Million Dollar Arm – Sports Agent JB Bernstein
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Million Dollar Arm is about sports agent JB Bernstein, who is portrayed as a struggling agent low on cash and desperate for a high-profile client. One evening while channel surfing, Bernstein becomes intrigued with a cricket game on TV. As he watches more and more of the match, he suddenly comes up with an idea.
Bernstein is convinced that since cricket players, specifically the “bowlers”, can throw a ball at very high speeds, they can be taught to throw baseballs equally fast and be transformed into major league pitchers. He travels to India and holds an American Idol-like contest that would reward a million dollars to the bowler that can throw a baseball the hardest, plus a chance to be signed by a Major League Baseball team; the show is to be called the “Million Dollar Arm”.
Thousands of Indian kids come out to try their luck, but most of them can only throw the ball 30-40 mph and do not have any control. Rinku Singh, a javelin thrower, ends up winning the contest with a 87 mph pitch, but Dinesh Patel impresses Bernstein with enough raw talent that he is also invited to Los Angeles to train with pitching coach Tom House for seven months. Under House’s tutelage, Singh and Patel increase their velocity and after two tryouts, they are signed by the Pittsburg Pirates, becoming the first Indians to be signed by a professional sports team in the United States.
In the video below, Bernstein narrates the story behind his 2008 Million Dollar Arm reality show. It includes interviews with Tom House, Dinesh Patel, and Rinku Singh about their training. There are real-life clips of Rinku and Dinesh’s experiences in America, including trying to figure out how to use a water fountain, that a baseball glove is not used to keep your hands warm, and their reaction when Bernstein informs both that they have been signed to minor league contracts by the Pittsburg Pirates.
ESPN’s Outside The Lines produced this 10-minute documentary about this unlikely story of Rinku and Dinesh.
Contributing author: Brian Obudho
Million Dollar Arm – Real Life, Reel Differences
- The movie credits Bernstein with the idea for the million-dollar contest but in reality, it was venture capitalist Ash Vasudevan and real estate mogul Will Chang who conceived the idea. The pair thought of traveling to Vasudevan’s native India to search for athletes who could learn how to play baseball. At that time, JB Bernstein was Barry Bond’s agent while Will Chang was a shareholder of the San Francisco Giants. Vasudevan and Chang hired Bernstein to perform the task. Despite being hesitant at first, Bernstein finally agreed. The contest was inspired by the success of how Yao Ming made basketball popular in China.
- As depicted in the movie, the two youngsters came from being unknowns and rose to attract the attention of their one billion countrymen. Dinesh and Patel both rose from extreme poverty to the bright lights and big money of Major League Baseball, transforming their lives completely.
- In the film, Brenda was a doctor but in reality, she was an executive in an aviation industry. Around the time of the movie, Brenda was the operator relations and director of commercial aircraft sales for Virgin Charter. Brenda currently holds a position at Embraer Executive Jets
- It’s true JB Bernstein needed a deal that could save him from his financial troubles. In reality, JB had clients like Emmitt Smith and Curtis Martin, but they had retired. His biggest client, Barry Bonds, had been indicted by a federal court.
- As in the cinema, the contest attracted a massive attention from Indians. It first aired in 2007 and drew more than 38,000 contestants. While most of the candidates who turned up were cricket players, Rinku and Dinesh won even though they were not cricket players. None of them was able to win the $1 million, but Singh was rewarded with $100,000 for throwing the fastest, 88mph, and Patel received $5000. In truth, the finals took place at CKT University. On top of the monetary prize, the contestants had a bonus chance to win $1 million if he could throw three consecutive strikes with a minimum speed of 90mph plus an invitation to the US to try their luck in professional baseball.
- In reality, J.B was approached by Chang and Ash, but around this time, he had already started brainstorming the idea of recruiting a new player. JB had already thought about tapping into countries which did not have a lot of successful athletes in the US.
- As seen in the motion picture, JB was taken aback when he landed in India. The real JB had similar experiences, like aversion of contracts and being asked to bribe people. In fact, the real JB admitted that the contest deal was completed with only a handshake
- The movie also suggests that JB Bernstein owned a condo in Los Angeles where he housed the two players and their interpreter. In reality, Rinku, Dinesh, and Deepesh did not stay in Bernstein’s house. The group rented a house a few blocks from USC campus, where they all staye.
- In real life, Singh was crowned the winner after throwing the ball at 89mph even though he had never picked a baseball. Patel came second. Both players had more experience with javelin. Patel had thrown the javelin in school and had won a medal in the sport in 2006. Rinku was also a former javelin medalist.
