nothing I can say or do to sway your opinion or change your mind.

Many of you may be asking where my moral compass lies. In my world, I see a little black, a little white and a plethora of gray. I have been married to my best friend for a year and a half. In September of 2012 we welcomed our first child, a son. I cannot fathom a situation where I would ever have an affair on my wife. I also don’t consider it my job to lay blame or be the judge, jury and executioner to the choices anyone else makes in his/her personal life.

Petrino had an affair on his wife and lied to authorities in the hours after his notorious motorcycle wreck with his mistress, Jessica Dorrell. Arkansas fired him, the police did not press charges and his wife forgave him. Anyone hung up on anything else with this situation would be best suited to move on.

Bobby Petrino is not a sex offender. He’s not a convicted murderer. He is not the leader of a pyramid scheme that duped hundreds of thousands of the elderly out of their retirement.

Bobby Petrino is an adulterer, which lumps him in a category with more than 50 percent of the rest of United States. Another well-known adulterer is President William Jefferson Clinton and here’s a Newsflash: He was damn good at his job and still has the highest approval rate of any President in history … AND HE WAS IMPEACHED!

While the postseason coaching carousel has turned about this year, Clay Travis, famed sports journalist and owner of OutKickTheCoverage.com, gave the best rendition to answers I have heard concerning questions of Bobby Petrino.  In a recent interview on The Out of Bounds Show on 105.1FM in Jackson, Mississippi, Clay said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I don’t know about you, but if I’m about to go into a major surgery, I could care less if the surgeon has had an affair or multiple affairs on his wife. If he’s the best damned surgeon in the world, I could care less about his personal life.”

I could not have given my opinion on the matter any better.  If we remove every coach from the sidelines who has had an affair on his wife, the sidelines of college football would be desolate.

Clay was in attendance at Western Kentucky for the press conference of Petrino and called the hire a “homerun”.  I’ll go a step further: The hire was a grand slam, down by three in the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the World Series.

Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino will both benefit from this hire and I will make you all a guarantee: Within three years, Bobby Petrino will be coaching a major college football program and flourishing … just as he’s always done.

… “Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports”

“Look, just because a guy hires his mistress to a university job she’s unqualified for, then lies to police and university officials about her being involved in an accident, doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a second chance.”

My son Emmett is 6.

We have a game we play, whenever we’re telling a story or reading a book. Let’s say, for example, the final page reads, ” … the prince conquered the evil swordsman and went on to marry Princess Laura.” Well, Emmett always (literally, always) adds “… and then a gatorsaur ate them.”

It’s become a saying in our house—”And then a gatorsaur ate them.” This year, my wife even mentioned the gatorsaur on out holiday card.

I digress. Moments ago I had the pleasure of reading the Western Kentucky University press release announcing the hiring of Bobby Petrino as new football coach. It’s unintentionally, uproariously, uniquely hilarious, in that all these dazzling accomplishments are mentioned, without the context of Petrino being a man of John Rocker-esque character and integrity (A refresher: Petrino not only left Louisville after signing an extension; not only quit the Atlanta Falcons midway through a season by leaving a note for his players. No, he lost his Arkansas job after getting in a motorcycle accident, telling police and the university that he was alone (in fact, his engaged mistress was on the bike); and, oh, he hired the mistress to a highly coveted university job she was utterly unqualified for).

Hence, what I did—for kicks and giggles—was add, “Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports” to the end of each paragraph. It’s amazing how well it works. Here, watch …

