Basketball’s One-Man Corruption Machine

Former Columbia and Fort Wayne Piston basketball star Jack Molinas at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., June 4, 1958.

Few men lead the kind of life that demands to be re-enacted by Leonardo DiCaprio, but it’s only a matter of time before the basketball-loving actor lands on-screen as NBA legend turned pornographer Jack Molinas. And if you thought Howard Hughes, the Wolf of Wall Street or Catch Me If You Can’s Frank Abagnale lived colorful lives, they’ve got nothing on the man the New York Times labeled the “Mephistopheles of college sports.” 

In his 43 years, the charismatic New Yorker and Ivy league graduate not only became an NBA All-Star but also left his mark, as biographer Charley Rosen puts it, as a “lawyer, and master of the stock market … a big-time gambler … a jailbird, a pornographer, a loan shark and quite probably a murderer.” Oh, and Molinas, with an assist from the Mafia, also spearheaded point-shaving schemes in dozens of collegiate basketball programs. 

In The Wizard of Odds, Rosen shows how Molinas, a middle-class Jew from the Bronx, discovered two of his greatest passions at age 12: basketball and gambling. The young prodigy, who could read English and Spanish at age 4, was, according to one sportswriter, “born bent,” a compulsive gambler and con artist, always angling for an advantage. The handsome teenager with a 175 IQ was also unusually tall, hitting 6 feet 4 by age 14. 

Just as Molinas could dominate the court when he wanted to, he would almost single-handedly corrupt the sport as well.

By the time he was a basketball standout, first at Stuyvesant High School and then Columbia University in the early 1950s, Molinas had figured out how to marry his two great loves — and was soon throwing games, shaving points, playing just hard enough to win or evade suspicion. And with the help of a mob-backed bookmaker, Molinas began a lifelong flirtation with the dark side of American sports. 

 

It was a dark time — with the threat of communism and nuclear annihilation hanging over America — and Molinas was not the only pro athlete looking to enhance his meager wage through extracurricular activities. But he was better at it than most, and better at basketball too. In his one and only season in the NBA, with the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1953, Molinas was an All-Star forward, appearing to score almost at will in an age when a tall white guy with a good hook close to the basket and a one-handed push shot from the outside could still dominate the sport.

But for the talented Molinas, as Rosen puts it, “playing in a rigged ball game was more exhilarating than playing it straight.” And just as he could dominate the court when he wanted to, he would almost single-handedly corrupt the sport as well. Even after the NBA clued in to the fact that he was shaving points and gambling on his own team — which got him arrested and banned from pro basketball in 1954 — Molinas simply moved his operations off the court. He earned a law degree, tightened his mob connections and started his own bookmaking business. Throughout the late 1950s, he was a one-man collegiate corruption machine, waving cash and prostitutes in front of the NCAA’s best players, and turning the burgeoning sport of basketball into a three-ring circus.  

Former Columbia and Fort Wayne Piston basketball star Jack Molinas, is shown at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., June 4, 1958.

Former Columbia and Fort Wayne Piston basketball star Jack Molinas at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 4, 1958.

Source AP

In the end, Molinas’ actions led to the arrests of 37 players across almost two dozen college programs. Undeterred, he tried to fix much more than basketball — a boxing match by drugging a fighter, and a horse race by shocking the animals with a remote electronic buzzer. Eventually, the authorities caught up with him again, in 1963, and he served five years for bribery and conspiracy.

Once freed, however, Molinas returned to his old tricks, and even taught himself some new ones, including trafficking in pornography and Taiwanese furs. By 1975, his life had become a California cliché — the kind with mob ties. The former basketball star had a comfortable house in Hollywood Hills with a pool, a porn-star girlfriend, pickup games with basketball greats like Wilt Chamberlain and a $500,000 insurance check payable to him when his fur-trading business partner suddenly turned up dead, under suspicious circumstances no less.

And then, that August, Molinas himself turned up dead early one morning, faceup on the patio beside his pool, a bullet to the head. Police never ascertained if it was a gangland hit for unpaid debts, retribution for his partner’s murder or just one giant case of what goes around finally getting back to coming around.

Molinas’ short, sordid tale of gambling, murder and debauchery continues to raise more questions than answers, perhaps today’s most pressing being: How good is Leo’s one-handed push shot?

Middle East Espionage in ‘The Honorable Woman’

Handout Image from The Honorable Woman

Imagine combining the dark, subtle world of international espionage with the visceral conflict of Israel and Palestine’s bitter relationship. The Honorable Woman, an 8-part miniseries from Sundance TV and the BBC, is the latest Western attempt to try and understand the Middle East through TV, and it’s garnered acclaim, BAFTA nominations, awards and controversy. The show embeds itself in the region’s complex, morally gray history — but its release last summer, just a month before Israel’s devastating bombardment of Gaza, makes it too topical for any old drama. 

The Honorable Woman tells the story of Nessa Stein, heir to a powerful Israeli arms dealer. Recently made a peer in the British House of Lords, Nessa, played with eerie, electric poise by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is determined to use her family’s blood money for charity and healing in Palestine. But her family’s history in the region, her ambitious brother Ephra, shady international players and her own darkest personal secret all threaten to derail her.

… a tense, intimate, cinematic landscape, lingering on the curves of shoulders and rich folds in clothes …

Cue violence and betrayal, with astonishing characters representing different eras and ends of the political spectrum. Some of Britain’s finest actors shine in the cast, from Rome’s Tobias Menzies as Nessa’s delicately understated, loyal bodyguard to Stephen Rea, whose worn, eccentric MI6 agent Hugh Hayden-Hoyle is an uncanny echo of everyone’s favorite Cold War intelligence agent, John le Carré’s George Smiley.

