Last week the Los Angeles Times revealed that from 2004 to '08 Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt carried on the club's payroll a Russian emigré physicist and self-styled healer named Vladimir Shpunt. From his home in the Boston area, Shpunt viewed the team's games on TV and attempted to help it win by transmitting "positive energy." Did it work? Well, L.A. did make the postseason three times in that span. (The story noted that Shpunt was paid "a stipend, plus a bonus of 'certainly six figures and even higher'" based on the team's success.) Rasputin-like, Shpunt also influenced personnel decisions: After the Dodgers went 71--91 in '05, according to an associate, Shpunt also "diagnosed the disconnects" between then G.M. Paul DePodesta and manager Jim Tracy (below, left); both soon were gone. Shpunt's role was in a mystical tradition of athletes and teams attempting to access the supernatural. Here are some of the most, er, energetic ploys.
This is an article from the June 21, 2010 issue
1928: Heaven Can't Wait Anymore
In 1920, on his deathbed, Notre Dame star halfback George Gipp tells coach Knute Rockne, "Sometime, Rock, when the team is up against it ... ask them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy." Eight years later, with his underdog Fighting Irish preparing to take on mighty Army, Rockne pulls out this ultimate Hail Mary in a pregame speech for the ages. Notre Dame prevails 12--6.
1976: Pyramids on Ice
Maple Leafs coach Red Kelly's sons return from a visit to Egypt enthused about the alleged supernatural powers of pyramids. Accordingly, before the postseason, the coach attempts to lighten the mood by placing pyramid-shaped objects throughout the dressing room and under the bench. The pyramid scheme works in a first-round win over the Penguins, but then the Leafs meet a fate similar to the pharaohs', losing to the Flyers in seven games.
1987: Big Mac and the Zen Master
A slumping John McEnroe turns to a real guru, South Korean--born Seo Daeshik. Dubbed the Karate Kid, the all-white-clad Seo teaches the tempestuous McEnroe martial arts and even tries to instill self-discipline. You cannot be serious: At the first tournament after they begin working together, McEnroe responds to the crowd's jeers by grabbing his crotch.
1996: Bend It Like Uri
After England defeats Scotland 2--0 in the Euro '96 tournament, mentalist Uri Geller (below) claims that he influenced a penalty kick flubbed by Scotland's Gary McAllister. "I willed the ball to move with pure telepathy," Geller says, essentially declaring himself the MVP: Most Valuable Paranormalist.
The Pop Culture Grid