Baseball scheduling begs question: Who’s on first?

Griping Central, better known as Katy Feeney’s office, was open for business this week as usual.

Feeney, a longtime major league baseball official and daughter of former Giants general manager Chub Feeney, has one of the most thankless jobs going. She oversees baseball’s schedule, and the last word any sane person would use to describe her job is “fun.”  Got a complaint? The line forms to the right. And pack a lunch.

“People think I have 30 teams on a dart board, and that’s how I do the schedule,” Feeney said by telephone from her office in New York.

She was joking, of course. For the second consecutive year, the opening-week schedule drew scrutiny and complaints from folks who can’t understand how MLB can bungle something so simple. 

Last year, an entire Seattle-Cleveland four-game series at Jacobs Field was snowed out, and the Indians were forced to move their next series with the L.A. Angels to Milwaukee. Why didn’t the Mariners, who play in a retractable-roof stadium, and the Angels open at home? And why play in Cleveland that early at all? It wasn’t the first time Cleveland had an opener snowed out. It happened in 1996 too, though the Indians and Yankees did play the next day.

Visions of shivers in Chez Pohlad
And if you were among the 49,000 who braved Monday’s snowstorm to attend the Twins-Angels opener at the Metrodome, you probably wondered how many layers of clothing you’ll need in 2010 in the roofless Chez Pohlad, or whatever they’ll call the new place. Baseball’s scheduling wisdom was also questioned in the National League cities, where Arizona (retractable roof stadium) opened at Cincinnati, Milwaukee (retractable roof stadium) was at Chicago, and two Sun Belt teams played each other (Houston at San Diego).

Who actually draws up the schedule? The late Harry Simmons, a baseball executive and historian, did it by hand from 1954 to 1982. Henry and Holly Stephenson, a married couple, compiled it until 2005. Now a consulting group using computers puts it together, and Feeney tries to accommodate special requests.

April schedules always include additional off-days to anticipate bad weather. Traditionally, the day following an outdoor opener is left open in case of a postponement. This way, fans who specifically bought Opening Day tickets can just show up the next day.

But if baseball insists on beginning the season the last week of March, which is obnoxious to begin with, it should play in stadiums where fans won’t freeze to death.

Easier said than done, Feeney said. Baseball tried it in 1997, she said, and the second week of the season featured more rainouts and postponements than a typical first week. 

More importantly, there aren’t enough warm or covered sites to accommodate every game. Take the American League. The Twins departing the Dome leaves six possibilities for seven games – Tampa Bay (dome), Toronto (roof), Seattle (roof), Los Angeles/Anaheim, Texas and Oakland.

Though the National League appears to line up better, with eight sites for eight games – Houston, Florida, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, San Francisco and Milwaukee (roof) – it’s not that simple. Cincinnati, citing tradition, always opens at home, and Washington now insists on it too, Feeney said.

And there are other issues. In two-team markets, like the Bay Area and L.A., MLB rarely schedules both teams at home at the same time because many stadium vendors and employees work at both places. Plus, most teams ask to play the bulk of their home games in June, July and August, when school is out, to maximize attendance.

Of course, the easiest solution – starting the season two weeks later by cutting the schedule to 154 games and making every team play six doubleheaders — has no chance of happening. At least next year’s preliminary schedule has no March games. Opening Day probably will be around April 5-6.   

“I usually figure if 30 teams are unhappy, then we’ve done our job,” Feeney said. “You can take a piece of any major league team’s schedule and find something wrong.”

No one’s saying Feeney and friends have an easy job. They don’t. But there has to be a better solution than this.

 

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