This isn’t Homeland. For one, it’s more movie than TV: Writer and director Hugo Blick creates a tense, intimate, cinematic landscape, lingering on the curves of shoulders and rich folds in clothes to create a framework for international political machinations. The narrative refreshingly gives power and focus to women, from the formidable head of MI6 to Palestinian refugee Atika Halabi to Nessa herself. Perhaps most importantly, though, The Honorable Woman widens the scope of how Westerners typically think about the Middle East, giving voices to Palestinians and portraying corruption in the heart of the Israeli government.

But is that enough? UK-based activist Daniel Young explains that most media representations of Palestine and the Arab world follow “old Orientalist tropes,” whether that be notions that “Arabs are backward, culturally, intellectually, morally; that they are in need of saving by white Western power; or that the voices of civilized Western authorities ought to be heard over them.”

Despite rave reviews, The Honorable Woman fell strangely flat as Israel bombed Gaza. With media attention honed in on the region, cracks in the show’s narrative stood out for some viewers. There’s no getting around the lingering stereotypes The Honorable Woman portrays: Gaza is depicted as a pale, terrifying ghost town, inaccessible and populated only by lost or radical people. The only Palestinian we get to know well turns out to be a ruthless killer, while the others perpetrate Islamist violence. Nessa’s charity work is portrayed as powerful and inspiring, but there’s little acknowledgment of the Western backing that puts her where she is.

Young argues that this isn’t an improvement on Orientalist tropes, but “rather, it grants them respectability.” As a TV show, The Honorable Woman may be slick, beautiful and carefully crafted. But its failure to live up to its highly political context raises questions about how we’re still struggling to put the Middle East into words. Watch for yourself and decide whether the show rises to the challenge.

Catch up on the entire series on Netflix, HuluGoogle Play or iTunes.

The Crises That Remade Television News

tv cnn

When the first bombs exploded over Baghdad on Jan. 16, 1991, millions of Americans had a front-row seat. Or at least it felt like it, thanks to the Cable News Network (CNN) and the intrepid reporting of Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett and John Holliman, who provided the narration — from the ninth floor of a Baghdad hotel — for the incredible video footage lighting up living rooms around the world. One month later, Kuwait had been liberated and a young news channel once mocked as the “Chicken Noodle Network” was on its way to becoming a global news powerhouse.

Sometimes major news events don’t just shake up the world, they remake the landscape of news coverage itself. Every crisis has its opportunities, and some of the most successful programs and networks, from CNN to PBS NewsHour to ABC’s Nightline, got their big break thanks to how they responded when the big news broke.

CNN’s coup in the Iraqi desert remains the most memorable and effective grab in big-event journalism.

The era of modern news television really began with the JFK assassination in 1963, covered almost continuously by every major U.S. network for four days. Coverage of the Apollo moon landing in 1969 — drawing the largest live television audience in history — and the unfolding Vietnam War also helped turn television into the major source of news in America. The Watergate scandal also proved pivotal. “The live televised hearings of the Watergate proceedings,” says Bernard McCoy, a professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska, “captivated the American public, forced the resignation of a sitting U.S. president and sent the credibility of the press in America to new heights.” 

The Senate’s Watergate hearings, beginning in May 1973, also introduced two men — Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer — to each other, and to millions of American households, launching public television news to another level. “Some nights we may be in competition with the late, late movie,” Lehrer said of PBS’ wall-to-wall coverage of the hearings, but “[w]e are doing this as an experiment, temporarily abandoning our ability to edit, to give you the whole story.” At the same time, the dynamic broadcast duo conceived a new 30-minute format devoted to a single news item, and two years later, The Robert MacNeil Report premiered on PBS, evolving into The MacNeil/Lehrer Report and eventually PBS NewsHour, which still airs today.

This graphic created by CNN was shown as CNN correspondent Bernard Shaw described the bombing of Baghdad, via satellite phone, on the first night of the Gulf War on January 16, 1991 in Baghdad, Iraq. CNN was the only television news organization to remain

CNN was the only television news organization to remain in Iraq during the first nights of the Gulf War.

Later in that decade, on Nov. 8, 1979 — four days after American hostages had been taken at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran — The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage debuted on ABC, featuring a contributing reporter named Ted Koppel. A then-struggling player in the TV news game, ABC News and its president, Roone Arledge, were looking for an opportunity to do something new and compelling. “Roone had decided a long time before,” Koppel later told TVNewser, “that any time a big news story [broke], ABC News was going to do a special broadcast at 11:30 at night. And one day, it was his dream that there’d be a story that had such legs to it, that was so enduring, that he would actually be able to seize the time period.”

ABC did just that, rebranding the popular Hostage show as Nightline a few months later, with Koppel in the anchor’s chair. Nightline, with its in-depth reporting on complex news stories, was an immediate hit, and it has been the mainstay of ABC’s late-night lineup ever since.

But it was CNN’s coup in the Iraqi desert that remains the most memorable and effective grab in big-event journalism. “If this was surgical bombing,” Shaw famously observed after the Baghdad strikes, “I don’t like being this close to the operating table.” But thanks to a four-wire phone hookup and the capacity of its “Boys of Baghdad” to elude Iraqi authorities and often go without running water, electricity or a flushing toilet, CNN emerged as a go-to source for breaking stories, ushering in the era of 24-hour cable news coverage. (CNN and PBS are OZY Partners.)

