Wednesday, December 29, 2010

MLB Network

This year we moved to a new city, which meant a different selection of channels on the cable TV.  The city in which we currently live has the MLB Network as a cable channel.  This, I'm guessing, would be an equivalent of the NFL Network so talked about?  I don't know.  But, it does have some really interesting shows.  First, it's all baseball, unlike ESPN.  Second, although it does seem to have some of the east-coast bias, it's not as bad as the Red Sox Network, uhm, I mean ESPN.  Or is that the Yankees Network?  Well, ESPN is often the Yankees vs. Red Sox Network.

MLB Network has panels of a sports journalist and former players that discuss the day's games, the winter meetings, the hot stove league.  They also have something I really love: lists.  The top 50 this, the top 25 that, the top ten other.  The greatest finishes, the greatest home runs, the best pitching performances, the best fan moments, the best ballparks.  It's fun to count these things down and try to guess what is number one.

One thing it has against it is the repetition of programs.  Like the Sports Center/Baseball Tonite/ Sports Center/Baseball Tonite merry go round of ESPN.  Sometimes a show will repeat for a week or so, with player moves in between that aren't reflected in the repeating show.  Overall, though, it is a good channel to have and it covers so many aspects of baseball and its history.  If you love baseball and have a chance to get this channel, do so.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Most Memorable Game of 2010

I saw MLB Network's list of most memorable games in 2010.  There were quite a few games at Coors Field that were see-saw battles that ended 12-11 or some such thing.  Halladay's no-hitter in the NLDS was also on the list.  But the game they listed as number one was game 6 of the NLCS between the Giants and Phillies.  It truly was a great game - not only because of the outcome, hehehe - but the way it all came down.  Starter Johnathan Sanchez was chased in the 3rd after a shaky outing.  His exit - hitting Chase Utley with a pitch - ended in a bench clearing incident.  Great ball was played by both teams, each turning a memorable double play.  The Giants pen pitched 7 innings of scoreless relief, while Juan Uribe hit the go ahead homer in the 8th inning.  Wilson's ninth came nearly unglued until he caught Ryan Howard looking for the last pitch of the NL season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Anatomy of a Major League Schedule

I admit it.  I'm a logistics geek.  I like to know how systems work; I like to figure out how systems work; I like to make systems work.  Systems like the Major League schedule.  Back in the early 80's living in the Bay Area, I got an A's and a Giants pocket schedule every year so I could plan the games I wanted to attend.  I also wanted to familiarize myself with who they played during the year.  Each year, I noticed patterns in the schedules.  Then toward the mid-80's, before the internet, I wrote to every team during the off season asking for their pocket schedules.  This way I could plan trips to other ballparks, etc.  I noticed patterns in all the schedules.

This brings me to the overall schedule.  Until just a few years ago, a literal mom and pop team in somewhere like Connecticut, drafted up the schedule on their kitchen table.  It's now done by a corporate firm with computers.  I became most familiar with the 12 team NL scheduling format (1969-1992), so I'll write mostly about that.  The schedule maker grouped teams together geographically for travel efficiency.  The Giants would travel to, or host, groups of teams at a time, generally.  The groups were broken into 1) SF, LA & SD; 2) CIN, HOU & ATL; 3) PIT, STL & CHI and 4) NY, PHI & MON.  It made sense for teams flying out to the west coast to hit all the cities to save on travel, etc.  The same was generally true of the AL schedule with 14 teams, although it was more complicated, as there were an odd number of teams in each division.

Each NL team played 18 games against division teams (roughly three 3-game series at home, and three on the road) and 12 against each team in the other division (roughly two 3-game series at home, and two on the road).  The even number of teams made it easy to play against only your own division the last several weeks of the season, so the pennant races could be the focus.  The above number of games against each team came to a total of 162.  When the early 60's expansion took place, each team played each of the other 9 teams 18 times, 162 total.  They kept a similar feel when expansion took place again in '69.

The season is 26 weeks long (half of 52 weeks in a year), and each week is generally divided into a weekday series (M, Tu, W or Tu, W, Th) and a weekend series (F, Sa & Su).  Sometimes there are four game series, M-Th in the week or Th-Su or F-M over a weekend.  There are generally 52 series slots over a 26 week season, with one taken for the All-Star break, leaving 51 series slots for regular season play.  Now, the 10 team/162 game and the 12 team/two division/162 game schedules had (six series times nine other teams = 54) and (six series times five division teams = 30 plus four series times six teams = 24 for a total of 54) series to be played.  The logistical problem was to cram 54 series into 51 slots.  This was accomplished by use of the two-game series.  In playing six games against a team, split a three-and-three game series set into a two-and-four game series set.  Put two game series back-to-back in the weekday slot on Mon-Tues and Wed-Thurs, then the accompanying four game series elsewhere in the season.  Do this three times, and 54 series can fit into 51 slots.  Pretty clever.

The beauty of these older schedule formats is that every team plays other teams the same number of games.  An even number of games at that, so that there are equal numbers of games at home and on the road.  They played each other the same number of series.  The schedules were both balanced and symmetrical.  With the adaptation of 14 team leagues, odd numbers of teams in a division, the three division format with differing number of teams in each division, interleague play with certain "rivalry" matchups, and a 14 team AL and 16 team NL, today's MLB schedule is a complete nightmare.  It makes little sense from a position of fairness and having a level playing field for all.

