Tagged: L.A. Times

McCourts, Dodgers had 71-year old Russian Psychic on Payroll

Thank you Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times, excerpts from the article on the Dodgers (McCourt Ownership) hiring a 71-year old Russian psychic from Boston to HELP OBSERVE AND EVALUATE THE DODGERS AND OPPOSING TEAMS. WOW.

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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.

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.

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.

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%.

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.”

At one point, Shpunt also tried to heal a player. In 2005, Jamie referred outfielder Jayson Werth to him for treatment of a wrist injury, after Werth had told her of his interest in alternative medicine, according to Cohen and representatives for Frank and Jamie.

More recently, Werth appeared startled when asked whether he had worked with a healer named Vladimir while with the Dodgers.

“Where’d you hear about that?” Werth said. He declined to talk about it.

***

On Oct. 2, 2004, Steve Finley capped the first season of McCourt ownership by hitting a walk-off grand slam, clinching the Dodgers’ first playoff spot in eight years.

“The miracle finish … was the result of V energy,” Cohen wrote in an e-mail to Jamie. “Frank was privileged to actually feel the energy.”

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.”

Cohen further conveyed Shpunt’s critical assessments of outfielders Milton Bradley and J.D. Drew and said Shpunt had identified Tracy as the “final reason for failure.”

Grossman said Shpunt had been “introduced to the Dodger organization as someone who had the ability to observe the team, observe opposing teams and provide evaluations of performance of areas and strength and weakness.”

McCourt fired DePodesta after the season, three weeks after publicly backing him when Tracy and the Dodgers parted ways. Grossman said Shpunt’s evaluations did not persuade McCourt to fire DePodesta or to cut ties with Tracy or any player.

The relationship between Shpunt and the Dodgers lasted through the ’08 season, after which Jamie asked him for help with matters separate from the team, Cohen said.

For the full story, please read Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times.

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Sunday Shines with L.A. Times

YKI’s Sunday morning tradition (prior to Dogs games) is to wake up, walk the dog and relax in the backyard with fresh-squeezed orange juice, fresh-brewed coffee. . .and the L.A. Times – print edition.
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Always enjoyable – and the last bastion of real sportswriting out here on the West Coast – the Times’ top columnists are featured; the incisive, biting & oft-misunderstood T.J. Simers, all-world futbol journalist Grahame L. Jones, the cloyingly sentimental (and award-winning) Bill Plaschke as well as Hall of Famer Mark Heisler & veteran, workmanlike baseball writer Bill Shaikin.

Today’s paper was particularly enjoyable as:
a) Heisler, as usual, untangles the cluttered English language long enough to artfully lay out concise prose with an objective loyalist’s insight, writing about his own missteps in predicting the Celtics’ demise, and my personal favorite, labeling Bill Simmons “an essayist as opposed to a journalist,” a tag that YKI can accept, as opposed to those that label Simmons a ‘sportswriter,’ which he clearly is not.

b) Shaikin reporting on the Dodgers possible pursuit of Roy Oswalt, culminating (in his opinion) in a World Series appearance. Will it happen? The proverbial ‘jury is still out,’ as the McCourt divorce, Manny’s deferred salary, and the $104-million payroll projections for 2012, none of which would appear to allow for absorption of Oswalt’s jumbo salary.

c) Grahame L. Jones continuing his spectacular lead-in to the World Cup, this time listing the top ten coaches in World Cup history, but more importantly exposing the Netherlands’ string of failures on the big stage. Whether or not Americas really become converts to the World’s game is one thing, but Times readers have no choice but to become converts to Jones’s work as each column exploits his mastery of words.

d) Plaschke being Plaschke, though not in his weekly tear-jerking sense; this time writing about the enjoyment (and relevance?) of the Kiss Cam. That said, kudos today specifically for taking a jab at Simers, as it is often a one-sided in-house rivalry at the Times between the two sportwriting behemoths: “Real fans, real moments and real, heartfelt, tearful, forever gratitude to the Lakers for never focusing the Kiss Cam on my spot on the third row of the end-zone press table. I sit next to T.J. Simers.”

e) Simers out-Plaschke-ing Plaschke, proving again what an evocative journalist can really do, shedding light on Bill Walton’s recent health crises, his health failing to the point of suicide contemplation, and heroically optimistic path back to the land of Bill-mania.

*This has been a YKI Public Service Announcement for the Preservation of Newspapers, so log off, grab a copy of the Times and enjoy your Sunday.*

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UCLA Hoops 2008 Recruiting Class Dissected

As alluded to previously by YKI, Ben Howland‘s much ballyhooed recruiting class for 2008-2009 largely fell flat. The national consensus #1 recruiting class is dissected by Chris Foster in today’s L.A. Times.

