David Samson, the president of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins and the man who negotiated and authorized a $325 million contract, the largest in the history of sports, spoke to an audience of roughly 35 students at a Pierson Tea on Thursday.
The discussion ranged from Samson’s background and career history to his brief stint on CBS’s “Survivor” and a wide array of interesting and frequently humorous topics in between. Despite his background in baseball, Samson touched on an array of topics in his discussion.
“I was expecting to hear what’s the day-to-day [business] for the president of the team,” Evan Green ’17 said. “What are some of the more exciting decisions that they make and what are the processes for that?”
Samson began the discussion by telling the story of the company he founded out of college, News Travels Fast, which also served as his first job after graduating. The company bought issues of The New York Times and sold them to European customers.
“I traveled through Europe as a child … and could not get a [New York] Knicks score except for one day late … which, for me, is the same as being a dollar short,” Samson said.
Beginning with stuffing his luggage with Saturday night newspapers, hopping on a plane to Paris and “distributing them throughout [the continent],” he developed his business until the Internet’s popularity exploded. Then, he knew it was time “to fold ’em,” and move on.
He informed his audience of the necessity to be persistent in the journey to success, with an anecdote of how he tracked down the executive editor of The New York Times, and “posed as a schlepper” to hand-deliver a letter seeking a partnership between the two companies. He informed the audience that in business sometimes one has to live by his credence: “Forgiveness is easier to ask for than permission.”
Samson moved on to work as a consultant in Asia, before he “met a guy from Morgan Stanley,” and went to work on Wall Street. Following his stint in New York, he became an executive vice president for the Montreal Expos before signing on in 2002 to become the president of the Marlins — the job he still holds today.
The transfer from Wall Street to baseball, Samson noted, might seem somewhat odd to the casual observer. He explained to the audience that “one of the biggest misconceptions about baseball is how glamorous it is,” and in reality “it’s a business.” He was successful in the transition because he simply “took the lessons [he] learned and brought them into baseball.”
Samson then shifted the topic of the discussion to what he looks for when he is hiring. He told the audience, who could not help but laugh, of some of the common mistakes he finds on resumes. He eliminates 200 of the 300 resumes he receives a week “with just grammatical mistakes,” an additional 6 percent who “put a p in [his] name” and 15 a week who tell him how excited they are to work for a team other than the Marlins.
He then talked about his skeptical view of baseball’s shift toward an increase in the use of sabermetrics, or analytics.
“We are looking for people who have the ability to understand analytics, but also have eyes, and also have the ability to actually scout, and to actually make decisions on the baseball side that are not based on just numbers,” Samson said.
Adam Jenkinson ’18, who attended the talk, said he found Samson’s talk interesting because Samson helped him realize that baseball is a business.
“A very small part of it is actually playing,” Jenkinson said.