- In real life, the two winners traveled to California and were introduced to USC pitching coach Tom House. Months later, Bernstein was able to secure an audition with MLB scouts. However, his trainees failed to impress in the first tryout. It’s also true that Rinku and Dinesh received minor league contracts from the Pittsburg Pirates after a successful second tryout, becoming the first Indians to be signed in professional sports in the US. They received a signing bonus of $8000 after being signed by the Gulf Coast League Pirates, a minor league associated with Pittsburgh Pirates. The motion picture suggests that the players were well received, but in reality, the Pittsburgh Pirates faced criticism for signing two players from India. According to Pirates General Manager, Neal Huntington, people thought it was a “marketing ploy.”
- The film omits some real life facts. For instance, Rinku was informed about the reality TV show by an Indian athletics coach, Jasvinder Singh Bhatia. The coach encouraged Rinku to take the risk, knowing that a win would save Rinku and his family from all their financial troubles. Around this time, Rinku was just days away from taking his exams at Sports College. He went ahead and skipped the exams to take part in the contest.
- It is also true that the real JB underwent a character arc as he interacted with the three Indians. Just as depicted in the movie, the real JB learned that there is more to life than seeking contracts and signing deals. The real JB also met the love of his life, Brenda, after the experiences from the contest, just like in the movie.
- The film does not reveal what happened to Singh and Patel after signing with the Pirates. In reality, both players pitched in the minor leagues. Patel returned to India in 2010 after his team cut him. He went back to school. Singh has had a relatively smooth career in baseball even though he has encountered some injuries.
- While there was only a single contest in the movie, Million Dollar Arm returned to India in 2011. Bernstein was already used to the country, including how to sign contracts in the absence of an army of attorneys. At first, the reality of sealing a deal through a handshake seemed nerve-wrecking, but Bernstein got used to the idea. The contestants had also started getting familiar with the sport and were more aware of what the competition was about. In fact, by the second season, most of the kids who participated in the contest had already watched the pitching videos of Rinku and Dinesh on YouTube.
- In reality, just like in the movie, a majority of the contestants who showed up for the first contest were awful.
- It’s true that Dinesh and Rinku were unfamiliar with technology and American culture. Their reactions were not exaggerated in the movie. Both of them had never seen an elevator, and they came from villages without the Internet, cell phones, and flat-screen televisions. It is also true that they went to watch Iron Man in 3-D and declined to wear the special glasses claiming that their vision was alright.
- JB did not meet Brenda in the house where he was living with Dinesh and Rinku. In the movie, Brenda was a tenant who was living in JB’s guest house, but in reality, they met and lived in the same apartment building, not in a house that JB owned.
- It’s true that the experience with Rinku and Dinesh made JB a better person. “These guys got me started down the right path maybe for the first time in my whole life,” JB said while speaking in an interview. JB states that he was not a terrible guy, but he was just someone who was ‘short-sighted.’
- Towards the end of the movie, JB and Brenda have a child, which also happened in real life.
Where Are They Now?
JB Bernstein is the Chief Executive Officer of Access Group and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Seven Figures Management. Both organizations are involved with sports marketing, athlete management, and athlete representation. He started out in advertising but became a successful sports marketing agent and built a roster of high-end clients, including Barry Bonds.
As of May 2014, Bernstein was preparing for the third season of Million Dollar Arm and expected a turnout of around 500,000 contestants. JB claims the contest has helped transformed his life.
Dinesh Patel was the right-handed pitcher signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Patel had a successful first year in the minor league. He was, however, let go during his second year (2010). Before the Pirates released him, he recorded a 1-0 with 5.27 ERA in 13 2/3 professional innings. His speed topped out at mid-80s and the organization had no option but to let him go.
Patel went back to India to obtain a degree in English and Hindi studies. He later traveled to MLB Academy in China to teach himself coaching techniques. During the second season of Million Dollar Arm, when Patel was 25 years, he was happy to lend a hand. He assisted in launching the contest and in training the finalists.
He has returned to his javelin career and competed in 2011 at the National Athletics Championships.
Today, he is still an active advocate for baseball in his village and other parts of India.
Rinku Singh, the left-handed pitcher, has had more success compared to Patel, but his career has been full of injuries. After a great season with West Virginia Power in 2012, he missed the entire 2013 season due to injury. He was invited to spring training by the Pittsburg Pirates in 2014, but suffered arm injury in May and had to get Tommy John surgery.
He was not able to assist with Season 2 of Million Dollar Arm because he was still playing baseball in the US. Singh also plays in the Australian and Dominican Republic leagues, and even made the World All-Star team during the Australian Baseball League All-Star game in 2011.
Here is an interview on the MLB network, just before the release of the movie in May 2014, where Rinku talks about his experiences from the contest to where he is now.
Below is the latest transaction history for Rinku Singh. For updates past July 2016, visit the MiLB.com (Minor League Baseball) website.