Despite reporters’ heroics, it’s still the event itself that ultimately dictates the response, and the subsequent news landscape. “Water-skiing squirrels do not usher in news shows and personalities,” Craig Allen, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, tells OZY, “but assassinations, wars, environmental cataclysms, missions to the moon and matters that captivate and affect people. … [These] set all television news trends.”

Can such trends continue in the age of online, digital journalism when news consumption habits are changing and organizations as established as the BBC are rethinking old habits? Will the next big story be broken by social media? Surveillance drones? Wearable technology? Will television news still matter? The impact of big events will likely diminish in the future, says McCoy, “because the news media is more diluted, less well-funded, and has less time to devote to story coverage.”

Still, when Saddam Hussein first rolled into Kuwait in 1990, few could have imagined the tide of cable news television it would set loose. Perhaps somewhere else in the world, another crisis is about to break. When it does, what news beast, its broadcast hour come round at last, will emerge to reshape how the story gets told?

Voyeuristics, Toenail Terror + Age Index

An old man flirting with younger women.

Sex Club Calamity

EUGENE, SIR: We followed your advice — not really advice you had for us, but advice you have given to others — and ventured into sex clubbing. In general, enjoyable all around. We watched for a while and were content to continue doing so, until one night when my other nodded toward the bed. The bed was mounted on a platform surrounded by a chain-link fence. The entrance was blocked by a chain. Insofar as we had been able to figure out, if you were interested in having other people join in you didn’t draw the chain across.

Neither of us were that into the idea of strangers joining in. So we drew the chain, climbed on the bed and began having sex. At one point my wife make a sound of appreciation. Looking up, I noticed that on the other side of the fence surrounding the bed, we had drawn a crowd of about 30 people, mainly couples with around 10 single guys mixed in. Every one of the single guys was masturbating. Which I guess I should have expected. This, while a turn-on for my wife, was a distinct drawback for me. Which means she is into it and wants to do it again and I do not. But I don’t want to be a killjoy. Advice, please.  —Hugh

Dear Headliner:

HAH. Not only a first-world problem but a 1-percent problem in the first world for which not many, in great likelihood, will find themselves mourning your predicament. And I don’t mean 1 percent as in “lots of cash”; I mean 1 percent as in what Psychology Today says are the numbers of Americans spending time in swingers clubs. For those less than mathematically inclined that means in a country with 60 million married couples, 600,000 of your friends, neighbors and possible lovers are feeling your “pain.”

I put “pain” in quotes because it’s probably not lost on anyone that your complaints are largely visual and related to ambience issues coloring your impressions of a sex act you’re having. Not to minimize your plight, but things could be a lot worse. You could be at work. Surrounded by men masturbating. Try THAT on for size.

According to our resident swing-o-logist, Cal, the solution is simple: “For a more comfortable sex club scene, they should try to go on couples’ nights, which most clubs have.” See? Simple and solved. Oh, what would we do without our own resident swing-o-logist?

Hoofing It

EUGENE, SIR: Is there a comfortable, tasteful and easy way to get my man to take care of his feet? I find myself increasingly disturbed by a problem that seems to have a simple solution.  —KP

Dear Dr. Scholl’s:

Someone once said that a person who won’t take care of their feet, won’t take care of anything. And that someone was me. Which is to say, why bother getting him to fix what is clearly a harbinger of trouble to come: dirty dishes piled high in the sink, overflowing garbage cans, gambling problems, infidelity, drug use and eventually prison time ?! While this might be a gross overstatement framed by my aversion to grossly negligent foot care, there is some truth in those heels. Specifically, how hard can it be to cut your toenails every now and then? And more important, what does it mean that he doesn’t? 

I’d like to make some claim that you should, for the sake of your relationship, overlook this relatively ”small” thing, but I just can’t. Basic upkeep is fundamental. Overlooking basic upkeep — teeth brushing, hair combing, ass washing — is a deal killer. At least for me. If you’re fine with the funk? Knock yourself out. Just don’t come crying to me when you find yourself trying to sneak files and emery boards into a prison somewhere.

Age + Numbers

EUGENE, SIR: I recently started dating a woman who is 25 years old. I am 42. All of my female friends in their 40s have stopped talking to me. I asked one about it and she said that she has no interest in 25-year-old men and doesn’t understand how I can find a 25-year-old woman all that interesting. She said when she looks around for answers, anything she comes up with looks the same: I’m a shallow ass. But I know that if I were a 42-year-old woman dating a 25-year-old man, I’d be getting high-fives. Suspiciously crappy.  —N ame Withheld

Dear “Steven” “Bauer”:

You will never win this. When women in their 40s and 50s survey the pop culture landscape they don’t see themselves, and if they do see themselves as sexually comfortable adults they have to hear that the name we have for them is “cougar,” a heavy, semireclusive ambush predator. So they’re all competing for attention oxygen with some fictitious 20-something girlie. Or in your case, a totally non-fictitious girlie. Which has got to sting somewhat. 

Even if you say that your choice was choice-blind and love-directed, no one will believe this because all of the evidence — movie posters, ads and “Internet sensations” — says differently. So they hate you. You know who else hates you? Men in their 20s who, if they were smarter, cooler and better in bed, could probably pull put-out women in their 40s and 50s.