•••

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky University has named Bobby Petrino its 18th head football coach in school history, WKU Director of Athletics Todd Stewart announced on Monday. Petrino brings a wealth of coaching experience and success to WKU, owning a 75-26 career record as a collegiate head coach, with seven bowl game appearances, including appearances in the 2011 BCS Sugar Bowl with the University of Arkansas and the 2007 BCS Orange Bowl with the University of Louisville. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
Petrino becomes only the eighth WKU head coach since 1948, taking over a program primed for its first-ever bowl game appearance on December 26 against Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, and coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons. As previously announced on Friday, WKU defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will coach the Hilltoppers in the bowl game as interim head coach. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
In his eight seasons as a collegiate head coach with Louisville and Arkansas, Petrino led his teams to a bowl game in seven of the eight years, including four 10-win seasons, leading both the Cardinals and the Razorbacks to their first BCS bowl games in school history. Petrino guided Arkansas and Louisville to top-10 finishes nationally three different times, including finishing the 2006 and the 2011 seasons ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
In his most recent coaching stop at Arkansas, Petrino led the Razorbacks to a 34-17 record in four years, going 29-10 in his final three years, increasing his win total in each of his four seasons with Arkansas. In just his second season in Fayetteville, Petrino led Arkansas to an 8-5 record and its first bowl win since 2003, winning over East Carolina in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The success of the 2009 season propelled Arkansas into the national spotlight in 2010, as the Razorbacks went 10-3, earning a bid to the AllState Sugar Bowl against Ohio State — the program’s first-ever BCS bowl bid. Petrino followed up the 2010 season with a remarkable 11-win campaign in 2011, matching the single-season school record. Arkansas closed out the year with a win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, boosting the Razorbacks into the No. 5 national ranking in the final AP poll. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
Arkansas led the Southeastern Conference in passing offense (300.7) for the third consecutive year in 2011, while also leading the conference in total offense (438.1) and scoring offense (36.8). In Petrino’s final two seasons at Arkansas, the Razorbacks went 13-1 at home, including a perfect 7-0 at home in 2011. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
Overall, Petrino’s four years at Arkansas resulted in a plethora of school records falling. In 2008, the team broke eight school records and in 2009 it set or matched 26 individual or team records. In 2010, the Razorbacks set or matched 48 individual or team records, while 2011 saw 24 more records fall. On the individual stage, tight end D.J. Williams claimed the school’s first-ever John Mackey Award in 2011, given annually to the nation’s top tight end. WKU senior tight end Jack Doyle was a semi-finalist for the award this season. Petrino also coached quarterback Tyler Wilson to first team All-SEC honors in 2011, becoming the first Arkansas quarterback to earn that honor. Kick returner Joe Adams was the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2011, while also being one of five finalists for the 2011 Paul Hornung Award, an award that WKU junior running back Antonio Andrews is up for in 2012. Adams was recognized as an All-American following the 2011 season, and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
Developing student-athletes has been a constant for Petrino, as he has worked with numerous players that have gone on to careers at the professional level, including an impressive track record developing quarterbacks. As a head coach, he helped develop quarterbacks such as Ryan Mallett (2008-10) at Arkansas and Stefan LeFors (2003-04) and Brian Brohm (2004-06) at Louisville. As a coordinator or assistant, he tutored Jason Campbell at Auburn (2002), Chris Redman at Louisville (1998), Jake Plummer at Arizona State (1993), and Doug Nussmeier (1990-91) and John Friesz (1989) at Idaho. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
While his track record is proven developing quarterbacks, Petrino has also adhered to the philosophy of a balanced attack offensively. In his last 14 years as a collegiate coach, both as a head coach and as an offensive coordinator, Petrino’s offenses have put together 86 100-yard rushers and 64 300-yard passers in 170 games during that 14-year span. That equals 150 of 170 games having at least a 100-yard rusher or a 300-yard passer. Petrino has coached the likes of current NFL running back Michael Bush (2003-06), who rushed for over 2,500 yards during his time at Louisville. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
Prior to becoming the head coach at Arkansas, Petrino was the head coach with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 2007 after spending four years as the head coach at Louisville. Petrino was the named the head coach at Louisville in 2003 after a year as the offensive coordinator at Auburn. In four seasons at the helm of Louisville, Petrino put together a remarkable 41-9 overall record, winning at least nine games in each of his four seasons, including an 11-win season and a 12-win season. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
In his first season with the Cardinals, Petrino immediately began to make his mark, leading Louisville to a 9-4 record and a berth in the GMAC Bowl. Taking over a team that had finished 7-6 the season before, Petrino became the first Louisville head coach to win nine games in his first season. It didn’t take long for Petrino to set the tone in his first collegiate coaching stint. In his first career game as a head coach, Petrino led Louisville to a 40-24 win over arch rival Kentucky. By the end of his first year, Petrino’s  team led the league and ranked among the nation’s best in total offense, rushing and scoring. The Cardinals ranked fifth in the nation in total offense (488.9), 10th in rushing (228.2) and 15th in scoring offense (34.6). Louisville set six Conference USA records including the mark for total yards after the Cardinals racked up 779 yards, including 445 rushing yards, in a 66-45 win over Houston. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
The four losses in 2003 would be the most during Petrino’s tenure at Louisville, as he led the Cardinals to a 12-1 record in his second season, winning a Conference USA title, while also winning the Liberty Bowl over 10th-ranked Boise State. The Cardinals led the nation in total offense (539.0) and scoring offense (49.8), scored 40 points or more nine different times, scored 50 points seven times and set an NCAA record by scoring 55 or more points in five straight games. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
After a 9-3 season in 2005, Petrino took Louisville to new heights in 2006, finishing the season with a 12-1 record and a 24-13 victory over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. The 12 wins were the most in school history, besting a previous high of 11 set during Petrino’s second season. The BCS bowl win was the first in school history. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
During that particular 2006 season, the Petrino-led Cardinals averaged over 37 points per game offensively, ranking fourth nationally in that category, while still limiting the opposition to just over 16 points per game. Petrino’s offense ranked second in the nation in total yards per game (475.3), while leading the Big East in passing offense (290.0) and first downs (296). Louisville jumped as high as No. 3 in the national polls during the season, finishing the year ranked sixth in the AP poll, posting three wins over top-15 teams, including third-ranked West Virginia en route to the program’s first Big East title. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
During Petrino’s time at Louisville, he coached Bronko Nagurski and Ted Hendricks Award winner Elvis Dumervil, who led the nation in sacks (20) and forced fumbles (10) on his way to earning All-America honors in 2006. During that same season, running back Michael Bush scored 24 touchdowns and became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1999. Petrino inherits a running back in Antonio Andrews at WKU that rushed for 1,609 yards in the regular season, ranking sixth nationally in rushing yards per game. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
Prior to his time at Louisville, Petrino served one season as the offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2002. In his one season with the Tigers, Auburn went 9-4, including three wins over top-10 ranked opponents, and won a share of the SEC Western Division title. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
Before Auburn, he spent three seasons in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was the quarterbacks coach in 1999 and 2000, and the offensive coordinator in 2001. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
In his first stint at Louisville, he was the offensive coordinator for the Cardinals in 1998. In that one season, Louisville was the top-ranked NCAA Division I-A team in scoring and total offense while recording the biggest turnaround in the nation. The Cardinals improved from 1-10 in 1997 to 7-5 in ’98. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
The Helena, Mont., native was the offensive coordinator at Utah State for three years (1995-97) before going to Louisville. While in Logan, Utah, he helped Utah State set school records by averaging 468.5 yards of total offense and 317.5 yards passing during the 1996 season. Prior to his arrival, USU averaged just more than 300 yards per game in total offense. In 1996, the Aggies also racked up a school-record 273 first downs, an average of nearly 25 first downs a game. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.
In 1994, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Nevada. The Wolf Pack ranked second in the nation in passing (330) and total offense (500) per game, and was third in the nation with 37.6 points a game. During his one-year stint at Nevada, the Wolf Pack boasted 10 100-yard rushing performances and six 300-yard passing efforts. Nevada posted a 9-2 record and won a share of the Big West title. Petrino is one of the biggest soulless scumbags in the history of college sports.