Jrue Holiday left prematurely but seems to fit better in the NBA; Malcolm Lee seems to be growing past his awkward (and underwhelming) first season-and-a-half and turning into a marginal-to-good point guard; Jerime Anderson has battled injuries and hasn’t seen serious court time a la Cedric Bozeman; Drew Gordon bailed at the first sign of stress; J’mison “Bobo” Morgan reported out of shape and might or might not have upside (and will get a chance to show it during the Pac-10 tourney). In short, there is basically one more year until this class is considered a complete bust. . .
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More of Wolf, Braun, Brewers – ValleyLove

From the sneakily wonderful Jerry Crowe in today’s L.A. Times:
Some might call the Milwaukee Brewers the Southland Brewers, what with the addition of Woodland Hills El Camino Real graduate Randy Wolf to a roster that already included Jeff Suppan (from Encino Crespi), Ryan Braun (Granada Hills High), Gregg Zaun (La Canada St. Francis), Trevor Hoffman (Anaheim Savanna), Chris Smith (Hesperia High) and Ontario-born Prince Fielder. . .

R.I.P. Mike Penner

Mike Penner, Fabulous L.A. Times Sportswriter, Dead at 52

Mike Penner

A file photo of Mike Penner, and at right, Christine Daniels. (Los Angeles Times)

By Keith Thursby

Mike Penner, a longtime Los Angeles Times sportswriter who made headlines in 2007 when he announced that he was transsexual, has died. He was 52.

Penner was pronounced dead Friday evening at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, a Los Angeles County coroner’s official said.

The cause of death has not been determined but was believed to be suicide.

“Mike was a first-rate journalist, a valued member of our staff for 25 years, and we will miss him,” Times Editor Russ Stanton said. “He respected our readers a great deal, enough to share with them his very personal journey. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

A versatile member of The Times’ sports staff, Penner covered the Olympics, the Angels, World Cup soccer, tennis, sports media and a variety of other assignments.

He also spent several years writing a sports column for the paper’s Orange County Edition. Since 2008, he was the principal writer for the sports section’s “Totally Random” feature.

“Mike was one of the most talented writers I’ve ever worked with, capable of reporting on any number of topics with great wit and style,” sports editor Mike James said. “This is a tragic ending and a difficult time for all of us who knew him.”

In a 2001 season preview for the then-struggling Dodgers, Penner wrote:

“The sins of the father on one coast have been revisited by the son on the other. Welcome to Flatbush West. Brooklyn had the wrecking ball crashing down on Ebbets Field, Los Angeles had Peter O’Malley selling out to Fox.”

And in 1986 when the Angels lost in the playoffs to the Boston Red Sox, he wrote about the team running into “Angel karma. . . . In the end, it was all a big tease, the biggest yet . . . the karma remained untied and unbeaten.”

Penner was born Oct. 10, 1957, in Inglewood and graduated from Western High School in Anaheim and Cal State Fullerton. He joined The Times’ Orange County Edition in 1983 as a staff writer, covering high school sports.

He had previously worked at the Anaheim Bulletin as a writer and sports editor.

In April 2007, Penner surprised colleagues and readers with an essay in The Times’ Sports section announcing that he was “a transsexual sportswriter.”

“It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-searching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words,” he wrote.

Times Associate Editor Randy Harvey, who was the paper’s sports editor at the time, said the essay allowed Penner to explain in his own way a decision that “we realized would be a human-interest story and a news story. We didn’t want it to be filtered through someone else’s lens.”

In the essay, Penner said of his transgender decision:

“I gave it as good a fight as I possibly could. I went more than 40 hard rounds with it. Eventually, though, you realize you are only fighting yourself and your happiness and your mental health — a no-win situation any way you look at it.”

Writing as Christine Daniels, Penner started a column for the paper’s website in May 2007 called Day in L.A. and a blog about the transition, then in July began writing for the paper again.

He returned to using the Mike Penner byline in October 2008.

Penner is survived by his brother, John, a copy editor at The Times, and his former wife, Times staff writer Lisa Dillman.

Services are pending.

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Crosstown Rivals Produce NFL All-Pro Squad (sort of)

As usual, Sam Farmer takes a great angle in today’s Times. I wish I could have the accompanying graphic, but the folks at the Times didn’t convert the file into pdf to scan in. I mean, it’s only 2009 so who needs technology, right? Either way, see below for Farmers picks of the best players in the NFL from USC & UCLA at their respective positions.
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Offense

Backfield: There are four USC quarterbacks in the NFL, and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer (first in 2003), Arizona’s Matt Leinart (10th in 2006) and the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez (fifth in 2009) were top-10 draft picks. UCLA’s Maurice Jones-Drew was overshadowed by USC’s Reggie Bush in college, but he now leads the league with 13 rushing touchdowns.

