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The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team Kindle Edition
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Pre-order today
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It was really an impossible task. Professional sports at every level are filled with highly accomplished and competitive athletes, with real lives and real egos. Now imagine walking in one day and suddenly trying to convince them that they should be doing things differently. Who do you think you are?
I was one of the analysts who helped Ben and Sam in this quest, and I wanted to write some thoughts down from my own perspective, not as one of the main characters, but as someone more behind the scenes. These are some very short initial thoughts only, but I'd like to followup with some more ideas on where things went wrong from my perspective, and also how independent league teams can better identify roster talent from some non-traditional sources.
My focus was on attempting to identify talent overlooked in the MLB draft. This is extremely challenging; there are 30 teams, 40 standards rounds plus other picks. Furthermore, among those players left, many sign as amateur free agents post-draft. You're left with players from lower divisions, very small schools, 23-year-old seniors, bad bodies, soft tossers, poor defenders, etc. But, still, there may be players who aren't good MLB prospects, but who could still perform well as part of an independent league team.
Looking at top framing college catchers was a bust; this is a premium defensive position and very little is overlooked.
Among the undrafted senior hitters and pitchers there were several potential prospects, many of whom you'll read about in the book. The most important fact to keep in mind is that these are real people with real lives, real families and real hopes and dreams, and playing independent ball isn't nearly lucrative enough to pay the bills. Harsh reality will limit your pool even more, and those who choose to pursue it will face the additional stress of financial strain.
That being said, was Ben and Sam's experiment a success? You'll have to read the book, but absolutely, some talent was found.
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 keep the concessions flowing, so he is happy to get free help building a 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 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 might 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 primarily on honesty and candor and true generosity, more than on any spreadsheet.