No … more … Christmas … music—plllleeeaaassse

As a guy who spends most of his daylight hours in myriad cafes and coffee shops, I’ve now had my brain penetrated by more than enough Christmas music to kill a large rat. Hence, I offer this brief list of the Top 5 Most Horrid, Putrid Christmas Songs Ever That Must Be Stopped Now, Now, Now!!!!!!!!!! (By the way, here’s the best holiday song ever, if you care)

1. “Mistletoe and Holly,” Frank Sinatra: Oh by gosh, by golly, Starbucks plays this song 8,000,000 times per day, and it sucks so amazingly bad that I can’t believe it’s Sinatra and not, say, Elton John. Just the absolute worst, most annoying holiday song ever written.

2. “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” Elmo n Patsy: I was 12-years old the first time I heard this song, and it made me chuckle. Now, 10,000 listens later, it is acid to my face. Not funny, not harmonious, not good. Please make it stop. Please.

3. “Jingle Bell Rock,” Hall & Oates: It’s not a secret that I rank Hall & Oates ahead of the Beatles, but man, oh, man, what the hell were they thinking? (I can only imagine what goobers they felt like, filming this video. It’s like gay porn meets Leave It To Beaver)

4. “Jingle Bells,” Barking Dogs: I’m not making this up. A few years ago, before it closed, I did most of my writing at the Borders in Eastchester, N.Y. Then they started playing this song regularly, and I lost it.

5. “Santa Baby,” Kylie Minogue: Could be sung by Madonna, Malik Rose, Babs Bush–doesn’t matter. A masterpiece of dread. (Plus, she’s lipsinking)

In Defense of Skip Bayless, by @BaylessDefender

As many people here probably know, ESPN’s Skip Bayless is—hands down—my least-favorite sports journalist. It started when he outed Troy Aikman, the straight Dallas Cowboys quarterback, in a book, and has only gotten worse with time. To me, Skip symbolizes the worst of modern sports journalism; a brand of me-me-me-me nonsense that paints us all as buffoons and cartoons.

