Daniel Okrent

Daniel Okrent (born April 2, 1948) is an American writer and editor. He is best known for having served as the first public editor of The New York Times newspaper, inventing Rotisserie League Baseball,[1] and for writing several books (such as Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, which served as a major source for the 2011 Ken Burns/Lynn Novick miniseries Prohibition). In November 2011, Last Call won the Albert J. Beveridge prize, awarded by the American Historical Association to the year's best book of American history. His most recent book, published May 2019, is The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America.[2]

Early life and education

Born to a Jewish family[3] in Detroit, Michigan, Okrent graduated from Cass Technical High School in Detroit[4] in 1965 and from the University of Michigan, where he worked on the university's student newspaper The Michigan Daily.


Most of his career has been spent as an editor, at such places as Alfred A. Knopf; Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich; Esquire Magazine; New England Monthly; Life Magazine; and Time, Inc.

His book Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (Viking, 2003) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History.

In October 2003, Okrent was named public editor for The New York Times following the Jayson Blair scandal. He held this position until May 2005.

Okrent and Peter Gethers, having acquired the theatrical rights to the site and name of the web series Old Jews Telling Jokes, co-wrote and co-produced a revue of that name.[5] It opened at the Westside Theatre in Manhattan on May 20, 2012.

From 2003-2008, he was chairman of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. He has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Since 2017, Okrent has been listed on the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition for America.[6]

Okrent's law

Okrent formulated what has become known as "Okrent's law" in an interview comment he made about his new job. It states: "The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true", referring to the phenomenon of the press providing legitimacy to unsupported fringe viewpoints in an effort to appear even-handed.[7][8][9][10]


Okrent invented Rotisserie League Baseball, the best-known form of fantasy baseball, in 1979. The name comes from the fact that he proposed the idea to his friends while dining at La Rôtisserie Française restaurant in New York City. Okrent's team in the Rotisserie League was called the "Okrent Fenokees", a pun on the Okefenokee Swamp. He was one of the first two people inducted into the Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame.[11] Okrent was still playing Rotisserie as of 2009 under the team name Dan Druffs. Despite having been credited with inventing fantasy baseball he has never been able to win a Rotisserie League. His exploits of inventing Rotisserie League Baseball were chronicled in Silly Little Game, part of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series, in 2010.[12]

Okrent is also credited with inventing the baseball stat, WHIP.[13] At the time he referred to it as IPRAT, signifying "Innings Pitched Ratio".

In May 1981, Okrent wrote and Sports Illustrated published "He Does It by the Numbers".[14] This profile of the then-unknown Bill James launched James's career as baseball's foremost analyst.[15]

In 1994, Okrent was filmed for his in-depth knowledge of baseball history for the Ken Burns documentary Baseball.[16] During the nine-part series, a red-sweater-wearing Okrent delivered a detailed analysis of the cultural aspects of the national pastime, including a comparison of the dramatic Game 6 of the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds to the conflict and character development in Russian novels.

The death of print

In the late 1990s, as editor of new media at Time Inc., Okrent wrote about the future of magazine publishing.[17] He believed that the advancement of digital technologies would make it easier for people to read newspapers, magazines and books online.[18] In late 1999, Okrent made a prediction about the future of print media in the Hearst New Media Lecture at the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University.[17] He told his audience:

I believe they, and all forms of print, are dead. Finished. Over. Perhaps not in my professional lifetime, but certainly in that of the youngest people in this room. Remove the question mark from the title of this talk. The Death of Print, full stop.[19]

Personal life

Okrent has participated in LearnedLeague under the name "OkrentD".[20][21]


  • The Ultimate Baseball Book (co-editor, with Harris Lewine) (1979)
  • Nine Innings: The Anatomy of Baseball as Seen Through the Playing of a Single Game (1985)
  • Baseball Anecdotes (co-author, with Steve Wulf) (1987)
  • The Way We Were: New England Then, New England Now (1988)
  • Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003)
  • Public Editor #1 (2006)
  • Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010)
  • The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America (2019)


See also


  1. Derry, Jim (March 28, 2011). "Ready for your fantasy baseball draft? Here are some simple rules to live by". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved April 24, 2011.
  2. Gross, Terry (May 8, 2019). "Eugenics, anti-immigration laws of the past still resonate today, journalist says". Fresh Air. NPR.
  3. Okrent, Daniel (April 29, 2012). "Kvelling in Their Seats - A first-time producer on what it took to stage Old Jews Telling Jokes". New York.
  4. "Getting the 'Lowdown'". Entertainment Weekly. January 7, 2000.
  5. Okrent, Daniel. "Kvelling in Their Seats". New York Magazine. New York Magazine. Retrieved December 25, 2016.
  6. "Board". secular.org. Secular Coalition for America. Archived from the original on January 4, 2017. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  7. Pearlman, Jeff (October 11, 2012). "Daniel Okrent". Jeff Pearlman. Jeff Pearlman. Archived from the original on January 6, 2013. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  8. "The New Yorker". Issues 1–10. 80. F-R Publishing Corporation. May 24, 2004: 244. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. Hoffman, Sam; Spiegelman, Eric (2010). Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs (Trade Paperback ed.). Random House Publishing Group. p. 198. ISBN 9780345522450.
  10. Schwarz, Daniel R. (2012). "6 Counter-Reformation or the Way We Are (I)". Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times 1999-2009 (Albany: Excelsior Editions ed.). State University of New York Press. p. 205. ISBN 9781438438962. OCLC 702357541. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  11. "Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame". fsta.org. February 17, 2019.
  12. "30 for 30". ESPN. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  13. Di Fino, Nando (August 3, 2009). "Dan Okrent Invented WHIP Statistic, Fantasy Baseball". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
  14. Okrent, Daniel (May 25, 1981). "He Does It By The Numbers". sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on August 13, 2009. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
  15. Chafets, Ze'ev (2009). Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame. New York: Bloomsbury USA. p. 44. ISBN 9781596915459. OCLC 305422137.
  16. "Dan Okrent: The Origins of Rotisserie Baseball – The Tenth Inning". pbs.org. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
  17. Lieb, Thom (March 2001). "Q. & A.: Breaking News". The Journal of Electronic Publishing. 6 (3). doi:10.3998/3336451.0006.306. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  18. Nayar, Pramod K. (2004). Virtual worlds: culture and politics in the age of cybertechnology. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. p. 117. ISBN 9780761932284.
  19. Okrent, Dan (February 2000). "The Death of Print?". digitaljournalist.org. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  20. "LL Profile: OkrentD". LearnedLeague. Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  21. Kushner, Adam B. (August 20, 2014). "The coolest, weirdest Internet community you'll never be able to join". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
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