My suggestion? Don’t explain, don’t apologize. You’ll need to save your energies for when she turns 38 and wises up/dumps you for a 38-year-old Web developer. Until then? Push-ups, sit-ups, jumping rope, sucking in that gut and sexing up your Spotify set list. Thank me later.

Big Money Comes to Moneyball

baseball

The last time Moneyball came to Hollywood, in the form of the 2011 motion picture starring Brad Pitt as iconoclast Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, Pitt memorably lambasted his inner circle of graying baseball scouts as they struggled to solve the problem of how to replace the small-market team’s key players, who had departed for greener pastures. “The problem we’re trying to solve,” he reminded them, “is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us.”

A lot has changed in Major League Baseball — whose season starts next week — since Michael Lewis’ 2003 best-seller Moneyball chronicled Oakland’s attempts to combat an “unfair game” tilted in favor of large-market clubs by employing statistical models and data analytics to better identify undervalued players. For one thing, there’s a lot less crap, or perhaps it’s just spread around more evenly. Increased revenue sharing and luxury taxes have helped improve parity between large- and small-market teams in the league. On the other hand, Moneyball’s “sabermetric revolution” — meaning the use of data analysis to measure player performance and value — is practically universal now, with wealthier teams such as the New York Yankees investing their millions on number crunchers and analysts, as well as star free agents, in an effort to re-establish their competitive advantage.

Indeed, the next big wave of Moneyball-like innovation in baseball may come from the sport’s most wealthy. This time in the form of “Hollywood’s team,” the Los Angeles Dodgers, owners of baseball’s largest payroll for the past three seasons, but not of a single title since 1988 — when Ronald Reagan was president, Nike was just starting to “Do It,” and a high-flying Michael Keaton was Beetlejuice, not Birdman. Over the past few seasons, the once-storied franchise has been plagued by costly long-term contracts, off-the-field turmoil and poor management decisions. But this offseason, the Dodgers made some key early acquisitions, though not of anyone who will ever don the Dodgers’ iconic blue-and-white uniform. Rather, the organization brought in a “dream team” of Moneyball-style execs poached from other ball clubs, including Andrew Friedman (from the Tampa Bay Rays), Farhan Zaidi (one of Beane’s deputies in Oakland) and Josh Byrnes (formerly of the Arizona Diamondbacks).

andrew friedman

Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Small-market teams like the A’s are becoming “organ donors for the rich,” Pitt’s on-screen rant continues. “Boston’s taken our kidneys. Yankees have taken our heart.”  Well, as another season prepares to open, the Los Angeles Dodgers are out to show baseball that even in 2015, the sport’s richest can still take their brains.

From Bums to Bumbledom

Nobody in baseball referred to “market inefficiencies” or “arbitrage opportunities” in 1947, but what Jackie Robinson, GM Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers accomplished by breaking baseball’s longtime color barrier was not just a civil rights triumph, but also one of the most successful business decisions in the history of sports. The exclusion of black players from the major leagues created a market inefficiency unlike any before or since, and as the first team to tackle it, the Dodgers reaped the rewards. The team’s “experiment” not only populated the roster with talented black players, converting the “bums” of Brooklyn into a perennial contender that won six pennants in 10 years and the Dodgers’ first World Series title in 1955, but it also brought legions of new fans through the turnstiles, fundamentally remaking the franchise.

The Dodgers soon consolidated their innovative reputation (even as they devastated Brooklyn fans) by relocating to baseball-starved California in 1958, as air travel made the game’s westward expansion possible. From sunny Los Angeles, they bolstered their roster, multicultural identity and bottom line by being the first big-league team to scout and mine the prodigious reserves of baseball talent in places like the Dominican Republic, Japan and South Korea, leading to the development of such international phenoms as Fernando Valenzuela, Pedro Martinez and Hideo Nomo. In their first 30 years in Los Angeles, the Dodgers won five World Series under the leadership of just two managers and one family of owners.

baseball

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

Then things started to change. In 1998, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Group bought the team, only to flip it to Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt in 2004. McCourt briefly flirted with a sabermetric direction for the Dodgers, hiring Paul DePodesta, one of Beane’s deputies, as GM before firing the Harvard-educated statistician, whom the LA media mocked as “Google Boy,” after just two seasons. More fatefully, McCourt installed his wife, Jamie, a lawyer and businesswoman, as the Dodgers’ president, making her baseball’s highest-ranking woman. But when the McCourts separated in 2009 and Frank fired Jamie, things got ugly, and the entire organization, like a desired only child, became embroiled in the dispute. By the time the whole affair ended two years later, the McCourts had settled perhaps the costliest divorce case in California history, the Dodgers had declared bankruptcy and the team was sold for more than $2 billion — the highest price tag ever for a pro sports team — to NBA legend Magic Johnson and the Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC, a group of investors tied to a financial services firm.

With ownership unclear and a cut-rate budget in place, the Dodgers struggled to field a competitive team during the McCourt saga. And so when the new ownership took over in 2012, they decided it was time to send then-GM Ned Colletti out on a half-billion-dollar shopping spree to improve the club quickly and win back its fan base, acquiring high-priced veterans like Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. When all was said and done, the Dodgers had the highest payroll in baseball and a couple of playoff appearances — but still no pennants or titles. 

And so the Dodgers turned their attention in a thriftier direction, toward a mild-mannered 38-year-old executive whose small-market Tampa Bay Rays, like the Dodgers, had won 92 games in 2013. The difference being that Andrew Friedman’s club had paid about $700,000 per victory, while the profligate Dodgers had paid more than 3 1/2 times that ($2.6 million) for each of theirs.

