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The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team
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The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,955 Ratings  ·  317 Reviews
What would happen if two statistics-minded outsiders were allowed to run a professional baseball team?

It's the ultimate in fantasy baseball: You get to pick the roster, set the lineup, and decide on strategies -- with real players, in a real ballpark, playing in real time. That's what Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller got to do when the Sonoma Stompers, an independent minor-lea
Hardcover, 343 pages
Published May 3rd 2016 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Community Reviews

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Rob Neyer
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'd been looking forward to Sam and Ben's book since last summer, when I first heard about it. For one thing, the subject matter was utterly compelling: What happens when a couple of nerds (and I use that word endearingly) are handed the keys - notwithstanding a recalcitrant manager or two - to a professional baseball team? For another, Ben and Sam both among the dozen or so most talented baseball writers working today. And I do not say that lightly.

Well, I don't want to give anything away so I'
Jun 11, 2016 rated it liked it
As the book jacket says, "It's the ultimate in fantasy baseball: You get to pick the roster, set the lineup, and decide on strategies--with real players, in a real ballpark, in a real playoff race. That's what baseball analysts Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller got to do when an independent minor-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, offered them the chance to run its baseball operations according to the most advanced statistics."

However, The Only Rule Is It Has to Work only partially deli
Mark Simon
Apr 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it for intense baseball fans, more than casual ones ... regardless of which category you fall into, it would probably help to listen to Ben and Sam's "Effectively Wild" podcasts to get a feel for their sensibilities and communicative style (plus, it's an excellent podcast).

As for the book itself, it's a fun ride through a season in a league, far, far from the major leagues, but still professional baseball. You get a great feel for the personalities o
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, business, own
Full disclosure: Sam Miller is my cousin. I don't think I've seen or talked to him in maybe a decade-ish (?), but we are related. Well, not technically, like, "blood related," since we are cousins through my stepdad's side. But, yes, growing up, we saw each other at family get togethers twice a year. So there you go.

Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh cohost Effectively Wild, a podcast that makes predictions and offers insights about baseball based on crazy in-depth statistics (called sabermetrics). Bo
May 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I've listened to the Effectively Wild podcast exactly once, so this is my first serious exposure to authors Sam and Ben.

These statheads have some interesting ideas and the numbers to back them up, and this book chronicles their use in a professional league, albeit a small one. To write this book, they alternated chapters, covering the season, the strategies, and the social dynamics of the Sonoma Stompers. There is some humor here, along with some hubris.

At times, the authors range away from thei
Ryan Michael
Jun 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you are a Baseball Prospectus reader and/or baseball junkie like myself, this is for sure worth a read. It's amazing how relatively quickly the movement of analytics have gotten us to the point where an independent league team gave control of their baseball ops to two writers from a baseball commentary website, albeit very data based website. I love reading about how it went down. "Moneyball" might have been a first step in terms of how baseball changed, but this book highlights what it's rea ...more
Mike Kennedy
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball
Very good book. Follows two sabermetricians who take over an independent minor league team. They wanted to see if they can used advance metrics to win a championship and dominate the competition. This book talks about stats, but not to a point where it becomes hard to follow. It really more than just stats. They retell the Sonoma Stompers 2016 in all aspects. The good, the bad, and the ugly. They talk about how they struggle to implement their plan, and how they adapt to things that happen durin ...more
Chris Jaffe
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: baseball, sports
It's an extremely enjoyable and readable book about two stat-heads given a chance to run an actual baseball team. OK, it's a team in a bottom tier indy league - but it's a team nonetheless.

The two authors switch off chapters from one to the other, but I didn't notice an abrupt shifts in voice. Weather that says more about the book or my inability to notice things is another matter...

It's really honest in how the pair go over all their insecurities and uncertainties, chronicling not only their s
Geoff Young
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an enjoyable read from two talented writers who embarked on the journey of a lifetime by attempting to run an independent league baseball team using statistical analysis and other sabermetric principles. It's sort of Moneyball (my review) on a much smaller scale, with better stories and fewer boring parts.

