NEWPORT BEACH — Larry Trusley isn't sure he wants the world to know that he's the Head Cluckster. But on most other questions, the odds are that he's got the odds figured out.
Trusley loved sports as a kid, but eye problems kept him from playing. Instead, he began keeping sports statistics, which he continues to do, sidelining his convenient computer to do it all by hand. With his stats and some theories about their import, he tries to predict which underdog sports teams make a good bet.
During the past four years, he's shared this information in a national tip sheet called Foul Tips in which two cartoon characters (the Head Cluckster and Underdog) reveal his picks. He also uses faxes and cartoons to distribute sports jokes and lampoons about sports personalities and salaries to subscribers across the country.
The Head Cluckster, by the way, is a goofy chicken wearing shades--which Trusley himself often does because of his light-sensitive eyes. The dog is a cartoon namesake of his two sons' pet Shih Tzu--Underdog.
Most of the subscribers to Trusley's tip sheet--which he faxes an average of 20 times a year--don't know that the Head Cluckster is a fit, mustachioed 45-year-old printing broker working out of his Newport Beach condo. He prefers anonymity, because it enhances the fun of the faxes and also because he doesn't want to be overly associated with gambling.
Not many people would entrust their fortunes to a chicken in sunglasses, and that's just the way Trusley hopes all subscribing "Clucksters" relate to his tip sheet.
Indeed, he makes no claim of being a jockstrap Nostradamus. Trusley never plays hunches or trusts luck--though he does admit to always wearing a tattered University of Nevada at Las Vegas T-shirt when he has a bet riding. More important, he doesn't believe there's such a thing as a sure bet.
"I'm basically telling people that this is for fun," he says. "Don't take my selections and bet your rent money, your mortgage payment, your food money. I think I mostly have people who are fun bettors and can see the humor in it.
"I'm not a big bettor myself," he adds. "I've got two little boys, and I don't want to live that life. I don't want to have to be sitting here watching the TV and going, 'Kids, we \o7 need \f7 this game.' That's not my lifestyle."
Sports betting, however, is becoming a lifestyle for millions. And Trusley insists that people keep things in perspective.
"I'm not promising anybody anything," he says. "If you want to be a Cluckster, you bet for fun. I just heard on ESPN that sports betting has grown over 500% in the last decade, and it's not just people who are desperate, hanging around the liquor store waiting for something to happen. They said it's mostly white-collar activity. I think that's what the Clucksters are."
They're also diverse. A surprising number of his subscribers are women.
"I think women are getting frustrated with the old man lying on the couch all day watching games, and for some reason the Head Cluckster thing appeals to them," he says. "They think it's humorous."
As one might expect, Trusley's faxes carry a disclaimer discouraging the use of his tips for illegal gambling. He rarely bets on his own tips, even though he says his picks came in comfortably more than 60% of the time last year.
In the college bowls this past season, for example, five of his six choices won. On Labor Day of last year, he picked the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl. The team lost, but they did play in the bowl, which isn't bad for a prediction nearly five months before the event.
You win some and you lose some. But one constant has been Trusley's inability to whack a slow-pitch softball. In his hometown of Akron, Ohio, he was well-known as the only guy at Akron High School who could play softball all afternoon and strike out every time.
Born cross-eyed and with other ocular problems that have grown worse, Trusley found a way to stay close to the sports he loved.
"I would have the batting averages of all the Major League players updated on a day-to-day basis, by hand," he says. "I'd have sheets and sheets of it. My sister used to make fun of me because I'd spend the summer walking around with a shoe box full of statistics."
Trusley still keeps his stats by hand, in part because he doesn't trust the security of computer systems and also because it's a link to his youth. He often starts working on his tips at 3:30 in the morning, a time at which he's been accustomed to rising ever since his late teens when he lived in a flophouse hotel. It was his home while he worked full time at Firestone Tire and Rubber to put himself through college.