Shedding the Blues by Saving Some Green

Friedman, a former Bear Stearns analyst with virtually no pro baseball experience, was just 29 years old in 2006 when two former Goldman Sachs executives, Stuart Sternberg and Matthew Silverman, installed him as director of baseball operations for the Rays, then the laughingstock of professional baseball. While Oakland and many front offices had employed statistical models derived from the financial markets to value players, Friedman and company had actual Wall Street experience, and quickly set about revamping the Rays using financial concepts like “positive arbitrage” and sophisticated data analysis to take Moneyball to a whole new level

Under Friedman, the cash-strapped Rays measured and exploited underappreciated talents like a catcher’s ability to frame a pitch; they focused on neglected aspects of the game like baserunning, defense and injury prevention; and even gambled, some claim, on players with less-than-savory personal lives. “I am purely market-driven,” Friedman says in Jonah Keri’s best-seller on the Rays, The Extra 2%. “I love players I think that I can get for less than they are worth.” And while Bear Stearns was going under in 2008, the Rays and their “boy genius” Friedman were making their first World Series appearance, and their first of four playoff appearances in six years. 

There’s a good chance that Friedman, and dozens of other smart baseball executives, are themselves undervalued assets.

When the Dodgers finally lured Friedman away from the Rays this past October for a reported five-year, $35 million contract, one of his first moves was to consolidate the organization’s intellectual capital by adding two more of baseball’s blue-chip executive prospects, Zaidi and Byrnes. Zaidi, a 38-year-old Canadian Muslim with a Ph.D. in economics from Berkeley who sent in his résumé to the A’s after reading Moneyball, brings a decade of experience with Oakland to his new post as Dodgers GM. Byrnes, 44, a similarly data-inclined executive who was once an assistant under Theo Epstein at Boston before being made Arizona’s GM at age 35, will head up the Dodgers’ scouting and player development operations. “There are lots of smart people in baseball,” Keri tells OZY, but “the Dodgers do have a strong group, one comprised of different people who’ve found success in different markets.”

LA’s dream team wasted little time, slashing the team’s bloated payroll, revamping its roster and making more than 20 trades this offseason, including trading the team’s most popular position player, the often-injured Matt Kemp, to the San Diego Padres, clearing room for top prospect Joc Pederson. The Dodgers will pay about a third of Kemp’s remaining contract, but that move, along with not re-signing veteran Hanley Ramírez, cleared roughly $150 million off the Dodgers’ books. In another classic Friedman move, LA offloaded their disappointing but still desirable second baseman Dee Gordon along with two other underwhelming veterans for four prospects, flipping one of those prospects just a few hours later to the Los Angeles Angels for All-Star Howie Kendrick. And just like that, the Dodgers received an instant offensive and defensive upgrade at second base.

The Dodgers, like Friedman’s Rays and Zaidi’s A’s, also now appear to be employing a strategy — backed by data — that Zaidi calls “managing the roster from the bottom,” focusing on building a deep, balanced team without any glaring holes, instead of the “stars and scrubs” roster fielded by so many wealthy teams. Key to this will be also improving the Dodgers organizational depth, and re-establishing the franchise’s international credentials around potential stars like Cuban defector Yasiel Puig and 18-year-old Mexican pitching phenom Julio Urías. 

“[W]e’re trying to touch everything we can,” Byrnes recently told The New York Times, “take some of the small-market disciplines and mind-sets, but understand that we have a lot of resources and a team that won 94 games last year.” And with these executives and money, the Dodgers do have a chance of touching just about everything, including tapping into what might well be the next big frontier in the Moneyball arms race: properly valuing the performance of baseball’s execs themselves. 

Analyzing the Analysts

One of the somewhat forgotten takeaways from Moneyball was the real value of having a smart, talented front office, as well as undervalued players. After the 2002 season, Beane himself famously turned down a five-year, $12.5 million offer from the Red Sox. Earning $7 million per year, Friedman is now the highest-paid executive in baseball. But even at that salary, there’s a good chance that Friedman, and dozens of other smart baseball executives, are themselves undervalued assets — an inefficiency that teams like the Dodgers have only just started to exploit.

“The greatest market inefficiency in baseball,” says Lewis Pollis, “is in fact the systematic undervaluation of the people who put the teams together.” Who’s Lewis Pollis? Like Friedman, Zaidi and other front office maestros, he’s a smart kid and a number cruncher. He’s also a recent economics graduate of Brown University and baseball analytics intern for the Cleveland Indians whose senior thesis last year on valuing baseball’s front offices was republished in full by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), the game’s premier group of analytics sages and advocates.

Pollis’ research uses transaction data like free agent signings and trades to measure the investing skills of the league’s general managers using the same yardstick they regularly apply to players — namely, how many wins they are worth to their team each year. Under his calculations, for example, the cost of one win purchased by signing a free agent player in 2013 was just over $7 million, meaning that even Friedman is being compensated as if he is worth just one win per season to the Dodgers. In fact, says Pollis, Friedman — perched in the top 10 of GM performers between 1995 and 2013 — is worth about 2.27 total wins more than the average GM, or, in dollar terms, almost $16 million more than the average GM each year.

Limited to publicly available data, Pollis’ findings cannot disaggregate the relative contributions of everyone working under the GM to make those decisions and transactions, but if he’s right, then having an elite GM — like having an All-Star player — impacts a team’s win-loss record, and bottom line, far more than previously imagined. Plus, unlike with player salaries, the league can’t count a team’s front office compensation toward its payroll, and there’s no luxury tax or other penalty for hoarding smarts in baseball.

