10 Things to Learn from Working at the Ballpark [Baseball, Sports Jobs]


Working at the Ballpark: The Fascinating Lives of Baseball People from Peanut Vendors and Broadcasters to Players and Managers by Tom Jones should be first on the list of books to check out if you would like to work in the sports industry, and most especially, baseball. It’s the sports equivalent of It’s a Living by Dr. Gerard Sasges, which discusses the working lives of Vietnamese.

Almost any job you might imagine, from the famous (ball player) to (seemingly) mundane (ball boy), is in the book as Jones interviews people across multiple baseball clubs about their jobs. Interviewees simply talk about what their working lives are like, and overall, two things stand out – 1) they love their jobs 2) working in Sports is long hours.

The book serves as a listing of all the things you could do in Sports, with the interviews providing insights on what day to day life is like, the pros and cons, and also implicit tips to consider on how you might want to differentiate yourself when applying. I really learned a lot from the interviews with specific coaches (do you know the full extent of what a bench coach or 3rd base coach does?) as well as team staff such as the Director of Entertainment (Baseball is entertainment today, not just a sports game. The ball park is like an amusement park with lots of side attractions for the family), Groundskeeper, and the Traveling Secretary.

To list the 10 best things to learn was a bit difficult since the book covers so many jobs, but I hope you’ll still gain some insights and check the book out. I’ve added job descriptions in [] to clarify each excerpt.

1) [Managing General Partner] “Baseball teams are small businesses. We’re not talking about General Motors here. We’re talking about $150 million or so in revenue. That’s not a real big business. The profile we have is so extraordinary that it’s a great platform for representing the city, and leading other businesses in the sense of corporate citizenship. Many people think that professional franchises are one indice of municipal status. So in that sense, I think it’s more of a quality of life issue than it is an economic, or standard of living, issue. I think baseball, and other professional sports, do have an economic impact, but I think it’s far surpassed by just the psychic benefit that’s derived from a city from being associated with a successful professional franchise. It can be an economic catalyst, but more importantly, I think it can be a cultural societal leader.”

2) [Senior Director of Player Personnel] You’re risking years of your life trying to get to the major leagues, and you are not really getting there because of the money. You’re getting there so you can say that you’re a major leaguer. If you’re not going to be one of those guys that really makes the money, you’re risking possibly ten years of your life. You’ve got a good chance of coming out of high school or college and being twenty-eight, twenty-nine years old, and really have no skills for the job market.

3) [Pitching Coach] The lowest batting average in the history of baseball is [against] the down-and-away strike. All the great pitchers own that part [of the strike zone]. When you own down-and-away, that allows you to go to all the areas of the strike zone.

4) [Manager] nobody should ever beat you mentally. I think that’s the thing that separates the good teams from the mediocre teams. How do you cultivate that? You just have to talk about it a lot, especially in extra-innings games where you get into a tough spot, then you really see guys bear down. They get through it and come out on the other side and win the ballgame. Then you point to it and say, “We were mentally tough tonight.” It becomes a part of the culture.

5) [Player] about the pureness of trying to hit it right. I like to hit, but the end-all is the feeling of when the ball is hit perfect—just like a golf shot if you smoke one right down the middle of the fairway with your best drive. That’s the physical feeling. What that feels like is the same in any sport: same with a tennis racket, same with any ball-striking sport. What that feels like is what it’s all about. That’s what I’m after. A home run is the one that is the ultimate. But the fact is if you strike it, it feels the same on a home run as it does when you strike it square on a low liner. That feeling is indistinguishable to me.

6) [Umpire] I guarantee you very few people actually know the rules. There are some that are tough enough where it would take four umpires together to make a decision. Let’s take interference for instance. In the rulebook, it says, “No runner shall advance or score on interference.” It’s plain and simple. There it is. Four pages later, there’s a situation where there’s interference and a guy can score. Well, wait a minute; you told me no one could ever score on interference on page ten, but on page twenty-two a man can.

