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Cold Beer: On Scheduling Stupidity

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As Interleague_Logo.pngalluded to yesterday, I feel compelled to take some time to discuss the fiasco that has become scheduling and Major League Baseball. I will grant that MLB has some unique challenges to making a decent schedule – different numbers of teams in each league, unusual numbers of teams in each division, and the insanity of putting together 162 games – but it seems that every year the schedules get more absurd and further from anything that could be called ‘rational.’

This post was mostly inspired by something I noticed on the Orioles schedule months ago when the official dates for 2010 were announced. As mentioned in previous posts, the Orioles are one of few teams to not start the season on Monday, April 5. As a result, the Orioles play on Tuesday, April 6, a day that most clubs in the league have off. As annoying as that may be to me, it’s acceptable.

What I find silly, though, is the fact that as a result of this irregular start, the Orioles are the only team in the league to play 16 straight games to start their season. From April 6 to April 21, the O’s play every day.

Playing 16 straight games over the course of the season is hardly an unusual occurrence. But 16 straight to start the season is unusual. I’m not claiming any kind of conspiracy or anti-Orioles league bias, just annoyance. Most teams start with several days off in their first two weeks of play, allowing all players (but pitchers especially) to get readjusted to the grueling pace that is baseball season. A day’s rest, even after Opening Day, allows most every club to start their pitchers on a six-day cycle, instead of five, allowing for a nice little curve to the early season.

Even more ridiculous is that the Orioles get to make a cross-country trip in the midst of that 16-game span. Nine games on the east coast lead directly into nine on the west coast, without the customary travel day in between. Again, no conspiracy theories, just frustration.

But the inadequacies of the MLB’s scheduling system do not stop there, nor do they pertain solely to my love of the Orioles. Since the beginnings of interleague play, the introduction of the Rays and Diamondbacks as expansion teams, and the realigning of divisions, the league has found itself including two-game series regularly throughout the season. And to put it plainly, the two-game series is a joke. It has teams traveling more frequently and upsets the balance created in three- and four-game series (namely, that you can’t waltz into town without facing one of your opponent’s top three starters).

The blame for the two-game series lies primarily with interleague play, which also provides its own aggravating roadblocks to a decent scheduling system. Make no mistake, when interleague was introduced, I was fan (a much younger fan). But the reality is that interleague play has lost its luster. More importantly, it creates incredible imbalance across the league, and especially in divisions. For example, in the 14 seasons of interleague, the St. Louis Cardinals have never played the Oakland Athletics, but have played the Los Angeles Angels three times (third upcoming in 2010).

This system is only further complicated by the league’s ‘geographic rivalries’ system for interleague play. There’s two levels of stupidity here. First, it further imbalance. For example, the Orioles are paired with the Nationals; the two teams play each other six times a season. No exceptions, the teams will play six times. For the O’s and Nationals, that’s actually a decent match by record. But using the same system, the Cardinals are paired with the Royals. Advantage? Cardinals (especially while the Cubs get to play the White Sox).

The second level of stupidity, though, is far worse. Currently, there are eight teams who do not have a geographic rival. And because of the unequal number of teams in each league, it would be impossible to match-up appropriately. The result? Some teams play six games against one opponent every year, while other teams get mixed and matched more frequently. While the Mets get to face the Yankees six times annually, the Braves and Phillies get to jump wherever the league desires – Royals, Orioles, Mariners, Blue Jays?

Unfortunately, to your fans and owners alike, interleague is seen as something special. Fans get to see teams and players they may never see otherwise. And owners get to bank on having unusual and rare draws to the park to pad their wallets. In other words, the system isn’t going anywhere.

One last note on baseball scheduling:

There are some days that demand baseball. I advocated in another post that all teams start the season on the same day, and I meant that. But even more important than some arbitrarily set Monday in April are the likes of Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. It is inexcusable that any team not be scheduled to play on any of the above dates.

Honestly, this just baffles me. Memorial Day and Labor Day should be no brainers. From a business standpoint, they are national holidays during the work week and people are begging to get outside and spend money. This year, there are four teams that will not play on Memorial Day. The unofficial start of summer across the nation, and four teams will not be playing. The Orioles are among those four teams, which obviously annoys me. The Red Sox are among those teams as well, which is absolutely mind-boggling. How the Red Sox let the league screw them out of a Memorial Day game is beyond me.

Lucky for the league, Fourth of July is one a Sunday this year and they are protected from their own ineptitude. Otherwise I’m sure we could rant about how a number of teams wouldn’t be playing then either.

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