As with Moneyball, although the book documents a process, its sharpest insights are reserved for the people who comprise that process. The characters that inhabit this world—players, ma
Apr 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer, I am a big fan of the San Rafael Pacifics, the "enemy" of the Sonoma Stompers, so I think I was pretty pumped to like this book, as I've been attending games since the league was founded! And I did like it! Lots of great behind the scenes information about how this team was run, and tons of statistical data about how some of the decisions were made. It was also cool to read about the league in general and of course, baseball in specific! And even though I hate "the shift", I did enjo ...more
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was so fun! If you're a baseball fan and a stats nerd, look no further for your next summer read.

We went and saw Ben Lindbergh, one of the authors, give a book talk about The Only Rule Is It Has to Work at a Busboys and Poets in 2016. He was super engaging and I remember hoping that the actual book would capture Lindbergh's enthusiasm about all things stats and baseball.

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work tells the story of Ben Lindbergh and co-author Sam Miller's attempt to run the Sonoma
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
Sean Conroy, a hard-throwing reliever, was the first pro ballplayer to come out while active. It happened that two Baseball Prospectus podcasters were running the front office of his club, the very-very-minor-league Sonoma Stompers. This is the story of their season with the club. Much of it is a BP piece at book length, which I enjoyed just fine. But Conroy’s story is downright moving, and the authors to their credit don’t make it about themselves.
James Todd
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a very entertaining read for a baseball geek like myself. Ben and Sam manage an independent league team and do some really funny/experimental things. Obtaining draft picks for donuts? Enacting a 2 man outfield? Convincing a player trying out to fake sick and go home so other scouts won't see him? Persuading a MLB team to scout and sign your opponents' best player? There are several hilarious moments. Jose Canseco even makes a cameo. This book is an intriguing window into the strengths a ...more
Jesse Severe
May 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, sports
This is a personnel management book disguised as a sports book. The sports part sets up the premise, that a couple of baseball writers/podcasters get the opportunity to run an independent-league team. The hook is that they have never actually worked "in" baseball, except that one of the guys did a summer internship once with the Yankees. Other than that, Ben and Sam are just well-known new-school stats-minded writers who sound like they know what they are talking about.

However, once removed from
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: baseball, non-fiction
This book likely has a very narrow audience: readers of BP, fans of Effectively Wild, sabermatricians, statheads, nerds, fantasy baseball aficionados, and anyone who's ever thought "I could do that better" when looking at their favorite baseball team's most recent move. There's a ton of overlap in all of those groups, which creates the narrow audience. If you fall into one of those categories, and especially if you fall into more than one of those categories, you're probably going to love this b ...more
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
A thoroughly entertaining ride-along with two Baseball Prospectus writers who are given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play general manager for a season and test out their sabermetric theories at the lowest rung of professional baseball, with the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific Association.

This book starts out as a captivating "Moneyball"-style journey of how to build a team's roster from virtually scratch on a miniscule budget and with with no scouting, using sabermetric principles
Eric Dykstra
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a lifetime baseball fan and stathead (I was calculating WAR in spreadsheets to make the case Grady Sizemore should have won the MVP in 2006, before WAR was a published statistic anywhere), the premise of this book was compelling. I must say that it totally blew away expectations. The story was a page-turner, beautifully written and fascinating. It was less focused on the statistical side than I expected, and a much better book for it. The authors are very talented and i hope they produce more ...more
Jul 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There are a lot of really solid baseball books out there, but this-THIS!-is some next-level stuff.

Baseball books tend to fall into one of two major categories: the sentimental and the mathematical. This book combines both of those genre attributes admirably, but it's bigger than that.

Ben and Sam, two of the most likable narrators you'll ever meet, brilliantly recount their adventure with the Sonoma Stompers. You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll learn something!