7) [Ticket Reseller] They used the term “ticket scalping.” When I said, “This is wrong. I see what you’re doing here,” they came after me. So I’m in court, and it was “Scalper-this, John-scalper that.” I stood up and I said to the judge, “Listen, that term is a racist term. It doesn’t belong in your court-room. It’s denigrating to the American Indian. It’s like calling an Irishman a ‘bogtrotter’ or a Jewish person a ‘kike’ or a black person a ‘nigger.’” I said that he shouldn’t have that kind of a term in his vocabulary.

8) [Writer / Journalist] So, yeah, what often happens in sports is you will quote players accurately and you will quote them in context, but then they’ll get grief from their teammates or from the organization, and they’ll come back and claim that they were taken out of context or that was supposed to be off the record. It really is smart if you’re talking to a player on a touchy subject to lay the ground rules, “Is this off the record? Is this on the record? Is this on the record, but not for attribution?” Just to make sure that you’ve got your bases covered with the player.

9) [Groundskeeper] Once the game starts, it’s in the umpires’ hands. The umpires make the call. Any other time, it’s up to the general manager and the groundskeeper. Most of the time, the groundskeeper decides, “Am I gonna put it on overnight, or not?” If we have a chance of rain overnight, and you don’t cover the field and you get to game time and your infield’s too sloppy to play—but it’s not raining—then you lose the game, and it’s the groundskeeper’s fault. You don’t want that to happen to you. You could lose your job whether it’s in the minor league where you might have five thousand dollars at risk, or whether it’s in the major leagues where you have over a million dollars at risk. So that’s always on your mind. People say, “Luke, why don’t you put the tarp on every night just to be sure?” Well, if you do that, the grass will die. You’ve got to really manage it properly. When you put that tarp on, especially in the summer, it’s creating like a big incubator dish for disease, and the next thing you know you’ve get a big square dead spot out there that’s 170 feet by 170 feet. My rule of thumb was: If there was a 30-percent chance of a quarter inch, or more, I would put it on; if there was a 20-percent chance of an eighth of an inch, probably not. That was something that I was used to, but always dreamt about the Southwest and how those guys didn’t have to pull the tarp much.

10) [Director of Entertainment] One of the things about baseball that I feel, and I think that many people feel, is that it’s so different than any other sport because of the pace of the game, which is criticized a lot. What it allows is for you and your family to come to a game, and be able to converse while things are going on. To relax and enjoy the company of each other while still being able to follow the game, whereas, in hockey and some of the other games, you can’t do that.

10a – BONUS!) [Director of Merchandising] Like most retailers, we do a large amount of our business in the last quarter of the year, so we’re continually selling Indians product. We sell everything from shot glasses, keychains, pins, plush blankets, throws, T-shirts, hats, foam fingers, pens, pencils to three- to six-inch Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner bobbleheads. We carry authentic merchandise for authentic fans. I mean, you can go to any other retailer and find a T-shirt or a hat, but you can’t go there and find a set of poker chips and playing cards, or golf balls. You can’t find vintage pieces like a Satchel Paige figurine in motion, where he’s actually throwing the ball. We pride ourselves on doing the things that are outside the normal retail chain.

10 Things to Learn from Poor Economics (by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo)

imagePoor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty from Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, has a very simple theme: every thing you thought about fighting poverty and people in poverty is wrong. They do not actually state this in that way, but over the course of the book, I realized that every blanket and lazy assumption I had ever thought (the poor are poor because they are lazy, the poor cannot be given things for free, the poor are too poor to pay for things) was wrong.

What is important, however, is that Banerjee and Duflo discuss in detail, when these certain assumptions or theories can work, and with whom, and why they do not work. From the book, you get a detailed understanding of their endless cycles of “why?” something happens, and then why the following something happens, using statistical examples all over the world. There’s no time wasted on endless armchair-at-home theory, it’s just real world testing providing proof.

My recommended takeaway from the book is never accept a blanket theory or simplified solution from a politician (or other economists) regarding poverty again. There are many things that can help, but none is a genius solution. Every single thing you can think of can probably help, but instead of choosing the cool one of the day (microfinance! government subsidies! education! first world aid!), we must realize that these are all required to slowly help people from their poverty traps. Beyond this, embrace a more empathic understanding of the poor all over the world.

