The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - 19
The man who created an obsession
New York Times Public Editor and Michigan Daily alum
Daniel Okrent talks about his brainchild: Rotisserie Baseball
By Jim Weber Daily Sports Editor
DANIEL OKRENT COULD BE REFERRED
TO AS THE ELI WHITNEY OF THE 20TH
CENTURY. WHITNEY DIDN T RECEIVE
THE COMPENSATION HE DESERVED FOR
THE COTTON GIN, ONE OF THE MOST
IMPORTANT INVENTIONS IN AMERICAN
HISTORY. OKRENT DIDN'T SEE A PENNY
FOR A CREATION USED BY MILLIONS,
ROTISSERIE BASEBALL. WITH A GROUP
OF FRIENDS THAT WOULD "SHOOT SHIT
ABOUT BASEBALL" WITH HIM, OKRENT
STARTED A GAME INSIDE OF A GAME
THAT IS ON ITS WAY TO BECOMING AS
MUCH A PART OF BASEBALL AS CRACKER
JACKS AND "TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL-
GAME. THE MICHIGAN DAILY ALUM
WAS RECENTLY APPOINTED AS THE PUB-
LIC EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES
IN THE WAKE OF THE JAYSON BLAIR
SCANDAL. THE DAILY CAUGHT UP WITH
HIM TO TALK ABOUT THE START OF
ROTISSERIE AND OKRENT'S LOVE FOR
THE NATIONAL PASTTIME.
The Michigan Daily: How did the whole thing get start-
ed back at the La Rotisserie Francaise restaurant in 1980?
Daniel Okrent: It was first a group of pals with which I
had a monthly baseball lunch at that restaurant, La
Rotisserie Francaise (in Manhattan). And we would
just shoot shit about baseball. And when I came up
with the idea, I proposed it to a different group of peo-
ple - I was kind of living in three different places
at the time. And these were some colleagues in
a company I was involved in in Texas and they
thought I was nuts. So I got back to New
York and proposed it to my Rotisserie
Francaise pals and out of that group,
only two said "yes." But then we each
thought of some other people and
thought of some other people and
a month or two later, we had a
lunch at a bar called P.J. Mori-
arty's, which was really the
first time we all got togeth-
er. So I guess it should"
have been called
TMD: I heard
Francaise has since
shut down. How
come it wasn't able to
take advantage of being the home of
fantasy baseball to stay open?
DO: Well it did for a few years,
but it wasn't a very good restaurant.
TMD: When did you guys realize
what you guys had, and when did it
DO: Well we began to get a sense of
it right in that first year because a
couple of us were involved in the
media, and other people in the
media knew about us and there,
was an article about us in The
New York Times and there was a
segment about us on the CBS
Morning News. And the following
year, '81, during the baseball strike, a Sa
lot of baseball writers had nothing to write about. They had
heard about our league. In fact, many press boxes had simi-
lar leagues by the beginning of the '81 season. So in '81,
they wrote about it a lot during the strike, just kind of fill-
ing space. So by '82 it had really begun to spread.
TMD: I heard you had to pull all the stats out of things
like the Sporting News. Did you enjoy having to do that
kind of stuff? How much time did that take?
DO: It took a lot, but we must have enjoyed it or we
wouldn't have done it, those of us who are obsessive coun-
ters of things found it more than tolerable.
TMD: Did you ever think to trademark it as intellectual
DO: It is trademarked, it has been for more than 20 years.
But you don't need the trademark to do it, you don't need
anything. You don't need to buy any pieces or subscribe to
any service. All you need is the box scores. So once the
rules were out, and that got out pretty quickly, then anyone
could do it. I still think it
- is would make a very good
case study at aBusiness
School class: How would
you make money off this
if you had thought of this
thing we were
on the other
form of fanta-
that, so I'm
sure it's swell. I
just don't have
any direct experi-
ence with it.
TMD: I also read you
stopped playing Rotis-
serie Baseball at one
point, and I was won-
dering what brought that
DO: I stopped in '95
and then started again
playing a much more,
kind of, simplified ver-
sion. So I was off for
six or seven years, just
because it became too
much a part of my life
- not the playing of it
- but just being
annoyed by people who
wanted to talk to me
about it all the time ...
(when) people used to follow me into bathrooms. People
are so obsessive about it. And I just got fed up because I
was doing other things. So I dropped it in and it was funny
- that was '95 - and the '96 season started, and I would
open up the paper in the morning - and I used to remem-
ber that before 1980 (the beginning of Rotisserie baseball),
I had always spent a half hour with the box scores in'the
morning. But I had no memory of what it was I was look-
ing for because, in the intervening years, I was just looking
to see how my players had done. So I was like looking at
something in a foreign language. It took me a while to get
back into the swing of reading box scores as a fan.
TMD: Are you turned off by baseball these days,
with big-market teams dominating and the steroid
rumors and things like that?
DO: I'm not crazy about those things, but. .
the game is still the game. The Red Sox took
three out of four from the Yankees
(recently); the Tigers have a
winning record. It still has the
capacity to surprise me. So,
though I wish that there were
more balance between the
teams and I wish the players
were not all pumped on what-
ever substance they are
pumped up on, I can still love
TMD: I hear you are a huge
Cubs fan. How did that happen
when you grew up in Detroit?
DO: When our kids were little, we
were living near a Double-A Cubs
franchise in western Massachusetts. .
And we would take our kids to the
games, and my son became absolute-
ly printed on the Cubs. They had
Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmeiro,
Mark Grace - it was an incredible
minor league team. And he became
so crazy about them that, in time, I
became crazy about them, too. I
inherited it from my son.
TMD: Do you root for the Tigers
or are you solely a Cubs fan?
DO: Ehh, I'm a Cubs fan more. When
I check the American League standings,
I look for the Tigers. Could I tell you 10
members of the team today? No.
TMD: Obviously you were a huge baseball
fan before you started Rotisserie. What is it
about baseball that makes it such a great sport?
DO: I think that when you are watching
baseball, you are a participant. In other words,
you are not overwhelmed by the physical size
of the athletes. You aren't removed from them
because they are wearing enormous layers of
armor or protection. They look like normal people out
there. And the physical way it is spread over a large area, if
you are sitting 20 rows back from the third baseline, you
are as close to the third baseman as the first baseman, and a
lot closer to him than the right fielder is. So I think there is
kind of this almost implicit feel of participation. I also like
the pace of it. People either like the pace of baseball or they
hate the pace of baseball. I think the gaps in time enable
you to get in the game if you want to get into it - to antici-
pate what is coming next.
TMD: Like this?
DO: Well, this
n Francisco's Barry Bonds
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Supporting our Troops
Yung Krall, whose father was the
Viet Cong's ambassador to the
Soviet Union tells how North
Vietnam and the Viet Cong had
actually reached the decision to
surrender, but the protest
movement forced a halt to the US
bombing and saved them. No media
has everreported that; even after
her most recent announcement at
the UM on March 3, 2004.
Gary Lillie & Assoc., Realtors
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