Did the Dodgers’ ownership know all of this when they brought in Friedman, Zaidi and Byrnes to retool their bloated franchise? Probably, though perhaps not in so many words, or numbers. (The Dodgers did not respond to requests for comment.) But until other teams more fully realize the value to be gained from outspending their competitors on front office talent, the Dodgers could make out like bandits, and not just in the form of winning games and championships.

One hidden mandate of the Friedman era in Los Angeles, says Keri, “is to not only win, but also do so in a leaner and meaner way.” And for high-revenue teams like the Dodgers, the most reliable benefit to be gained from a more efficiently run team is paid out in fatter profits, not pennants. If Friedman can field a competitive team with a sub-$200 million payroll that is under the league’s luxury tax threshold, then Magic Johnson and his hedge fund buddies could make a killing, especially given their $8.5 billion television deal with Time Warner Cable. (Johnson and Guggenheim Baseball Management did not respond to requests for comment.)

But, just like any good baseball team must learn to play together and become more than just a collection of talent, it remains to be seen how well the Dodgers’ ownership, including front office holdovers like former GM Colletti, will jell with the new suite of executives, and who will ultimately call the shots in Los Angeles. Good data and analytics are only as good as the people using them, and the same is true for good data analyzers.

“What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency,” Lewis observed in Moneyball. One of the last great inefficiencies in the game of baseball may be the failure to imagine that talented executives like Friedman are worth as much to their teams as the players they can acquire. And for the moment, it appears that the big-spending Dodgers, for all of their woes and indulgences, may have at last found themselves one helluva bargain.

Calling 911 — From a Social Media Site

ambulance

Rain is drumming so hard on the windows of Enda Nasution’s office that I can barely hear him speak. It’s 10 a.m. on a Monday in Jakarta, Indonesia, but almost all his 45 employees have stayed home. Throughout the city, roads are submerged, and thousands are displaced. Nasution is warning me that our Skype connection may soon cut out … and after a few minutes of silence, the Internet starts back up. Ironic, isn’t it, that this is considered one of the social media capitals of the world, huh?

You’d better believe it. The nation of 250 million is obsessed with Facebook, WeChat and everything in between. But even among the pandemonium of apps and sites vying for Indonesians’ attention, Nasution, the so-called father of Indonesian blogging, still thinks he can give the country’s 80 million Internet users something better, something Indonesian. His network, which launched last November, is called Sebangsa (“One Nation”), and Nasution hopes to amass the best parts of Twitter and Facebook with a serious local twist: the addition of emergency services, customer support and even a chance to chat with politicians.

 

All of which might seem like a pipe dream if the name Nasution doesn’t mean anything to you. And it doesn’t help that, as is so common in the tech world, a lot of the “details” (funding, for example) about the venture are kept tight to the chest. The one detail that is known — that it’s just thousands, not millions, using Sebangsa — isn’t encouraging either. But social media experts are cautiously optimistic given the 39-year-old’s impressive following and track record, an acumen they liken to Nate Silver, the darling founder of sports site FiveThirtyEight. “It might just gain traction,” says Jeff Lewis, a professor of media at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. “It is the most ambitious network I’ve seen.”

Nasution looks the part of Facebook killer and great democratizer.

Ambitious because it’s offering some services that really no social network has developed and it has a true “Made in Indonesia” stamp. Through an 1800 channel, users can query, complain about or praise companies and public figures and actually receive a response. A 911 channel, where Indonesians can post about freeway accidents and floods, for example, will serve as a stopgap measure before police and medics step up their game — it even has a panic button that broadcasts users’ locations to friends and family.

There’s no doubt Nasution looks the part of Facebook killer and great democratizer. He matches clear and cultured English with a sharp white collared shirt (first two buttons open, of course) and medium-long hair unkempt even for the startup world. Though he holds a degree in civil engineering from the Bandung Institute of Technology (Indonesia’s MIT), he didn’t exactly “disrupt” his father’s legacy — Syarifuddin Nasution was a professor at the same university, in the same department. But once the Internet reached Indonesia’s shores in ’94, Nasution was quick to jump onto the bandwagon. His personal website and, later, blog were natural extensions of the diary he has kept since middle school and would spawn his Internet fame. Nasution was instrumental in building a nationwide blogosphere of 5 million by organizing nationwide conferences — one of which was hosted by then-mayor of Surakarta and current President Joko Widodo (“I was impressed but didn’t care much for him at the time,” remembers Nasution).

Only a third of Indonesians are connected to the Internet, but the number is growing by 30 percent yearly.

With only 6,000 Sebangsa users so far, Nasution could really use increasingly social-media-savvy politicians like Widodo to embrace the social network. Already, several ministers have expressed interest, he says, and he’s not kidding. Rudiantara, the nation’s minister of communications and information technology, told OZY he’d help the country support Sebangsa, including perhaps joining the site himself down the road. For now, other partnerships are more in reach. The Indonesia Boy Scouts for example, which has 22 million members, is “very interested” in working with Sebangsa, though no deal is set, says Indo Reyano, the organization’s spokesman.

But those partnerships are still ifs and depend a lot on whether there are users in the first place. While providing much-needed emergency services is a good idea in theory, some don’t think it’ll be enough to lure users away from Facebook and Twitter. And experts have doubts about whether some of the features will really be that effective. It’s great that people can post emergencies to Sebangsa, but it won’t matter if traffic is so bad that medics can’t get to the scene, says Lewis. 