Here are 10 things to learn from Poor Economics (these are quotes with my comments in []):

1) Economists (and other experts) seem to have very little useful to say about way some countries grow and others do not … But the truth is, we are largely incapable of predicting where growth will happen, and we don’t understand very well why things suddenly fire up.

2) … although we have no magic bullets to eradicate poverty, no one-shot cure-all, we do know a number of things about how to improve the lives of the poor. In particular, five key lessons emerge.

First, the poor often lack critical pieces of information and believe things are not true [examples: benefits of immunizing children; value of education, even just a few years; what politicians actually do; how HIV is contracted] … Citizens who vote in the dark are more likely to vote for someone of their ethnic group [reasoning that at least someone of the same group may provide a little help], at the cost of increasing bigotry and corruption … an information campaign must have several features: It must say something that people don’t already know … must do so in an attractive and simple way … must come from a credible source.

3) Second, the poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives. The richer you are, the more the “right” decisions are made for you. The poor have no piped water, and therefore do no benefit from the chlorine that the city government puts into the water supply. [think of this as, in the United States, you are in forced to live a certain way and pay taxes for it. You have clean, running water, fluoride to protect your teeth, mandatory immunizations, taxes to cover Medicare and Social Security retirement. You have to participate in these programs, and in some ways, these protect you from being completely screwed. The poor do not have these programs and suffer in productivity because of extra disease and risk when something bad happens]

4) [Third] The poor get a negative interest rate from their savings accounts (if they are lucky enough to have an account) and pay exorbitant rates on their loans (if they can get one) because handling even a small quantity of money entails a fixed cost. [The people who need financial help the most are most unable to get it. 20% interest loans would be considered fantastic to the poor, but theft to the non-poor; credit card rates are 20%. Despite this, it is difficult for financial institutions to support these institutions because of the risk, admin work, and relatively low returns involved] The market for health insurance for the poor has not developed, despite the devastating effects of serious health problems in their lives, because the limited insurance options that can be sustained in the market (catastrophic health insurance, formulaic weather insurance) are not what the poor want.

5) The mistrust of free distribution of goods and services among various experts has probably gone too far, even from a pure cost-benefit point of view. It often ends up being cheaper, per person served, to distribute a service for free than to try to extract a nominal fee. In some cases, it may involve ensuring that the price of a product sold by the market is attractive enough to allow the market to develop. For example, governments could … distribute vouchers that parents can take to any school … It is important to keep in mind that these subsidized markets need to be carefully regulated to ensure they function well. For example, school vouchers work well when all parents have a way of figuring out the right school for their child; otherwise, they can turn into a way of giving even more of an advantage to savvy parents.

6) [Four] Many of these failures are less to do with some grand conspiracy of the elites to maintain their hold on the economy and more to do with some avoidable flaw in the detailed design of policies and the ubiquitous three I’s: ignorance, ideology, and inertia. … The fad of the moment (be it damns, barefoot doctors, microcredit, or whatever) it turned into a policy with any attention to the reality within which it is supposed to function.

7) A small revolution can be achieved by making sure that everyone is invited [explicitly] to village meetings; by monitoring government works and holding them accountable for failures in performing their duties by monitoring government politicians at all levels and share this information with voters … [the book mentions that just by having political voting, even if it is considered pre-determined, can improve things by creating an early level of accountability]

8) [Five] Finally, expectations about what people are able or unable to do all too often end up turning into self-fulfilling prophecies. Children give up on school when their teachers (and sometimes their parents) signal to them that they are not smart enough to master the curriculum; fruit sellers don’t make the effort to repay their debt because they expect that they will fall back into debt very quickly; nurses stop coming to work because nobody expects them to be there …

9) Small changes can have big effects. … Kids in Kenya who were treated for their worms at school for two years, rather than one (at the cost of $1.36 USD PPP per child and per year, all included), earned 20 percent more as adults every day, meaning $3,269 USD PPP over a lifetime.

