It's Snow Use: Baseball's Scheduling Issues

Doug Pensinger

Major League Baseball has had more postponements this April than any year since 2007. What to do?

You don't need me to tell you that the weather has been putridly cold and wet (and sometimes snowy) in the northeast and midwest this April. Games have been snowed out, colded out and in the case of one doubleheader played in Denver, the first game started when it was 23 degrees. (For good measure, they're expecting 2-4 inches of snow in Denver tomorrow. Fortunately for the Rockies, they're out of town till Friday.)

This has caused all sorts of scheduling havoc, writes Jayson Stark at ESPN.com; the 18 April postponements (which include two Cubs games at Wrigley Field) are the fourth-most for April since 1986 (when MLB started keeping track of such things).

What to do? Stark talked to MLB vice-president Katy Feeney, who's in charge of scheduling, and the answer she gave was "not much":

"No matter what we do, nobody will ever be happy with the schedule," said Feeney, baseball's longtime scheduling guru. "They might find one little piece they like. But I don't think we've ever had a year where everyone's been happy with the schedule."

The Cubs, for example, will complete 24 home dates -- 30 percent of the schedule -- by May 19. It warms up in Chicago by mid-May. Sometimes. What baseball can do, according to Stark, is stop scheduling so many games by teams that make only one trip to a northern city in the season's first two months. It's silly, for example, to have the Cubs' interleague schedule complete before the All-Star break, and to have the Texas Rangers, an interleague opponent the Cubs play once, at Wrigley in April. You could see a postponement coming in that series, and not only did we get one, another game had to be played in off-and-on rain. This isn't good for anyone -- it's bad for players, and though the Cubs announced 26,083 for that April 18 game, no more than about 4,000 were in the seats.

Beyond the Rangers series, the Padres, Rockies, Giants and Mets made, or will make, their only visit to Wrigley before that May 19 date that concludes the Mets series. Baseball has to get smarter than that. Stark's article also mentions something that I advocated when MLB went to 15-team leagues and year-round interleague play this year, an expansion of interleague to 30 games per team:

That would have broken down this way for each team:

* Eighteen games against each division opponent (72).
* Three games against each team in a designated interleague division (15).
* Three games against each team in the "mirror" (East-East, West-West, Central-Central) interleague division (15).
* Six games against each of the other 1O teams in your league (6O).

Not only does this balance perfectly, but it would result in every team playing substantially the same schedule; you'd play 25 of the other 29 teams every year (everyone in your own league, plus 10 of the 15 teams in the other league). Plus, that would preserve the "rivalry" games (Yankees/Mets, Athletics/Giants, Cubs/White Sox, Angels/Dodgers, etc.) at the more reasonable level of one series per year. No matter what Bud Selig thinks, those matchups have kind of lost their luster.

That produces one problem:

Unfortunately, Feeney said, the math doesn't work. All those three-game series, she said, "can't fit" inside a 26-week schedule.

Well, that's true. Six games a week for 26 weeks is 156 games. Stark's article says that a 158-game schedule was "seriously" considered, but no owner wanted to give up the revenue from lost home dates; the 162-game schedule is here pretty much forever. That schedule would, though, fit into a 27-week schedule, which some wouldn't like because it would force the World Series into November every year. An option would be to have every team have six scheduled day/night doubleheaders; that would amount to one a month, and probably could be workable.

Stark points out that the 15-team leagues weren't signed off on last year until pretty late, giving the schedule-makers little time to figure things out. But that resulted in some ridiculously long road trips by West Coast teams who already travel more miles than other clubs:

Instead, these are some of the trips we've seen West Coast teams make this month: New York-Colorado (Padres), New York-Colorado-San Francisco with no off days (Diamondbacks), Oakland-Chicago (Mariners).

And the inconvenience of those itineraries is compounded by night games on getaway days, followed by trips of nearly 2,OOO miles. But that's a never-ending battle between business people and baseball people. And now more than ever, it's a fight the baseball people never seem to win.

Even the Cubs have some not-so-sensible travel; for example, from May 8 through 26, a period of 19 days, they'll go from Chicago to Washington to Chicago to Pittsburgh to Cincinnati. At least that's only one time zone change.

You can't simply say, "Put all the games in warm-weather cities and domes the first month," because those teams don't want front-loaded home schedules either, when kids are in school and families aren't taking vacations. MLB has to be fair to everyone. But you'd think that for those teams in northern cities that likely have to deal with bad weather in April, the schedule-makers could give them mostly divisional home games, which are easier to make up.

In any case, just about everyone in baseball is happy to see the calendar turn to May.

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