Line: There are two tackles, two guards and a center in the league — all Trojans.

Receivers: The tight ends include something old (USC’s Billy Miller of Houston, a 10-year veteran), something new (USC’s Fred Davis, in his second year with Washington), something borrowed (UCLA’s Spencer Havner of Green Bay, a converted linebacker) and something blue (Bruins blue — Marcedes Lewis of Jacksonville). Out wide the choices are fewer. USC’s Steve Smith is Eli Manning’s favorite target, with 65 catches and five touchdowns for the New York Giants. USC’s Dwayne Jarrett (Carolina) is in his third pro season and hasn’t scored a touchdown.

Kicker: Last season, Dallas didn’t have a touchback. With USC’s David Buehler handling kickoffs, it has 17.

Defense

Line: Four USC products anchor the interior of NFL defenses as starters — Sedrick Ellis (New Orleans), Mike Patterson (Philadelphia), LaJuan Ramsey (St. Louis) and Shaun Cody (Houston). UCLA’s Kenyon Coleman (Cleveland) gets the nod at end, opposite USC’s Lawrence Jackson, who has four sacks for Seattle.

Linebacker: Brian Cushing (Houston), Rey Maualuga (Cincinnati) and Clay Matthews (Green Bay) were starters at USC a year ago, as was Kaluka Maiava, who is playing a major role in Cleveland. USC’s Lofa Tatupu is Seattle’s best defensive player, but he is injured. Former Trojans star Junior Seau is back with New England.

Secondary: USC’s Troy Polamalu is having an injury-plagued season, but he will wind up in Canton. Terrell Thomas, another former Trojan, has three interceptions for the Giants. UCLA’s Chris Horton has 37 tackles and a forced fumble for the Redskins, and former Bruin Matt Ware has an interception and a forced fumble for Arizona.

Punter: UCLA’s Chris Kluwe (Minnesota) has punted for a net average of 38.4 yards.

In addition, Farmer has another excellent piece on Bruin & Trojan Hall of Famers. . .and those who will be.

There are 11 former USC players and four former UCLA players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are:

USC: Marcus Allen, Morris (Red) Badgro, Frank Gifford, Ronnie Lott, Ron Mix, Anthony Munoz, O.J. Simpson, Lynn Swann, Willie Wood, Ron Yary, Bruce Matthews.

UCLA:
Troy Aikman, Tom Fears, Jim Johnson, Bob Waterfield.

Nine of note

Nine outstanding players from each school who are not in the Hall of Fame:

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Junior Seau: Prototype for modern linebacker, member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for 1990s.

Carson Palmer: Heisman Trophy winner is the centerpiece for turnaround of Cincinnati Bengals.

Willie McGinest: A defensive cornerstone of New England’s three Super Bowl champions.

Troy Polamalu:
Pittsburgh’s mane man is widely regarded among the NFL’s best defenders.

Tony Boselli:
First-ever pick of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars and the expansion Houston Texans.

Keyshawn Johnson:
One of two receivers taken with the No. 1 pick in the NFL’s modern era.

Don Mosebar: All-Pro anchor of the Raiders offensive line was just the third center in franchise history.

Jack Del Rio: Spent 11 years as an NFL linebacker for five teams and now is coach at Jacksonville.

Joey Browner: Minnesota Vikings safety was selected to six Pro Bowls.

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Jonathan Ogden: Baltimore left tackle was a nine-time All-Pro and 11-time Pro Bowler.

Carnell Lake:
Star safety finished his career with 25 sacks, 33 takeaways and five touchdowns.

Ken Norton Jr.:
Linebacker won three consecutive Super Bowls — two with Dallas, one with San Francisco.

Kenny Easley:
Seattle safety was 1983 defensive player of the year and is on NFL’s All-Decade team for 1980s.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Jacksonville’s bowling-ball back currently leads NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns.

Donnie Edwards:
Fourth-round pick of Kansas City intercepted 28 passes, four shy of NFL record for linebackers.

Don Rogers:
1984 defensive rookie of the year showed spectacular promise before his untimely death.

Freeman McNeil: Remarkably consistent tailback averaged at least 4.0 yards a carry in each of his 12 seasons.

Max Montoya: Four-time Pro Bowl guard for Cincinnati and Raiders played in both Bengals’ Super Bowls.