A little while back an individual who was about to hatch from the business world and flutter into the real world asked me about getting a job in the baseball world.
He’d sent out all his resumes, and, after months of anxious perseverating over whether his childhood dream of working around the holy game of the base and ball would happen, he’d gotten a bite.
OMG! What should I do? What should I say? What should I wear?
He wrote me to ask. God only knows why. Of course, I was flattered, but it also made me think: “What advice could I give someone who wants to work in baseball?”
I’ve never actually worked in a front office. I’ve played, covered, commentated, analyzed, and written about the game, but I’ve never had an office or cubicle where baseball decisions went to await my decision.
So what am I? I mean, besides the most overrated big league cup-of-coffee recipient in baseball? Well, I guess I’m a guy who has been put in some unique situations where star-power wasn’t enough to justify my presence. I’ve made a lot with a little in this game, which I guess is why people ask me to help them figure out how to do the same.
Alright, here goes:
If you’re going to winter meetings as one of the cheap suit wearing, sweaty palmed, over anxious, potential interns of some MLB/MiLB club, here is my advice on how to come out ahead.
First, focus on your skills, not your passion.
Everyone that wants to be in the baseball business has a passion for baseball. Some have a love for baseball. Some have a sycophantic lust for baseball. But remember, everyone there is paying a fee, hotel expenses, and travel costs to show up for a chance to swap business cards and get an interview for a job in the business of baseball. You all have a passion for the game (and suffering, apparently). Don’t waste time talking about something everyone already knows— it’s redundant.
Instead, sell yourself. Why you’re qualified, what you know, what you’ve done that sets you apart. You are an asset, a specialty tool, a low cost, high-upside prospect that will deliver in any role. You are above and beyond, so focused on letting people know it in a concise and professional way.
Oh, and you don’t need to say… I know I have a lot to offer…Or … If I could just get my foot in the door. Again, this falls under the redundancy clause. Unless someone is asking you something as trivial as “what would an opportunity in baseball mean to you” there is no need for sentimentality. And, if you’re a interviewer waiting to ask that question, strike it off the list. It’s stupid and you should already know the answer. This is not an American Idol audition.
Next, remember this is an interview for what will most likely be a low level, crap, underpaid version of a standard business function that just happens to fall beneath the tent of baseball.
I don’t mean that to sound demeaning, or poo on your dreams. I’m just trying to give you perspective. Look at the job for what it is and it will help take the stars out of your eyes so you can calm down, focus, and make a strong case for yourself. Composure, maturity, good listening skills—they go a long way. It’s much easier to show you have them when you’re not frothing mentally about how you’re being interviewed by the Yankees.
Another pro tip: don’t go harangue the star media heads if you see them in the hallways. They’re there to work, and it’s one of the most stressful times of the year for them.
Ken Rosenthal is a great man. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about the guy and I always look forward to talking with him. But he also works harder than any sports reporter I know. He’s a machine, and just like I gave Roy Halladay—a different kind of machine—a wide birth on the field, I give Ken one as well. I say hello, I thank him for all his help, then I get the hell out of the way and let him do what he does best.
If you’ve got no agenda besides pleading for some member of the media to help you out on your hunt for a low level baseball or media job, don’t bother them. There is nothing they can do besides patronize you. I say that as a person who has patronized my fair share of folks over the years. On-air talent is on-air talent, not a gateway to getting you hired. If they were, they’d need to know you longer than the 60 seconds they can give you before following up on a rumor.
Another good practice: Don’t take job advice from players who’ve never done anything but play, or be handed jobs because they once played. You might lump me in there, and I would understand, maybe even be flattered, but mind you, I’m not a super-star who can afford not work, but does so because ESPN threw bails of money at me.
John Kruk once gave career advice for young job seekers and it was about the most useless pile of non-information a job seeker could get. Not that there weren’t some factoids mixed in with a lot of humor, but they were mostly obvious nuggets of heard-elsewhere advice, like how everything is recorded these days…cell phones are everywhere… be careful about that.
Instead, go to a lecture that is being taught by someone who covers more business of baseball, but has a smaller caliber name. You’ll get more out of it in the long run.
Speaking of the long run, keep that concept in mind the entire time you are there. Check back with it regularly.
Baseball operations are a very limited track of employment. It funnels you into a tight specialization, and unless you’re really up the ladder, you’re not going to see the kind of money you would in a regular business.
One thing I’ve learned in the baseball business as a whole is working in baseball is not like working in other businesses, especially if you are more focused on the player development side of the operation. Working on the analytical side, the data crunching, money handling, logistics, some sections of administration… That’s a little different. But, if you want to be a baseball scout, some other player focused cog, then you could end up like I did when I filled out a job application for a winter job at the Home Depot after 6 years in the minors: It asked what my previous qualifications were and I wrote “McDonalds and Minor League Baseball.”
Some business skills translate into advancement opportunities more easily than others. The baseball business skill conversation rate isn’t as good. Be aware that your passion for the sport can betray you here. You might not just give up a summer as an unpaid intern, but also a couple years, later on down the road when you have to take some steps back to retool and remarket yourself for work outside of the baseball related world. Know the value of your time, even IF you get the job.
A tip from a person who’s been to winters meetings: Don’t follow the spontaneous swarms. You’re not there to get an autograph or shake a player’s hand or see a live interview. You’re there to get a job. That means that those people who don’t care about shaking a player’s hand or watching a live taping—i.e. the people who’ve been around the business long enough to be inoculated to such events—are enjoying the free time. When a big crowd forms, it’s not because free jobs are getting handed out, it’s because something that people who loooooove baseball are drawn too is happening. In those moments, you do not love baseball, you love employment.
And when you meet that powerful person, famous guy in line, or score the interview, DO. NOT. LIE. Not to them, and especially not to yourself.
Remember this above all else: You are who you are. You know what you’re after. You know why you’re here. Don’t embellish, overplay, or dramatize yourself. Sell, but don’t commit fraud. Be and individual for the reasons that make you individual, singular, unique, rare—then own them.
When you meet someone famous/empowered, you may not be aware of how much insecurity you project just because you think that person has something you need. If you project weakness or lack of identity or toadyism onto them, they’ll see you as forgettable, even a liability.
Some people wilt in the presence of fame or power. Others think fame or power elevates a person above them. Others think that the best way to get what they want from that power source is to passively grovel, laughing like a hyena, smiling like a clown, and otherwise doing things they’d not do when comfortable.
Do you want to run a boardroom someday? Do you want Millionaire man/boy athletes to respect you? Do you want go on major television and explain your team’s million dollar free agent signings? Do you think that will just come to you?
Well, it starts here, and if you don’t know who you are and what you’re after with no bullshit, you’ll look for that from the perceived power source.
You are the power source. If you are secure in that, if you know who you are and what you’re after, other people will as well, and will treat you accordingly.
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