Angela Gunn Interviews Dan Okrent
Dan Okrent is the owner and general manager of the Valhalla Minstrels, a new Underleague team in the 2001 Cosmic Baseball Association. Besides creating and assuming ownership of the Minstrels, Okrent has written books including 9 Innings: An Anatomy Of A Baseball Game (Houghton-Mifflin, 1994), co-edited The Ultimate Baseball Book (Houghton-Mifflin, updated 2000), and served at various interesting posts in magazine and book publishing, most recently as editor-at-large at Time Inc. He also invented Rotisserie League Baseball, which uses statistics based on currently active Major League ballplayers to formulate teams much like those in the Cosmic Baseball Association. He was interviewed by Angela Gunn, a freelance journalist and co-owner of the Speed City Velocitors, a team in the Underleague. This interview between two competing cosmic team owners took place on 8 November 2001.
Angela Gunn: You've been asked before but I'll go again: Do you expect to be remembered for anything besides Rotisserie?
Dan Okrent: (laughs) Not a chance.
AG: How did you discover the Cosmic Baseball Association?
DO: I read about it in the [New York] Times. I'd never heard of it and when I went online to find it, it was so close to the connection of the rest of life and baseball that has always interested me -- I applied for membership and was excited to get in. My own personal cliché – something I've said in other contexts – is that I love to play baseball, but more than I love to play baseball I love to watch baseball, and more than I love to watch baseball I love to think about baseball. That's what all these [forms of baseball] have in common -- being able to go to bed with baseball on your mind.
AG: What are your plans for the Minstrels, and what are your thoughts on the team's maiden season?
DO: The team finished fifth, which I think is fine for a first-year team. We plan to win the Cosmic Series in five years, as the Diamondbacks won their series.
AG: Any plans to break up your team after that Series, Marlins-style?
DO: (laughs) I'm not going to break up the team. These are all people I really love, without exception. That old idea, if you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead -- at my dinner, half of the Minstrels would show up.
AG: As founder of Rotisserie, do you ever wonder about how things work behind the scenes in the Cosmic leagues? The software?
DO: I haven't asked; I'm perfectly happy to accept that there are certain things beyond the control of mere mortals. As general manager, I'm perfectly happy that a manager can only do so much.
AG: When you started Rotisserie, stats were a different animal -- with the Net you can get pretty much everything in one fell swoop, but that was hardly the case in 1980.
DO: Back then we were doing the stats out of the Sporting News, which published for the National League stats on Wednesday covering games up to the previous Friday. Those of us who are wonkish in this way are thrilled to be wonkish in this way. Bill James, in pondering the joys of the statistical aspects of baseball, said, "A chart of numbers that would put an actuary to sleep can be made to dance if you put it on one side of a card and Bombo Rivera's picture on the other."
AG: You're not doing Rotisserie anymore, right?
DO: I stopped six years ago. The first week of the '96 season I was reading the paper and I had no box scores, no okefenokees to look up -- I had to ask myself how I read these for 32 years, before Rotisserie! I used to spend an hour with the box scores when I was 8, when I was 14, 26, 31 -- and it changed when I was 32 and started doing Rotisserie.
AG: Box scores for box scores' sake.
DO: It is still possible for those of us who care about baseball to recreate what happened from these little lines of type. The greatest data compression in the world today is nothing as compared to this box score invented in the nineteenth century.
AG: Is that the secret? Is it that this tool, the box score, helps us to construct our stories better, or is there something about baseball that makes for better stories?
DO: I think it's both. Slow-paced sports are better for storytelling and prose than what [legendary columnist] Red Smith called the back-and-forth sports. As the infielders dash in and as the pitcher begins his motion you lean forward and you think about it, there in the gaps. You listen to it slowly. You can learn from the box score what happened and, if you're good, in what order these things happened. In basketball, you can't look at the statistics and derive from them [in that fashion].
AG: Do modern ballparks detract from listening slowly?
DO: I became a Cubs fan in my forties. One of my reasons for doing so is that watching a ball game at Wrigley is the same as watching at Briggs Stadium when I was growing up in Detroit – there aren't the shock signs shouting at you and [so on].
AG: What can managers in the mundane leagues learn from their Cosmic counterparts?
DO: What they can learn is how to love their players. That seems to be the case for most of us who play Cosmic -- you appreciate your players, they're there for a reason. I don't think the owners ever had that sentiment.
|The greatest data compression in the world today is nothing as compared to [the] box score invented in the nineteenth century. --Dan Okrent|
"Beloved Founder and Former Commissioner for Life."
|I love to play baseball, but more than I love to play baseball I love to watch baseball, and more than I love to watch baseball I love to think about baseball. --Dan Okrent|
|Slow-paced sports are better for storytelling and prose than what [legendary columnist] Red Smith called the back-and-forth sports. --Dan Okrent|