Scooter Hobbs column: Book helps you get to know real Bertman

Published 9:09 am Saturday, October 29, 2022

Today’s lecture will be about a book that was long overdue.

So I guess it’s at this point that we should cue up the standard full disclosure.

Although neither one of us likes it publicized much, the author of this book, Glenn Guilbeau, is, what you might call a close, personal friend.

Skip Bertman’s story, both as LSU’s five-time national championship baseball coach and later as the Tigers’ innovative athletic director, needed to be preserved in hardcover. And Guilbeau, a veteran sports writer who covered much of it for various publications, was the chosen one to pen it.

It had been attempted before by another author, Leo Honeycutt, but that was never published despite being methodically researched.

The finished product is titled “Everything Matters in Baseball. The Skip Bertman Story.”

I wasn’t consulted. If I had been, the book’s title would have been: “Skip: The Man Who Invented College Baseball.”

That’s not technically true, of course, but then again Thomas Edison didn’t really invent the light bulb and Henry Ford didn’t actually invent the automobile. They just made those things practical, popular and profitable.

That’s pretty much Skip’s legacy with college baseball. How he did it — the master blueprint he provided while encouraging so many other coaches to sell the sport to their own athletic directors — is the subject of this entertaining book. It also delves heavily into Bertman’s second LSU life as the school’s athletic director and ends (aspiring coaches take note) with Bertman’s 12 secrets to success.

It’s a really good book, and it should be. Guilbeau had good material to work with, namely Bertman himself. The book gets even funnier and catches the essence of the Skip I’ve always known and laughed with due to the added recollections of dozens and dozens of former players and associates.

Pro tip here: While breezing through the book, whether it’s Bertman talking, the author’s words or one of those many former players who chime in, you should read it with Skip’s distinctive voice and inflections. Do your own Skip. Trust me. It greatly enhances the experience.

Guilbeau certainly heard them all — the good, the bad and the hysterical — while interviewing all those former players and associates, all with their own take on “doing Skip.”

In truth, although some can sound more like him than others, as Guilbeau can attest, nobody can really imitate Skip Bertman. He was a Louisiana original from the moment he packed up an old wood-paneled station wagon, Clark Griswold style, and left Miami for Baton Rouge.

Baseball at LSU was a neglected afterthought when he arrived, as it was everywhere. You know what it is now. And there was a lot more to it than Gorilla Ball or taking two and hitting to right.

The central theme of this journey, as detailed in the book, seems to center around Skip’s obsessive “attention to detail” and his constant harping on “We’re trying to be excellent around here.”

That may not sound much like a formula for fun and merriment, but Skip was a rarity in the profession who seemed to think sports, like life, should be fun amidst all that hard work and dedication.

Guilbeau’s biggest problem when phoning former players was getting them off the phone — “They’d talk for an hour or more,” Guilbeau said. “They loved talking about Skip, always had one more story, how much fun he was … you got to get this in there …”

You know the basic plot, the five national championships — each of which gets its own chapter — and I won’t play spoiler for the behind-the-scenes revelations and anecdotes you’ll discover along the way.

But, to be honest, I may have enjoyed the book as much or more when it transitions into Bertman, the athletic director.

You learn that he was reluctant, at first, and a compromise choice that solved a battle of egos between the LSU Board of Supervisors and the then-headstrong school President Mark Emmert, now the outgoing NCAA president.

Bertman dragged the LSU athletic department into the 21st century and figured he’d get fired for force-feeding the kind of Tiger Stadium seat-licensing program for fundraising that many other schools were already using.

He didn’t, of course, massaging the controversial change just right, just the way he did all those dicey baseball situations.

In the end, he hired four coaches for four sports that won national championships.

And he also lost one he didn’t hire — guy named Nick Saban. The back story of Saban’s departure from LSU to the Miami Dolphins is here, including the advice that the greatest-ever college baseball coach gave to the greatest-ever college football coach.

OK, one spoiler alert: Three years ago, Saban told Guilbeau, “If there was one thing professionally that I would do over again, it would’ve been to not leave LSU.”

“Everything Matters in Baseball” will not be available other than in Baton Rouge bookstores until Jan. 1. Until then it can be ordered online at acadianahouse.com.

It’s worth your time.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com