For an aspiring Mark Zuckerberg, there isn’t a better place to be than Indonesia. The country is disproportionately young and hungry to be connected, especially as rural to urban migration cuts Indonesians’ ties with family and friends. And with only a third connected to the Internet but the number growing by 30 percent yearly, there are a lot of fresh users waiting to be picked up by Sebangsa, says Nasution. A moment later, the Internet cuts out once again.

Photography by Leonard Adam for OZY.

Straight Outta Etobicoke

Press Photo Handout

Her bona fides are goddamned impeccable.

Not just for a 26-year-old, which Al Spx, aka Cold Specks, is. Even a casual skim of her background shows that this singer-songwriter-guitarist has little in common with the typical, modern day rock chanteuse: She appeared on a track by former crush-kill-and-destroy turned mordant pop band, Swans; sings on two songs by the quasi-lightweight, but ubiquitous, Moby; and was nominated for a 2013 Juno Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year. Which, in our book, she undoubtedly was. 

A fury unseen chips away at me …

— Al Spx

It all sums up to a “sit up and pay attention” type of career start for someone who just a few years ago was studying English literature at the University of Toronto when the urge to make music broke ascendant. The move temporarily disappointed her confused parents who had never heard her sing, never mind play. Originally from the Etobicoke region of Toronto, Spx moved to London where her first album with Mute Records made an impression on U.K. audiences and critics. On her newest album, Neuroplasticity, Spx sings with a certain dark glee. 

I don’t suffer fools gladly,” she trills in “Absisto,” and you completely believe her steeliness as she continues, “A fury unseen chips away at me / If you run out of ammunition.” And between and betwixt the music video’s images of headless corpses falling from dying trees, and saints and dead lovers, you may be tempted to ask what a nice woman like her is doing in a place like this. Though she characterized her sound as “doom soul,” her first album fell into more of a folk sensibility — this time around Spx told Paste magazine she was aiming for an aesthetic adventure that was a little less personal: “I like when musicians create characters. So that’s what I did.”

Spx now lives in Montreal, Canada. Cold Specks is out on tour with dates in the U.S., Canada and Europe through to August 2015. To tide you over until she comes to your town, just “simmer down / settle in” and put her on endless repeat, like we’ve done.

Madder Than March Madness

Fans of Bangladesh's cricket team with their faces painted like tigers are seen before their team's Cricket World Cup quarter-final match against India in Melbourne March 19, 2015.

While millions of Americans are tuning into the madness that is the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship, another tournament on the other side of the globe has millions more glued to their screens. Yeah, it’s time for the Cricket World Cup — it happens every four years — and it very well may be madder than the NCAA and its hardwood battles. So far, so good. Unless, of course, you’re English: The Brits are out early, extending their World Cup championship drought to … forever. At least they had South Africa, which hadn’t ever reached a semifinal, for solace. Until, you guessed it, South Africa routed Sri Lanka in the quarters, eventually losing to New Zealand in the semifinal. There won’t be a repeat for India, the reigning champs, as they were downed by Australia to set up a championship between the neighbors. 

Time to pay attention, Americans: History is being made far beyond the brackets of college hoops. And here’s a good place to start.

The Rise of the Indian Premier League

Bollywood pales in comparison to the King Kong of Indian entertainment: cricket. Hell, it’s about the only television program that can stand up to the behemoth World Cup of soccer. And if it wasn’t popular enough before, cricket has gotten an injection of edge, glitz and glamour with the creation of the Indian Premier League seven years ago. It reached about 129 million homes in 2013, and is the go-to cricket destination for young’uns — credit the cheerleaders and fast-paced matches. Think of the XFL’s flair with the talent and credibility of the NFL. It’s ground zero for the age-old sport’s modernization and a business model that others, like soccer and a tag-slash-wrestling pastime called Kabaddi, are scrambling to emulateRead more here.

 

A Double Century Gone

For Americans, a game that lasts multiple days is almost inconceivable. Not that we couldn’t watch Super Bowl commercials for that long, but we’re so impatient to know who wins. It would almost seem … boring. But that was the beauty of late Australian cricketeer Phil Hughes, whose electric, no-holds-barred batting style made matches that lasted five days and still ended in a draw an epic stage for dismantling the world’s best bowlers. Remember that time he scored a double century in his second match? A bowl tragically struck and killed Hughes late last year, but the Aussies continue to roll in this year’s World Cup. A championship run might just require some Hughes-esque swings for the fences. Read more here.

Meet a Real Madam Secretary

Penny Pritzker on a Factory Tour

“Disappointing.” “Stutters.” “Paler.” They’re not exactly words the U.S. secretary of commerce wants to see bolded about the economy in news headlines. Which may be why Penny Pritzker prefers to focus on what’s coming around the corner. That way, the swift talker can hope for the best — and also plan for the worst. 

Since her swearing in less than two years ago, Pritzker has used her nearly three decades of private-sector experience to tackle issues facing businesses and entrepreneurs — and that, in turn, affect America’s workers. Think worries over stagnating wages, signs of emerging job sectors and countries that hold the most growth potential, as well as her stance on a hot-button political issue that could add more than $1 trillion to the future U.S. economy. Her edited chat with OZY follows.

OZY:

We’re at a time of lower unemployment, but wages for many have stagnated. How do you see this panning out?

Secretary Pritzker:

As unemployment drops — and we’ve seen it drop to 5.5 percent — the private sector keeps creating the kinds of jobs I think there should be. Supply and demand would say that wages should start to rise, and we’ve seen some sputtering signs of that, so I’m an optimist and believe that’s going to start to change.