A couple of days ago, after Tweeting some slam of Skip, I read a response from @BaylessDefender, Skip’s biggest Twitter fan and defender. He was passionate in his words, so I decided to invite him here to explain to me why I’m wrong. @BaylessDefender doesn’t use his real name, and I understand. I’d like to thank him for taking the time to write …

Jeff,

I was saddened to see your anti-Skip Bayless thoughts hit Twitter last Friday morning when you tweeted that Skip is a sports journalist that “gives an honorable profession a crap name.” I disagree. In fact, I’ve spent the last nine months of my Twitter life fighting against the relentless attacks Skip receives on a daily basis.

(Skip does not respond to any vitriol he receives on Twitter. Hence, the reason my feed, @BaylessDefender, was created. However, he does reply to supportive fans occasionally via direct message.)

Shortly after I read your anti-Skip Bayless tweet, I began preparing to “unleash” on you, as I always do every time a prominent journalist and/or personality attacks Skip’s credibility. I alerted my followers to “buckle up” as I prepared a series of Bayless defenses and anti-Jeff Pearlman Tweets in an effort to level the playing field. I scoured your work for items that I took issue with, but, since I’ve always liked you for reasons I wasn’t yet able to fully articulate, I struggled to unleash in the prompt and ferocious manner that I like to think that my followers have grown to expect.

Moments later (and before I was able to unleash), you Tweeted “I feel sorta bad about pissing @BaylessDefender off.” I appreciated your contrition and, shortly later, it hit me: the criticism you receive for writing Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton is similar to the criticism Skip receives. Specifically, I find it similar to the criticism Skip receives for having written Hell-Bent: The Crazy Truth About the “Win or Else” Dallas Cowboys in which he wrote about Troy Aikman’s perceived sexuality that became the flashpoint of the book (to Skip’s dismay, in fact) and fodder for Skip Bayless attackers. You, of course, came under fire for writing about Walter Payton’s drug addiction and infidelity that has, in many respects, shaped your reputation, as well.

You have tweeted that Skip was “disgustingly wrong” to write about Troy’s sexuality. I am confused by your stance given the way that you defend your biography of Walter Payton in Sweetness. In your response to Michael Wilbon’s criticism of your book in his September 2011 ESPN.com column, you wrote that “one can’t write a complete, authentic, definitive biography of a life and ignore key portions.” I completely agree, and, using this logic, I ask: how could Skip tell the complete story of the 1995-1996 Dallas Cowboys without delving into the origins of the reasons why their team was so divided? Certainly he was more than qualified to do so and had extraordinary access. Heck, he was even close friends with head coach Barry Switzer’s daughter, Kathy. If any journalist knew about the problems that the Cowboys had and why, I’d think it would be Skip. I struggle to see how Skip’s reporting on what led to the Dallas Cowboys’ inner turmoil is that much different than your portrayal that Walter Payton was a deeply flawed man. Both reports contain difficult truths but are nonetheless crucial elements to help your readers understand the complete story.

What started the friction between Troy and his teammates? According to Skip, Aikman became enraged on the sidelines at wide receiver Kevin Williams after he ran a wrong route on a crucial third down in an embarrassing home loss to the Redskins. In a fit of rage, Aikman called Williams the N-word, according to Skip’s sources. The episode, obviously, did not sit well with Troy’s black teammates and from that point the inter-team mudslinging started. Skip wrote that Troy’s black teammates, understandably, lost serious respect for him and began to speculate that Troy was bisexual. Skip never speculated on Troy’s sexuality himself. Skip simply reported that Troy’s teammates speculated. Barry Switzer was also enraged by the N-word incident and felt that Aikman may be gay and brought the issue up with Skip on occasion.

I decided to focus on this singular issue, Jeff, because of the ignorant criticisms that both you and Skip receive for your brutally honest portrayals, respectively. I hope that I have caused you to give attacking Skip Bayless a second thought the next time you feel compelled to do so.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Remembering my Angels, by Danielle Rydberg

Earlier today one of my high school classmates, a lovely woman named Danielle Rydberg, posted this about the birthdays of her twin sons. It’s both heartbreaking and moving, and Danielle was kind enough to give me permission to post it here. Bless her on what is surely a difficult day …

Ten years ago today I was forced into being a mom 18 weeks too soon.

After a week of false hope, my precious little twin boys, Tomas and Kristofer, were born weighing only a pound each—no chance to live, no way of taking a breath successfully, although they tried. I tried my best to be a good mom for that hour. I kept them warm and whispered loving thoughts to them. This was a defining moment for me; it shaped who I’ve become and how I will be forever.