10) Poverty has been with us for many thousands of years. If we have to wait another fifty or hundred years for the end of poverty, so be it. At least we can stop pretending there is some solution at hand…

10 Things to Learn from Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy


Looking at Clayton Kershaw, I imagine he’s close to being this generation’s Sandy Koufax, both being left-handed Dodgers strike-out kings. As long as Kerhaw doesn’t lose velocity like Tim Lincecum of the Giants or deal with injuries like Koufax, there’s no reason why he won’t be one of the best ever. Jane Leavy’s Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy is an excellent biography of the Jewish superstar, and here are ten key things I learned about him:

1) Koufax held the ball aloft to show the proper grip on the curveball: between the middle and ring fingers with his middle finger resting inside the long seam of the ball. His thumb, index finger, and even his ring finger were largely superfluous. He threw his curve off his middle finger, karate-chopping the air, pulling down on the seams with uncommon force and friction, thus generating unprecedented spin. “When you push back up, you’ve got to bend your wrist, hook it, so your hand is almost inside your arm,” he explained. “You can’t throw it as hard. You can’t spin it as fast pushing up as you can pulling back down.” Pulling down also places less stress on soft tissue and prevents the ball from popping up into view. In photos, you can see his thumb sticking straight up as if hitching a ride.

2) ‘Look at that guy, he’s built like a Greek god.’ We looked. It was Koufax. He was sixteeen years old then.” “Nobody knew how strong Sandy was,” Buzzie Bavasi said. “Great upper body. Got it from his mother. Lovely woman.” Great lower body too. In a pickup basketball game at the YMCA, Cohen said, “he split his gym shorts, his thighs were so big. Cheap shorts.”

3) When he was growing up, baseball was neither Koufax’s dream nor his passion. His dream was to play for the New York Knicks. Wilpon was the sandlot star for whom a major league career was confidently predicted, the boy with all the tools, a polished pitcher at age sixteen who piqued every scout’s interest. Koufax was a tagalong. Sometimes he kept Wilpon company when he was summoned to Ebbets Field to throw batting practice. The Dodgers made Wilpon an offer; he does not remember how much. “Everybody got an offer,” he says.

4) As for throwing behind the barracks, everyone did—that’s where the string area was. Joe Pignatano caught him in the spring of 1955. “Everybody said, ‘Sandy’s wild, wild, wild,’” Pignatano said. “He was not that wild. A little high and low in the strike zone. Once they put that tag on you it stays with you. They never stayed with Sandy long enough to give him a chance until later when they had nobody else.”

5) Drysdale came sidearm; Koufax came over the top. Drysdale’s ball beat you up, Koufax’s rose to greet you. “Drysdale was like going to the dentist without Novocain,” Joey A. liked to say. “Sandy had the Novocain.” Facing him was painful only in retrospect.

6) Though he was a heavy smoker and the surgeon general’s report on tobacco hadn’t yet been released, he would not be photographed smoking a cigarette. In an era when caution labels were not yet required reading, he refused to endorse either tobacco or alcohol. He did a sweater ad. He owned a piece of a motel on the Sunset Strip, Sandy Koufax’s Tropicana Inn.

7) In the spring of 1966 to say of a man he’d a played for nuthin’ was the ultimate accolade and the ultimate fiction. They played for money, just a lot less of it. The conceit of mercenary selflessness is a fin de siècle construct, a gauzy, revisionist mythology which allowed fans to think better of their heroes and owners to keep salaries down. When spring training camps opened that February, the minimum player salary was $7,000—one thousand dollars more than it was when Koufax signed with the Dodgers in 1955. Winning mattered. World series checks weren’t just latte money.

8) The Dodgers not only counted on him to win, they counted on him to make them all better, to infuse even the most modest among them with his quiet bravado. If he was bullet-proof, so were they. He wasn’t exaggerating when he told Ron Fairly late in the season, referring to rookie Jim Barbieri, “If I pitch well from here on out, I can double the man’s income.” And when a television network offered him $25,000 to film a documentary on a day in his life, he said he would do it for $35,000—and only if $1,000 was given to every member of the team and coaching staff.

9) Doctors were injecting steroids directly into the elbow joint. Once he had an adverse reaction. He was lying on the training table when infielder Jim Lefebvre walked in. “His arm, it was, like, twice the size,” Lefebvre said. “It was like a boil. I looked at him and I said, ‘Oh, my God, your season’s over.’ He looked at me and he goes, ‘No, no, Frenchie, it’s too late in the season. I won’t miss my start.’ And he didn’t.”

