The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team
Author: Ben Lindbergh
Release Date: May 2016
I’d describe this book as a less accessible version of Moneyball for the general public, or perhaps a more realistic version of Moneyball for hardcore baseball fans. Instead of focusing on a Major League Baseball team, “The Only Rule Is It Has to Work” is the story of the Sonoma Stompers, and Independent League team with almost zero budget in a league roughly ten leagues away from the majors. I was familiar with Ben Lindbergh from Grantland, but not Sam Miller so I was a bit worried when the premise of each writer alternating chapters was implemented. Overall it provided an interesting narrative with different viewpoints, but if I have one criticism of the book it’s that some times I would have liked to read both authors thoughts on a particular point and was left with only one (this is particularly true with the epilogue).
Overall though this was a fantastic read. Numerous ball players you’ve never heard of and will never hear of again become interesting characters as their reasons for being in the league (and chances of being promoted for it) are all unique and at times depressing, hopeful and even funny. The managers, Feh and Yoshi are also treated fairly over the course of the book, with their strengths and weaknesses admitted to even when disproving the “wisdom” of the writers. Although the authors admit to not being able to accomplish all they set out to do the reasons for that are understandable particularly with the limitations on personnel, finances and other resources. The book culminates in a one game winner take all situation that also shows why sports books and movies are often so successful in keeping the reader/viewer invested.
I don’t know that I’d recommend this for non-baseball or even casual baseball fans. But for anybody that’s ever read an article on why one player is better than another or enjoyed drafting their own team on a video game or a fantasy league, this is a must read.