Although it may appear to do so at times, Pink Slip doesn’t actually write itself, and finding topics of interest - especially when I’m in one of those purist modes and am really trying to keep things focused on business – requires quite a bit of moseying around the ‘net. After I’ve exhausted my usual haunts (Times, Globe, WSJ, Economist), I occasionally drift over to Business Week. That’s where I found a long and fairly interesting article on former Boston “power-couple” Jaime and Frank McCourt (no, not that Frank McCourt; he’s dead; this is the other one). A number of years ago, having failed in their attempt to purchase the Red Sox, the McCourts decamped to LA, where they bought the Dodgers.
The McCourts are now in the midst of a rather ugly divorce – you know, the kind where there’s a lot of money, not to mention ownership of a major league baseball team, at stake – and I sifted through the article finding all sorts of possible
targets topics for Pink Slip.
Oh, there was the item about them putting their sons on the Dodgers payroll, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, while one was working at Goldman Sachs and the other was attending Stanford. (I’m telling you, in my next life I am definitely coming back rich.)
Then there’s the over-arching theme of the McCourts as an extreme paradigm for the crazed leverage of the go-go years – the endless cycle of borrow-spend-borrow-spend. In the case of the McCourts, the cycle played out in a lot of pricey houses. (When they buy a new multi-million dollar house, by the way, they typically buy the multi-million dollar one next door as well, to use as a guest house. Oh, why not. What’s leverage for anyway?)
I liked the tidbit that Jaime has an MBA from MIT. (Small world!) And the bit about Frank firing Jaime from her position with the Dodgers via e-mail. (Stay classy, Frank!)
But stories about vindictive spouses and wretched excess are a dime a dozen, aren’t they?
What really glittered in the article was this gem:
Vladimir Shpunt, a 71-year-old psychic healer who lives outside Boston, was paid an undisclosed amount until 2008 to beam his positive thoughts at the team during games while sitting in his living room some 3,000 miles away.
The Dodgers apparently paid Shpunt for five years, during which time the Dodgers won zero World Series, and the Shpunt-less Red Sox won two, probably thanks to me and the millions of other fans channeling positive energy their way, gratis.
The LA Times broke the Shpunt story in June, when all the savory little divorce details started to emerge.
Vladimir Shpunt, 71, lived most of his life in Russia. He has three degrees in physics and a letter of reference from a Nobel Prize winner.
He knows next to nothing about baseball.
Yet the Dodgers hired him to, well, think blue.
Frank and Jamie McCourt paid him to help the team win by sending positive energy over great distances.
Shpunt says he is a scientist and a healer, not a magician. His method could not guarantee the Dodgers would win, he says, but it could make a difference.
"Maybe it is just a little," he said. "Maybe it can help."
Shpunt was introduced to the McCourts – who each claim the other made the decision to hire him – by Barry Cohen, an executive leadership consultant.
Shpunt is wary of publicity, disappointed in the loss of his anonymity, concerned about being caricatured. He speaks reluctantly, in halting English, about a commitment to the Dodgers that he said often required up to four hours a day.
Wary of publicity? Disappointed in the loss of his anonymity? Concerned about being caricatured?
Welcome to the U.S. of A., Mr. Shpunt.
Back in the USSR, Shpunt worked at a Russian scientific academy, doing research on “promoting healing by directing energy to ill cells without harming healthy ones.”
Somewhere along the line, Shpunt had an epiphany that he could transmit energy, and began doing “touch therapy.” Then he realized that he could do touchless therapy by channeling energy across distances. He got involved with the McCourts over some of their health issues, and ended up hired on to send positive thoughts out to Dodger Stadium.
Shpunt could transmit the energy at any time and from any place, Cohen said, but watching the games provided him with immediate feedback on its effects and intensity.
During Shpunt’s first year “with” the team, the Dodgers made the playoffs. The next year – oops – they had a well under .500 season. Not surprisingly, the Shpunt forces felt that Vladimir (a.k.a., V) done good:
"V believes without his help this team would have lost about 15 more games," Cohen wrote, adding: "It would be a giant error to take V off team."
Cohen also wrote that Shpunt had "diagnosed the disconnects" among Manager Jim Tracy, General Manager Paul DePodesta and the team's pitchers and catchers.
"Your general manager destroyed last year's team," the e-mail read, "and put together a group of players that could not be a team and could not win."
Which is probably nothing that 99% of the savvy Dodger watchers weren’t muttering to themselves for free.
Getting paid six figures to direct positive energy towards a baseball team? No wonder that, recession aside, immigrants clamor to get into this country.
Meanwhile, poor Vladimir Shpunt, who was afraid of ridicule, has someone twittering in his name.
Once again, welcome to the U.S. of A.
By the way, here’s the ad that came up in the LA Times article on Shpunt. When this ad flashes, one of the screens reads “Data driven. Rigorous.” Yes, that certainly screams hiring a healer to telewave good thoughts to the team you own. Jaime, Jaime, Jaime… Sloan MBA?