The threat and eventual reality of Hurricane Irene caused many teams along the East coast to reformat their remaining schedules. The Phillies, for instance, rescheduled their Sunday afternoon game with the Florida Marlins to Saturday as part of a day-night double-header. Irene showed up early and washed both games out, forcing the Phillies to move both games to September 15, their last scheduled off-day of the regular season. From August 29 to September 28, the Phillies will play 33 games in 31 days.
The Baltimore Orioles have had it tougher than anyone. Along with hurricane preparation, they have had to deal with the suicide of team icon and fan-favorite Mike Flanagan. The Yankees, in an attempt to save their last remaining off-day on September 15, wanted to schedule a double-header for Friday, but the Orioles had already planned a tribute to Flanagan and did not agree to the change. Of course, this started some back-and-forth between representatives of both teams.
Ultimately, the problem lies with Major League Baseball and its rather inflexible scheduling. We had warning of Irene several days in advance, but the most any team could do was to schedule day-night double-headers either to the end of the upcoming series or to a remaining series in September, if one existed. Or, they could move a game to one of the few remaining off-days left before the end of the season.
In the past, MLB has received criticism for downtime in the post-season. As a result, the Division Series now starts on September 30, giving teams just one off-day after the end of the regular season. The DS is scheduled to last through October 7, so if the any series goes all five games, the winning team could play the very next day as the League Championship Series starts on October 8.
The MLB schedule assumes the best possible outcome, which is that all games are played as scheduled; acts of God are not an interference. While, in some years, this may turn out to be the case, when an act of God does mess up the scheduling, MLB should be more flexible in giving teams additional days in which to make up their games. A team should not be forced to cram two double-headers into a schedule that no longer includes off-days in the next calendar month.
What the inflexibility forces teams to do is take unnecessary risks with their players. There is a reason why the MLBPA agreement stipulates that teams cannot be scheduled to play on more than 20 consecutive days — injury risk. The Players Association is there to look out for the players’ best interests; MLB does not, insofar as the players continue to make them money.
Wouldn’t it be an awful post-season if the Phillies limped into the post-season with several additional players on the DL because of the unfair and inflexible scheduling, and couldn’t put their best lineup on the field? If you are a fan of a team not involved in the post-season, would you watch a game where the Phillies put out a lineup that includes Wilson Valdez at shortstop, Michael Martinez at third base, and Ben Francisco in the outfield? How would that be good for baseball?
As the MLBPA agreement will be up for debate after the season, it is a good time to add more stipulations to the scheduling rules and add in some flexibility. Balancing that flexibility with the concerns of the season being too long — there have been suggestions to cut the regular season by a few games — will be tough, but ultimately, it will have everyone’s interests at heart: the players first and foremost, valuing their short- and long-term health; the teams, for the aforementioned reason; the fans, by ensuring that teams have a reasonable ability to put the best team on the field at all times; and MLB, by protecting its assets (the players).
Just to throw an idea out there, teams could have a “flex week”, which is basically a week after the regular season where they would have time to make up any games not able to be reasonably rescheduled during the regular season, assuming they must be made up (i.e. would have an effect on post-season berths or seeding). The start of the post-season would be pushed back to allow these games to be made up. If no team needs to take advantage of this “flex week”, then the playoffs kick off as scheduled.
Obviously, that’s just one rough idea, but it’s a start and better than what exists currently, which is a rigid, unforgiving schedule that benefits exactly no one.