Chad Billingsley set the Angels down in order in the first inning Friday night. Then Rafael Furcal led off the Dodgers' half with a triple.
You had to start wondering.
Was it really Billingsley, the hard-throwing Dodgers right-hander? Was that triple really the work of the speedy Furcal?
Or was it Vladimir Shpunt, the energy-throwing, positive-reinforcing alleged secret weapon of our boys in blue? Is he really gone, or have the McCourts, owner Frank and wanna-be owner Jamie, slipped another one past us and secretly kept him around? Foxy pair, these two.
If you haven't read the story in Thursday's Times, it is must reading for two segments of society: Dodgers fans and people who love a good belly laugh.
In quick summary, our national baseball writer, Bill Shaikin, tracked down Shpunt, a 71-year-old Russian turned Bostonian, who is a physicist, and interviewed him about his five years, ending in 2008, of secretly working for the Dodgers. The story said Shpunt had been paid "six-figure" bonuses for transmitting his positive energy toward the team while watching games on TV from his home in suburban Boston.
The best part of the story is when Shpunt tells Shaikin that a team of Russian scientists he led in the 1970s found that heat could travel beneath the skin and through "gap junctions" between cells, increasing blood flow and promoting healing by directing energy to ill cells without harming healthy ones.
Heaven only knows the Dodgers have needed some healing over the years.
The man who apparently found Shpunt for the McCourts, and who calls himself an executive leadership consultant, actually put numbers on Shpunt's performance. Barry Cohen said Shpunt's energy could increase the Dodgers' chances of winning by 10% to 15%. One wonders if that was also Cohen's cut of Shpunt's action.
As Jim Healy used to say, I don't make 'em up, Pally.
The second-best part of the story is where Frank says Shpunt was Jamie's idea and Jamie says it was Frank's. Ah, the joys of a bitter divorce.
Now, it's not as if this is something taking place in Dubuque, Iowa. This is, after all, Los Angeles, home of the fruits and nuts. It's just that the McCourts have been here only a few years and people don't usually get up to speed that quickly.
Billingsley is in trouble in the third. Bases loaded, nobody out. But Furcal makes an incredible backhanded stab on a tough ball to start a double play and minimize the damage.
Furcal or Shpunt? Inquiring minds need to know.
It is fair to say that bizarre things and people have often found their way into baseball.
In 2008, in Japan's major leagues, the Seibu Lions hired three old women to sit behind the dugout. They were psychics, apparently, and their job was to put their hands in front of them during key moments for the Lions and wiggle their fingers to cast a spell. When the season ended, the Lions had not won the title, the manager was fired and the elderly ladies apparently went back to focusing on Halloween.
In the 1990s, the Red Sox had a statistics specialist named Mike Gimbel. He also worked for the New York City Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations and, according to a story in New York magazine, his apartment in New York was once raided. The cops found six caimans, miniature alligators usually between 5 and 7 feet long. One was named Panama, another named Louie. They also found one iguana and five turtles.
Gimbel said that once, when it got hot in New York and he had no air conditioning, he took the alligators to the apartment pool and he and his wife climbed in with them. He said Panama swam up and bit his wife on the butt, "but only a little nip, just to let her know it was his pool."
In the third, Furcal flied out to the wall in right field and Andre Ethier was robbed of a hit at first base. Had Shpunt taken a potty break?
On the subject of Shpunt, the Dodgers were grinning and biting their tongues a lot before Friday night's game. After all, those who signed bonus checks for Shpunt also sign theirs.
Manager Joe Torre was asked if he had ever heard a more bizarre story. "I used to manage in New York," Torre said, which meant probably.
One Dodgers employee said he was fine with it because "I came from ESP (N) anyway." Third baseman Casey Blake said his wife had read bits of the story to him and "it was worth a giggle for both of us."
Ned Colletti, the Dodgers' general manager, merely smiled a lot.
In the end, it was a horrid night for Shpunt, not to mention the Dodgers. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beat the Los Angeles Dodgers of Chavez Ravine, 10-1. One could take that as a solid indication that Shpunt is, indeed, off the payroll.
One could also take that to mean that the McCourts now have some spare cash for new silly things. Such as: IMPROVING THEIR BASEBALL TEAM.
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