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Dodgers tap into 'V energy'

Frank and Jamie McCourt quietly hired a Russian emigre who calls himself a scientist and healer to 'think blue' and channel his thoughts toward the team's success as he watched them play on TV.

June 10, 2010|By Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Boston — The most curious figure to emerge in the Dodgers' drama answers the door with a kindly smile and a hearty handshake. He motions toward the living room, where his wife has put out a spread of chocolate and fruit, coffee and tea.

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."

In the five years he worked for the Dodgers, he attended just one game. Instead, he watched them on television in his home more than 3,000 miles from Dodger Stadium, channeling his thoughts toward the team's success.

Shpunt's work was one of the best-kept secrets of the McCourt era. The couple kept it hidden even from the team's top executives. But from e-mails and interviews, a picture emerges of how the emigre physicist tried to use his long-distance energy to give the Dodgers an edge.

The McCourts, who are embroiled in a contentious divorce, declined to be interviewed about Shpunt. Through their representatives, Frank said it was Jamie's idea to hire him and Jamie said it was Frank's.

Shpunt lives in suburban Boston, in a community he insisted not be named. He sits uneasily for an interview, joined by his wife Sofya and Barry Cohen, an executive leadership consultant who worked with the McCourts and who introduced Shpunt to Jamie.

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.

"It's very big work. My blood pressure may be 200," Shpunt said, with a hint of a smile. "I like this team to win."

Shpunt could not transform a bad team into a good one, Cohen said, but his energy could increase the chance of winning by 10% to 15%.

"The team has some level of capacity," Cohen said. "What we're talking about is optimizing that capacity."

It is unclear how much Shpunt was paid. Cohen, who negotiated on behalf of Shpunt, would not say. Dodgers attorney Marshall Grossman said he did not know and could not find a copy of the contract.

But Bert Fields, an attorney for Jamie, said the Dodgers paid Shpunt a stipend, plus a bonus of "certainly six figures and even higher" depending on whether the Dodgers won the National League West title and how far the team advanced in the playoffs.

On Sept. 26, 2008 — one day after the Dodgers clinched the National League West championship and their third playoff berth in five years of McCourt ownership — Frank was jubilant.

"Congratulations and thanks to you and vlad," Frank e-mailed Cohen. "Also, pls pass along a special 'thank you' to vlad for all of his hard work.... This organization and this community will benefit a long time from our continued success. Thanks again."

***

The discoveries that led to whatever energy flowed to Dodger Stadium originated in a laboratory halfway around the world.

Shpunt said he led a team of Russian scientists that in the 1970s found that heat could travel beneath the skin and through so-called "gap junctions" between cells, increasing blood flow and promoting healing by directing energy to ill cells without harming healthy ones.

He worked at the same scientific academy in St. Petersburg as Zhores Alferov, a future Nobel prize winner in physics. In 1998, in support of Shpunt's application to emigrate to the United States, Alferov wrote that Shpunt was an "eminent scientist" and "outstanding inventor."

Igor Sokolov, a Russian-born professor of physics and chemistry at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., said Shpunt had done "world-class research."

Yet his experiments have rarely been replicated in the West. William Parker, chairman of the physics department at UC Irvine, said Shpunt published his research in "second-tier Russian journals" not widely circulated in the international physics community.

"That doesn't mean he's not any good," Parker said. "He's just not a leading figure."

At one point, as Shpunt's research team studied how medical devices transmit electrical current through the human body, the devices malfunctioned. Yet energy was measurably transmitted, and Shpunt concluded he must have been the source.

Shpunt, who said his grandfather was a village healer in Russia, said he subsequently discovered that his hands generated much more energy than the average person's.

In the 1980s, after doctors had ordered a conventional treatment for a 14-year-old girl with leukemia, Shpunt said he tried to heal her and she responded to the energy from his hands.

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