Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work

I just finished reading my favorite book of the year, The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team, by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller. As it is about baseball -- and it helped refine the way that I think about the game and how to model it -- I figured I would share my thoughts here.

This book may not be for everyone. But as someone who writes baseball simulations for a living, I have to say that this book is perfect.

The authors start with the sequence of events that landed them with the Sonoma Stompers for the Summer of 2015. One key reason is something that hadn't occurred to me: the general manager of a low-budget team spends most of his time selling tickets and keeping the concessions flowing, so he is happy to get free help building the roster (the task we associate most often with a team's front office).

Then Ben and Sam dig into the nitty-gritty of building a team. They do a great job of laying out all the numbers that they had in front of them for such tasks as: choosing which players to sign; making lineup recommendations; employing extreme defensive shifts; and building detailed reports on opposing pitchers for use by the team's hitters. Seeing the raw data made the book much more enjoyable than if they had just jumped ahead to the conclusions that they reached.

The authors also do a great job of conveying the storylines and emotions associated with the team. It's reminiscient of a movie like Bull Durham: the overarching plot is about baseball players trying to get a crack at the majors, but the most interesting and amusing and important events revolve around the players' individual growth and interpersonal relationships.

Finally, I found this book inspiring as a personal story of humility and frustration, combined with some great insight into how to "make friends and influence people". I would honestly recommend this book to aspiring business leaders or consultants. Ben and Sam are two extremely bright guys with great communication skills. So one could assume that they had an easy time showing up at the Sonoma Stompers and turning the team around. But I know that my life is never that easy -- and I have to admit it's nice to see that their lives aren't either. Although Ben and Sam are nominally in charge of the roster, it's difficult for two guys that never played professional baseball to earn credibility in the clubhouse. But if you keep reading you see that more often than not they are able to succeed at what they try to do -- relying on respect and candor and true generosity, more than on any spreadsheet.