The authors are sabermatricians, but t
Matt Ely
May 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: baseball
A delightful twist on two of the most typical baseball sub-genres: the "here's how one baseball team is redefining the game" genre (Moneyball) and the "here's a story of my wild season in minor league baseball" genre (Class A).

The idea for the project was two baseball statisticians would run an independent baseball club with free reign to innovate. The fun twist of the book is that it's not as simple as anyone thought, and their conclusions don't so much prove that New Baseball is Manifestly Tr
Michael Grace
Apr 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball-own
Inspiring, heartbreaking, funny, tragic, thought-provoking. The Only Rule is what's great about baseball. Miller and Lindbergh are given the opportunity of a lifetime- to bring their baseball philosophy into the real world. As a longtime Effectively Wild podcast listener (I think my first episode was around 80) I initially bought The Only Rule because it was written by two guys who are as much of my life as my coworkers and mysterious neighbors. In the end, the book was so much more than an exte ...more
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed "The Only Rule Is It Has to Work." It's like Moneyball if it were written by Billy Beane himself (and if he were self effacing and witty [I mean, he could be. I don't know him]). Anecdotal and analytical, this book is a really fun read that I believe appeals to more than just baseball fans. It's an underdog story with outside the box thinking and outsiders looking in. That's human, dude.

There's a lot to get upset about with athletes and sports in general these days, this book is
May 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was a lot of fun. I'd probably rate myself as more than a casual baseball fan, but not particularly rabid, so if you're at that level or higher, you'll likely enjoy it. Your level of interest in statistics is irrelevant. They're central to the plot, but not the story. Funny, thoughtful, and suspenseful (yes), a good summer read, especially in tandem with the baseball season.
Joe Loncarich
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I've read so far this year. If you're into baseball, it's a must read. You've got to be a little nerdy to fully appreciate things (so I had no trouble fully appreciating it), but it's well worth your time. Read this book.
Gilles Letourneau
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interested for a stat nerd like I am
Would have expected them to totally take over the team though
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quite fantastic and fun to read.Would recommend regardless of being a stats-oriented fan.
Corey Adams
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
I wanted to LOVE this book - I'm in the advanced analytics crowd when it comes to baseball, and I frequently listen to Effectively Wild and even more so use Fangraphs to view data. Overall, this is a good book. But I wanted more.

I wanted Ben and Sam to have more authority and utilize their strategies more often, whether it's a five-man infield or telling hitters to how to approach counts. Instead, the majority of the book is focused on the duo conflicting with their manager. There's also a lot o
Jake Coleman
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
Non-fiction books are a rarity for me, but this was definitely worth the time. Everyone who plays fantasy baseball wonders what it would be like to get to do that in the real world - so a couple writers at Fangraphs went ahead and gained control of an independent-league team for a season. We the readers get a firsthand account of sabermetric ideas actually directly to the field.

It starts a little slow, but after they start putting together the team and playing games, it's a fun ride. It's anothe
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Two baseball statheads get the keys to the franchise for a season. The franchise is the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific League. Interesting take on sabermetrics and better understanding of what drives baseball players to continue grinding in out in the low, low minors well passed the point where anyone from MLB is interested.
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Two number crunchers are given the chance to assemble an actual baseball team based upon number collection. They have to sell their positions to actual baseball players. A hot button issue is tossed in to show inclusiveness. Insightful, wordsmith, swearing, color photos.
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Ben Lindbergh is a staff writer for FiveThirtyEight and, with Sam Miller, the cohost of Effectively Wild, the daily Baseball Prospectus podcast. He is a former staff writer for Grantland and a former editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus. He lives in New York City.
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“Gonsalves, who’s in there not because he’s the pitcher most likely to get an out, but because Conroy’s the closer, and the closer’s the closer because he’s the closer, bro.” 0 likes
“Its premise, based on the work of political scientists, was that the worst thing a president can do to advance his positions is to state them; as soon as he does, a huge number of people will position themselves in opposition, and they will lose the ability to be swayed by any contradictory evidence. That” 0 likes
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