The intensity of that grief is indescribable. I grieve for the family that didn’t happen and then in the next heartbeat I’m forced to be thankful for the children I have—for who is to say that, had Tomas and Kristofer survived, Ani, Tahlene and Axel would be here? That conflict of emotion is like fire and ice. We didn’t have a memorial service then because those little babies only lived for an hour and we were the only ones who had a ‘relationship’ with them.

So, to show them our respect, every December 10 we honor their short lives by decorating the tree and hanging a special ornament. This year, we are adding a trip to Santa and constructing a gingerbread house. Sure, I’ve shed a few tears today, but I’ve also laughed at my kids, hugged them and made them smile. I’m looking forward to a nice family outing with some hot chocolate, sweets and a Christmas movie to end the day.

All my love to my two angels.

Why Twitter Matters (to me)

About two years ago, I committed myself to ending my Twitter account.

I found the medium annoying and distracting. Here I was, trying to write a Walter Payton book, spending too much time Tweeting this, Tweeting that. I went so far as to actually end my account, and told my, oh, 1,500 followers that I would be committing Twitter-cide.

Ultimately, I changed my mind.

Now, I’m on Twitter all the time. As I sit here and write, I keep Twitter open in an adjacent window, Tweeting away when I’m bored or a though pops into my head. Do I still find it annoying? Not really. Distracting? Definitely. It’s sorta like computer crack. And yet, whereas I once considered it to be of little value, I now realize it is, for an author, invaluable.

Why? Two reasons:

1. Name a better reach-out-directly-to-readers tool? Seriously, name one. I certainly can’t think of any. MySpace is long dead, Facebook is heading in that direction, Instagram is sorta lame. With Twitter, I literally can say to 7,581 (my updated Follower total) people, “Book’s coming out!” or “Here’s a preview!”

2. This isn’t discussed much (if ever), but landing a book deal isn’t merely about an excellent idea. It’s about an excellent idea’s potential to sell. If I can meet with a book company executive and say, “Look, I’ve got 100,000 Twitter followers to talk books with,” well, I’m a million times more marketable and impressive. Literally, by people following me on Twitter, they’re helping my career; my ability to live a beautifully charmed and wonderful life, kicking back at a Starbucks, traveling here and there to research, etc.

As a result, I try and follow everyone who follows me. If they’re doing me the honor, I should do it right back.

Gertrude the Great

Life is funny in 8,000 different ways.

It’s funny because people slip on banana peels.

It’s funny because we all fart.

It’s funny because there are highs and lows and twists and turns, and we almost never see them coming.

It’s funny because you never know who’s gonna pop up, randomly …

For example, a couple of months ago, when my kids started the new year of elementary school, I was standing in the courtyard, waiting for pickup, when someone say, “Hey, do you know who that guy is?” He pointed to a big dude with a dark beard.

“No,” I said. “Who?”

“It’s Tommy Dreamer.”

“Uh, Tommy who?”

“Tommy Dreamer. The wrestler.”

Now I’ve written some about wrestling, and I certainly watched Hulk battle the  Iron Sheik as a kid (Camel Clutch, baby!). But my knowledge, while OK, is nothing dazzling. Hence, that afternoon I took a minute and Googled Tommy Dreamer. Here’s what popped up.

Wacky, right? Even more interesting, Tommy’s wife, Trisa, was his “manager” throughout much of his wrestling career (I put “manager” in quotes because, traditionally, “manager” means pretty woman escorting wrestler into ring. For all I know, she actually handled his day-to-day everything). She apparently went by “Beulah McGillicutty,” had/had her own fan following, etc … etc.

I digress.

Although Tommy still travels a lot for wrestling, I see Trisa three or four times per week, bringing her kids to school then, hours later, picking them up. She’s warm and friendly and lovely and—it turns out—author of one of the best children’s books the wife and I have read for quite some time. I’m not exaggerating. At a book fair last week, I plunked down $10 for “Gertrude the Great,” Trisa’s debut effort. To be honest, my expectations were low; not because Trisa worked in wrestling but because, well, so many kids books disappoint. They’re overly simplistic, sloppily illustrated, etc.

Not this one. Without giving much away, “Gertrude the Great” is the story of girl empowerment, of a youngster who develops self confidence and comes to understand what makes her special. The writing is crisp; Jill Thompson’s illustrations are wonderful.

Trisa self-published, which makes her efforts all the more noble and worthy. So, if you’re looking for a gift for a young female reader (I’d say ages 5-9), you won’t do better than this one.