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Russian 'Channeler' Cleaned Up On Baseball's LA Dodgers

The Dodgers' Greg Gagne tags out a Montreal Expos baserunner during a 1997 Major League Baseball game.
The Dodgers' Greg Gagne tags out a Montreal Expos baserunner during a 1997 Major League Baseball game.
The "Los Angeles Times" has produced a brilliant bit of reporting, based on e-mails and interviews, about a Russian emigre physicist earning what appears to have been six figures (or more!) from baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers for "channeling his thoughts toward the team's success."

Meet Vladimir Shpunt.

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....

"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."

How did he do it? the saner among you might ask.

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.

Sounds crazy enough that it just might work, right? OK, maybe not. It actually sounds more like something from the fertile comic mind of Sacha Baron Cohen.

But the owner of one of Major League Baseball's most storied franchises, Frank McCourt, saw things differently:

...Bert Fields, an attorney for [McCourt's wife] 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 [consultant Barry] Cohen [who introduced Shpunt to Mrs. McCourt]. "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."

It's clear that Shpunt is a fascinating scientist, and eccentric. (He apparently came to the attention of the Dodgers' owner in connection with his activities as a "healer.") But I'll need more evidence to convince me that a septuagenarian Russian physicist can hit a 110-kilometer-an-hour curveball -- psychically or otherwise.

And beware if you're tempted to think that stuff like this could only happen in California. Shpunt, who lives in the Boston area, could be coming to a team near you:

By then, Shpunt thought his results with the Dodgers had been so successful that he started to work with amateur and professional athletes, sometimes with hands-on treatment, sometimes trying to will them to victory from a distance.

Would he say which athletes? He said he would, well, think about it.

-- Andy Heil

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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