Career Library Recommendation: The Only Rule Is It Has To Work

Lindbergh And Miller Book A Home Run

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work
#CareerLibrary Selection from Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller.

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller have penned a winner in The Only Rule Is It Has To Work, their behind the scenes look at a season at the helm of the Sonoma Stompers, a team competing in the independent Pacific Association.

The book is an excellent addition to any aspiring sports business professional's career library.  It gives great information on life in independent baseball, the increased use of data and analytics in all segments of the sports industry and captures the human emotion that leads people to careers in sports.

Before reviewing some of the book's highlight's, some background on the authors and the premise of the project.  Lindbergh and Miller are accomplished baseball writers.  Their area of expertise is the application of analytics to baseball decision making, commonly called sabermetrics, after the or Society for American Baseball Research or SABR.

Each author has served a stint as editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus, the industry leader in such writing. Additionally, each has written for the ESPN family of brands, Lindbergh for FiveThirtyEight and the now defunct Grantland, Miller for ESPN the Magazine.  Finally, they co-host a daily podcast Effectively Wild.

Together they are invited to run baseball operations for the unaffiliated Stompers.  In unaffiliated leagues teams are not "farm teams" with rosters supplied by major league organizations.  Rather, this is a lower rung of baseball in which teams sign players not drafted or signed by major league franchises.

Famously, some former major league players, like Los Angeles Dodger Scott Kazmir, have experienced a career rebirth after a stint in independent ball. But for the most part, this level league is selling players the dream of being discovered and playing affiliated ball.

With that brief bit of background, why is this book such a good one for aspiring sports business professionals?

Here are five reasons you should buy and read the book:

  • If you want to work in baseball.  One excellent route to a career in team sports is working for a minor league baseball team.  The first rule of such a position is that no job is beneath anyone in the organization.  The book is peppered with stories of Lindbergh and Miller doing small tasks (like hanging a sign that has fallen) to general manager Theo Fightmaster (yes, that is really his name) cooking hot dogs.  For those who have never experienced working in the minors this read will give you a realistic look at life in the minors.  (Read this interview for an example of a career that began in minor league baseball.)
  • If you want to know how interpersonal relationships work (and fray) in sports.  One of the best elements of The Only Rule is the authors' introspective passages.  They are excellent at deconstructing their interactions with coaches, players and management and the impact their words and actions have on others.  A particular example is the first time they address the team.  Much thought goes into these kinds of moments, but it is the way the authors share their thoughts on these interactions that adds value for readers.  On the cover of the book Nate Silver calls the book "Brutally honest...blissfully funny."  And it is.  And the "stat geek" persona and how the players/coaches interact with the "geeks" that drives much of this humor.
  • If you want to work in the analytics world of sports.  Lindbergh and Miller are two of the top writers in baseball analytics.  Now they want to see if the theories and numbers they espouse can be implemented with a team.  For analysts, this is often the dream.  Are my insights just insights?  Or if I ran the organization - baseball team or mutual fund or movie studio - would I be able to put into practice my critiques of other's decisions?  And for those who aspire to analytics related careers the authors' experiences provide some useful lessons.  Among them is that communication is key especially as some of their audience - players and coaches - is skeptical.  And you are likely to face similar resistance to change in any organization.
  • If you want to discover two excellent writers.  For those familiar with Lindbergh and Miller this book has been a long time coming, as they shared the news of the season with the Stompers and the planned book on Effectively Wild in late 2014.  But for new readers the book provides a chance to discover two great writers (and podcasters).  Once you have read about their experiences with the Stompers, you are likely to want to read everything Lindbergh and Miller are involved with going forward - they are that good.
  • If you are a sports fan looking for a great summer book.  While this review has focused on the career related aspects of reading the book, it is a great read for any sports fan.  The stories of wins and losses, of good decisions and bad, of players loved by teammates and those reviled will resonate with most sports readers.  And unexpected plot twists and incredible adventures - including a trip to play a game against prisoners at San Quentin - make this a summer page turner.

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work is a great addition to the Career Library series.  It is also a great book for starting a conversation about working in sports in an interview.  It always impresses an interviewer if you can talk about a recent book you have read about sports or business or history or fiction.  It signals a certain level of intellectual curiosity that is sometimes missing in candidates.  Being able to share some of the lessons you learn from reading about Lindbergh and Miller will spark a great conversation with anyone in the sports industry.

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