The schedule makers have also had to take other factors into consideration.  Maximizing attendance with strategic matchups.  Teams make requests of the schedule.  Holidays.  Etc.  Opening Days are usually sellouts, so try not to schedule good drawing road teams like the Yankees for other teams' home openers.  That would be a waste of a sellout.  Bad drawing teams usually play more road openers.  The Reds are baseball's oldest team, so they traditionally open at home.  Schedule bad weather teams to open on the road.  Canadian teams are on the road for US holidays and at home for Canadian holidays to maximize attendance.  Interleague games are not as popular as baseball claims, so they are generally scheduled mostly on weekends during good weather when school is out to maximize attendance and make it look like a good idea.  Local holidays, too, like scheduling the Red Sox at home for Patriot's Day.  An example of team requests might be wanting a home game on an anniversary date of a great moment in that team's history.  The Giants requested to be at home on Oct. 3, 2001 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bobby Thompson's Shot Heard 'Round the World - against the Dodgers no less.  New ballparks, too.  When the Giants built a new yard, they wanted to both close Candlestick and open PacBell/SBC/AT&T against their arch-rival Dodgers.  Back when double-headers were a popular tool to increase attendance, the well-drawing Dodgers didn't need them, so they requested no double headers on their schedule.

So, overall the schedule is a major undertaking that has only increased in complexity over the decades.  The logistic geek that I am, I'd love to be part of that operation.  Personally, I'd like to see baseball address this monster and get back to some kind of symmetrical format.  Now that I've bored you to tears, you deserve something special if you've read this whole post.  Unless you like schedules like I do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Giants World Series Trophy Tour

The San Francisco Giants have announced the Official World Series Trophy Tour.  It's coming to a town near you, if, that is, you live in Northern California, western Nevada, southern Oregon, Scottsdale, AZ, New York City or Cooperstown, NY.  Well, in late January or early February, it's coming to a town very near to me.  So, I'm liking the possibility of going to see it in person.  Fans can have their picture taken with the trophy, but that will cost a yet to be determined amount of money.

Now, that should be some fun.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Steve Scott Comes Clean

Okay, I've been hiding something baseball related.  It's time to come clean.  It's disheartening, embarrassing and really doesn't make me feel good about it.  But the results are what they are.

After having season tickets for the Giants the last 25 years, my job loss last year prohibited me, my family and my buyers from renewing (some of our buyers had economic issues as well).  We tried every way we could think, but it just wasn't in the card$.  Fifteen years with tickets 7 rows behind home plate at Candlestick, ten years with tickets 9 rows behind the visitor's bullpen mound at AT&T.  All vanished this February.  It was very difficult to swallow, especially in light of our economic situation at the time.

Then it fell out of the sky and hit me on the head.  I've lived my entire life without the Giants winning a championship.  Now that my first year in over half my life is realized without season tickets, I realized that 2010 would be the year the Giants would win it all.  It simply couldn't happen any other way.  I wouldn't have tickets.  Of course they would win.  So, in February I predicted a Giants World Series victory.  I didn't write about it because I was too ashamed, too embarrassed.  But I did tell others, and I stuck to it all year long, even when they were sucking wind.  We did go to a few games this year, but mostly in the bleachers or other cheaper seats.

Maybe when I get a decent job again, we'll buy tickets once more.  The ticket department has already told me that my 25 years will count for seniority, so that might help out a bit.  The good news is that I will remember this 2010 season for ever.  I predicted it, and they not only won, but they completely dominated the post-season with one of the most amazing pitching performances I can ever remember.  It will always be an incredible story.  So, there you have it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Is Cliff Lee Really That Good?

The bidding war/stalemate over Cliff Lee raises a good question.  Is he really that good?  Is he another Barry Zito waiting to happen?  Last year he was only 12-9, with a 3.18 ERA, and 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA during the second half in a Rangers uniform.  He got spanked in the World Series.  Overall, I'm glad other teams are going after him.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Uniforms for The World Champion Giants?

The Giants have won the World Series, their sixth trophy since the first Series played in 1903.  Will the Giants come out with new uniforms as a result in 2011?  Well, after they won their first WS in 1905, the Giants made a change in their 1906 uniforms.  John McGraw thought it necessary to show everybody who they were playing.  So, they promptly removed the traditional "NY" from their jerseys and replaced it with the identifier of "WORLD'S CHAMPIONS."  To see the transition, click here.  For a closeup of the '06 threads, click here.  These come from a great section of the Hall of Fame website, called "Dressed to the Nines," detailing the uniforms for every team in history.

I'm not expecting a big change to their already classic uni's.  But just think how such a thing would go over today.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2011 MLB Schedule Change

I noticed that the 2011 regular season schedule has a huge change in it, breaking from a tradition that has been kept for longer than I've been alive.  Traditionally, the schedule is 26 weeks long, and starts at the beginning of the week and ending on a weekend Sunday.  Next year, it seems to be moved up a series, and starts with three game series on a Friday and ends with three game series on a Wednesday.

I'm not sure what's up, but I heard some rumors that baseball wants to change the post-season a bit and make the league division series seven games.  I wonder if moving the season up three or four days is the remedy to accommodate this instead of pushing the World Series back yet again further into chilly November.  There's also a nasty rumor that in the next couple of years MLB wants to add an extra set of wild card teams.  Oh, please, NO!  I'll write about the anatomy of a regular season schedule during this offseason.