10) On September 9, 1965, Sandy Koufax and Bob Hendley pitched one of the best baseball games ever played. Hendley pitched a one-hitter, the game of his life, and lost on a young catcher’s error. The only run scored on a walk, a sacrifice, a stolen base, and a bad throw. As Scully said, “The only hit, you almost couldn’t dignify as one.” Hendley’s teammate, Ken Holtzman, calls it “the greatest loss in baseball history.”

10 Things to Learn from Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy

imageIt has been a couple of years since I read Dev Petnaik’s Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, so I was glad to find my notes and highlights from the reading to review. Empathy, in my opinion, is the most critical attribute to have in managing people and developing products. It’s the biggest reason for the success in my professional career thus far, and I use it to constantly reassess how I can improve in both aspects.

I think failing to talk to people, to understand why people have certain experiences or opinions, that willingness to “pound the pavement”, as I once heard a friend say, takes away a tremendous tool in your potential. Empathy allows you to accept that you (no, that guy is not just dumb) are wrong, and improve yourself.

Here are 10 notable quotes to remember from Wired to Care:

1) Based on her work, companies as diverse as Boeing, Merck, and Toyota developed new offerings that grew their businesses and differentiated their products. It turns out that senior citizens aren’t just some niche market—they reflect unarticulated needs that many of us have. When you make doors that are easier for seniors to open, you make life easier for all of us, young and old. Through her work, Pattie Moore has helped to make life a little bit more livable for people in many parts of the world.

2) [Harley Davidson] the company was on the verge of bankruptcy as strong Japanese competitors eroded market share and introduced cheaper, lighter models that undercut all of Harley’s product line. In response, Harley refocused its attention away from itself and onto the people who rode its motorcycles. They energized the Harley Owners Group into an army of evangelists. Harley transformed itself into an icon of American freedom. The widespread empathy that Harley employees had for riders helped them make a thousand better decisions every day.

3) In keeping IBM together, Lou Gerstner defied the advice of Wall Street analysts, competitors, and even some of his own lieutenants. He was able to transcend a barrage of bad information because he possessed contextual knowledge that others lacked: the experience of being an IBM customer. The existence of category specialists like Oracle and Intel wasn’t an argument to break up the company. On the contrary, it was because there were so many specialty players that an integrator was needed. Corporate customers simply didn’t want to get into the business of designing their own multiplatform technology solutions.

4) The challenges facing the makers of Tubbs Snowshoes going forward reflect an important truth of the global economy: It’s much harder to succeed when you create things for people you don’t know and whose lives seem alien to your own. When companies make products for people who live far away from them, they often make silly mistakes in their design and marketing. These mistakes are caused at least in part by linguistic and cultural differences.

5) During their heyday, U.S. automakers created programs that gave their top managers use of their latest vehicles for next to nothing. Senior executives didn’t even have to pump their own gas. At the same time, auto companies created the A Plan, which offered every employee a deep discount any time they decided to buy a new car. Those discounts applied to friends and family of employees, too. Anyone connected to a car company could buy a brand-new American car at prices below wholesale. While this made it great to be a car company employee, it also served to make people at car companies different from the rest of us. Drivers in Detroit switch cars more often and for less money than people anywhere else in the country.

Many of Detroit’s problems stem from the fact that decision makers have little incentive to try out other manufacturers’ cars. They don’t view the market through the eyes of ordinary Americans.

6) The neuroscientists called their discovery “mirror neurons” because they allow us to replicate in our heads what we see other people doing. Remarkably, mirror neurons not only light up when we perform an action, but also when we watch someone else perform an action. If you turn a page in a book, a specific set of mirror neurons lights up. If you watch someone else turn a page, the same set of mirror neurons lights up. And that’s not all. Incredibly, even if someone just describes page-turning to you, a similar set of mirror neurons will light up.

This makes mirror neurons incredibly important for learning. When you watch someone else expertly dribble a basketball, your mirror neurons start to help you learn how to get better at it yourself. On a subconscious level, we learn just by watching. The most incredible power of mirror neurons, however, is their ability to pick up on tacit information about other people. They do more than help you learn; they help you experience other people’s lives.