OZY:

Where’s the strongest growth potential for new employment opportunities?

Secretary Pritzker:

There are 8.6 million Americans today who are working where data is central to their job, and those jobs pay 68 percent more than the average job. That’s an area of great opportunity.

Another area of growth is in manufacturing … whether it’s 3-D printing, digital manufacturing, lightweight or composite materials or photonics. A manufacturing job in America today is a good one, and it’s something that tends to have greater pay than the average job.

 

OZY:

And where are some of the most booming places in the U.S. that aren’t getting the attention they deserve right now?

Secretary Pritzker:

We talk about innovation in the Silicon Valley or in New York or in Boston or Austin. But as Steve Case — one of our Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (and the AOL co-founder) — has really shown us, there’s a lot of innovation going on in places like Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville and Atlanta, and in cities that don’t get as much press.  

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker speaks during a news conference at the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade event in Chicago December 18, 2014.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker speaks during a news conference at the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade event in Chicago on Dec. 18, 2014.

Source Andrew Nelles/Corbis

OZY:

Your department’s policy blueprint was guided by conversations with more than 1,500 business leaders and more than a third of Fortune 500 CEOs. What worries them about the economy right now?

Secretary Pritzker:

One of their biggest concerns is the slowdown in certain parts of the world. One of the things they’re excited about is that the U.S. economy is doing well, and they’re interested in making sure we’re addressing investments in infrastructure. The President has a proposal to use dollars that are repatriated from business-tax reform to invest in our infrastructure, because we have about $2 trillion of deferred investment there.

Other things I’m hearing about include comprehensive immigration reform. It’s really a shame we haven’t been able to get that done, not only because of the 11 million undocumented individuals, but also because we have a moral responsibility to people who live in this country, due to the economic loss — not just dollar loss but people loss, too. Comprehensive immigration reform would be worth about $1.4 trillion to our economy over the next 15 or 20 years.

OZY:

What’s their top concern?

Secretary Pritzker:

Probably the thing I hear the most about right now is trade and trade agreements. We’re pushing very hard; the business community wants to see trade promotion legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership both approved by Congress. Look at the fastest-growing economies in the world — they’re in Asia, where there are about 550 million middle-class people today, and that number is going to grow to about 2.7 billion over the next 15 years. American businesses want access to those markets, and we don’t have a level playing field. 

OZY:

You’ve visited Ukraine, Poland and Turkey, and you’re the first Commerce Secretary who’s traveled to Myanmar. Which emerging powerhouse holds the greatest promise in the next few years?

Secretary Pritzker:

If we can get the Trans-Pacific Partnership done, I think there’s humongous opportunity for trade with those countries, whether it’s Vietnam or Japan. We’re working very hard, and I’ve been very focused, particularly in our relationship with Mexico and Canada to make the North American platform as strong as possible so that we’re globally competitive. And that’s not only making sure there’s ease of moving goods and services across our borders — that we have open sky — but it’s also that we have free trade agreements around the world so we can sell goods and services without facing market barriers.

A Tiny Home Projector You Can Plug Into a Light Socket

The Beam Projector

We took an estimated 375 billion photos in 2011 alone. And what do we do with all of those photos and videos? Share them via Instagram and Facebook, naturally. But sometimes we actually look at them on the TV — and not everyone has a really big TV, or one that’s connected to the Internet. And who wants to faff about with a projector and a laptop?

A new device on the market, Beam casts the idea of a projector in a new light. Resembling a large, odd-looking lightbulb, it was actually designed to screw into any standard light fixture, and can project an 854×480 resolution image up to 120 inches in size (that’s twice as big as a 60-inch plasma TV) under optimal conditions. No unsightly power cables needed (it ships with one in case you don’t want to install it) — you just screw it in .

The device can be connected to the Internet and left plugged in all the time, and doesn’t look like a projector.

Don Molenaar and his L.A.-based team of Dutch inventors created Beam as an alternative to the “big and bulky, ugly” projectors on the market. The device can be connected to the Internet and left plugged in all the time, and because it doesn’t look like a projector, it can actually be “part of your interior,” Molenaar suggests. Of course, the quality of projection — whether for movies, games, presentations — is dependent upon the surface you’re projecting on: a kitchen counter, a bedroom ceiling, a dining room table, an office wall.

The Beam Projector

Source Beam

But Beam’s secret sauce is its event-based functionality, using if this, then that logic. Essentially, for every detectable event — it’s 6 a.m., you added a photo to Instagram, you came home — Beam can take an action: For example, it can start streaming Spotify or Netflix, show today’s weather forecast or stock quotes or turn on the light. (Yes, it functions as a lightbulb, too.) It works via a free app for iOS or Android, or via Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

 

However, as with all connected products, security should be top-of-mind. Casey Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Bugcrowd, says that malicious apps are always a potential threat. “Automatic updates and a fast-release update cycle from the Beam maintainers will minimize this risk,” Ellis notes. That could be a problem. Molenaar says his company will be issuing updates to its custom version of Android, but not every update that Google puts out will be used. “If the next update from Google takes too much processing power away from Beam, we’re not going to do it.” Should you be concerned? Probably not. Bigger companies are often slower to respond to issues than small teams with products still in development.  

Beams just closed a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $750,000 — but if you’re interested in trying out this bright idea, you can still order them. The company says that it’s on-track to deliver by November.