7) [Empathy in organizational change] Real strategy is the aggregate of thousands of decisions that employees make over time. When you improve those decisions, you improve your strategy.

8) Target corporate headquarters used to be the same way. It wasn’t unusual to see executives wearing the same clothes that they helped put on the shelves. That changed in 2004 when Target created a strict dress code requiring formal business attire. Changing the dress code created two obstacles to empathy. First, Targeteers no longer looked like their customers. Second, and more important, they now had to shop at other stores to buy clothing that was more suitable for work.

9) In its New York offices is a wall covered with hundreds of lost gloves, all hanging in neat rows. The gloves range from fashionable ladies’ gloves to construction workers’ gloves to children’s mittens. Whenever OXO employees find a lost glove on the street, they bring it into the office and hang it on the wall. It serves as a reminder of all the different kinds of people and all the different kinds of hands that OXO products need to fit.

10) They have understanding without empathy. That can result in a lot of really awful solutions. People start making geriatric kitchen devices that they themselves would never think of buying. They shrug and say that this is what the customer wants. They have some understanding of the outside world, but they still view that world as a weird place, populated by people who are not like them.

10 Things to Learn from Smile (by Ron Gutman)

imageOver the years, I have really focused on (and hopefully improved) my ability to speak to people and use body language to create a friendly presence, particularly in business settings. This is how I became interested in Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act (Kindle Single) (TED Books). Although my friend Annie hinted at the power of the smile to me years ago, I didn’t quite realize its impact until reading this short Kindle Single. It’s easy to ready, understand, and only costs $1.99.

Most importantly, you can take away several things to remember that will help you in life.

Here are the ten most notable excerpts I took away from it:

1) Unlike in Japan, in America, smiling at strangers is considered quite normal. On the other hand, frowning at strangers for no reason is considered uncivil and even rude. Interestingly, in some countries, such as Russia, smiling at strangers is regarded as suspicious behavior, so frowning at smiling strangers is completely normal.

2) research from Hokkaido University in Japan, as well as from Northwestern University in the United States and the University of Alberta in Canada, has shown that when someone smiles with the mouth only—and not with the eyes—the smile is not commonly recognized by the Japanese as a “real” smile. On the other hand, when people smile with their eyes but not with their mouths, Americans often don’t recognize these as a “real” smiles. This explains the difference in smiley emoticons in America :-), which use neutral eyes and smiling mouth, and those in Japan ^_^, which use neutral mouth and smiling eyes.

3) When we see a big, toothy grin that shows upper and lower teeth, we’re more likely to identify (correctly) the smiler as British rather than American;

4) feel good has been noted by the well-known findings that when mothers look at pictures of their own babies smiling, it substantially lights up powerful pleasure-related areas of their brain. These are the same dopamine-associated reward-processing regions that other studies have shown to be strongly associated with addictive opiates like cocaine. Luckily, smiling is actually good for moms and children!

5) I learned a tip that I continue to use every day: smile first thing when you wake up every morning. It sounds simplistic, but try it yourself and you’ll discover the magic of this simple act: when your first act of the day is to smile your entire day is primed in a positive way and you begin your day with a fresh, optimistic start.

6) While daily smiling may make us feel as good as if we’ve had chocolate, I’ve also discovered that its actual impact is really much closer to eating an apple a day.

7) Indu Subaiya, who used smiling to transform her experience of natural childbirth. In Indu’s words, “I smiled through my natural, drug-free labor and fully believe it transformed the whole experience. I recommend smiling to all women going through childbirth!”

8) the “genuine” smile—the smile that arrives spontaneously and reflects pure delight. A genuine smile, according to Duchenne and Darwin, involves contracting both the muscles that raise the corners of the mouth (the zygomatic major muscle) as well as those that raise the cheeks and creates those little “crow’s feet” around the eyes (the orbicularis oculi). A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle.

9) The contagious nature of smiles works even among strangers, including strangers who have no intention to connect or affiliate with one another.

10) Roni wrote, “I make an extra effort to smile at people who clean up after us. Specifically, when I’m in a public bathroom or a bathroom at work and I see a janitor, I try to make eye contact, smile, and say thank you. I noticed my mom doing this when I was a child, and I saw that it created a little bit of extra respect and happiness