The 2015 New York-Penn League season schedule was created with a computer program, using formulas devised by math students at Johns Hopkins University. The South Atlantic League plans to follow suit next season, and other Minor League circuits are currently considering this option.The Triple-A International League may go this route
The 2015 New York-Penn League season schedule was created with a computer program, using formulas devised by math students at Johns Hopkins University. The South Atlantic League plans to follow suit next season, and other Minor League circuits are currently considering this option.
The Triple-A International League may go this route one day, but, for now, the schedule-making process remains the job of a dedicated octogenarian who gets it done using "pencil, paper, a pen and a lot of erasers."
Not to mention the secret ingredient.
That octogenarian is Norfolk Tides executive vice president Dave Rosenfield, who served as the team's general manager from their 1963 inception through 2011. He now works for the team in a reduced capacity, though "reduced" in this case might be a misnomer. Rosenfield still coordinates the team travel, broadcasts three innings of every home game and, yes, creates the entirety of the International League schedule by hand.
Ask Rosenfield how he began making league schedules in the first place, and he'll regale you with a well-worn anecdote. It all began prior to the 1963 campaign, when the Tidewater Tides were about to embark on their first season in the Carolina League (the franchise switched to the International League in 1969).
"We had a [league] meeting, and they gave us, like, 30 minutes to look at [the schedule]," said Rosenfield, speaking in the press box during June 26's Norfolk Tides game. "The [Carolina League] president was a wonderful guy named Bill Jessup -- very distinguished, white hair, always had a suit and tie. He was a Budweiser distributor in Wilson, North Carolina. He said, 'Anybody have any comments on the schedule?' And I put up my hand, and I think he called me 'New Boy.' Because [the Tides] were brand-new.
"I said, 'Mr. President, aren't weekends supposed to be equitably distributed?' 'Yeah, well what's your point?' And I said, 'There's 20 weekends in the schedule, so each team should be entitled to a total of 20 Fridays and Saturdays. We have seven. And one team has, like, 39. [Jessup] said, 'You think you could do better? And I made probably the worst statement I ever made. I said, 'A monkey could do better.'"
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Jessup's reaction to Rosenfield's claim of primate supremacy was swift and decisive: He ordered Rosenfield to make a new league schedule and to have it done in two weeks.
"So I came back here and started doing it," he said. "I submitted the schedule, and it was adopted, seven to one. I haven't missed a year since then."
Rosenfield said that each season's schedule takes an estimated 200 hours to complete, meaning that he's spent more than 10,000 hours on the task since his perhaps ill-advised "a monkey could do it better" retort of 1963. He likens the job, which currently includes 14 teams in three divisions playing a 144-game schedule, to putting together a "giant puzzle." Few would claim that it's an easy job, and Rosenfield maintains that it's harder than it looks.
For instance, most clubs balk at the idea of "back-to-backs" -- the same two teams playing consecutive series against one another (one at each ballpark).
"We got a lot of [International League front-office] guys grumbling. What difference does it make? Do you think your fans know you just came from Toledo?" said Rosenfield, a blunt individual who, believe it or not, was once caricatured on the The Simpsons as the owner of the Capital City Capitals. "The scouts and the farm directors like it because their managers and coaches can give them a much better report on all five starting pitchers for Columbus or Toledo or whoever it may be. And I still don't understand why they don't like it. What the hell difference does it make?"
But that's just the start of it.
"You don't want off days on the road --- they're counter-productive. So you have to avoid that," said Rosenfield. "And players and staff don't like two-game series, because they just come in, get settled and then they're leaving again. Sometimes you just have to have some of those to make it all fit, but all those things you have to try to avoid.
"And then you've got 'protected days.' We can't play in Louisville during the [Kentucky] Derby, because the hotel rooms would cost us $400 a night. You can't play in Indy during the [Indianapolis] 500. ... Almost every city has something. And then you have cities with dates where they need to be home. Louisville has one of the biggest fireworks displays in the country. It's called 'Thunder over Louisville.' They do it right over the river, in full sight of the ballpark. So the night that there's Thunder over Louisville, it's a guaranteed sellout. They'll draw 15,000 people. And then Toledo will call and say we have a convention coming up July 18 through the 23rd, and they guarantee they'll buy 5,000 tickets if we're home. OK -- if somebody can sell 5,000 tickets extra, you have to try to make sure they're home. So you have dates where you can't be home, and dates where you want to be home."
Taking factors such as the above into consideration, Rosenfield then utilizes his trademark "brute force" to get the job done.
"I start off with a grid. And I mark X's where [teams] can't be home, and other little things showing when they want to be home," he said. "And then you've got everybody wants to be home either July 3 or 4, and then you need an off day every 30 days, so you have to add all them."
When doing such a task, potential pitfalls are everywhere. Rosenfield recently dealt with a frustrating setback while creating the International League's 2017 schedule.
"I was, oh, at the middle of June. And I'm getting ready to move on, and I look and I have Syracuse coming down here twice, when they only come here once," he said. "I look for switches and have to go back to a certain point and start over. You get involved looking at something and you miss something else."
Rosenfield is an old-school baseball guy, but he remains open to the possibility that computers might one day make his schedule-making procedures obsolete.
"You cannot do it all on computers," he said. "The International League was talking to the people at Johns Hopkins Univiersity -- they've got some supercomputer. Their first run at it was OK -- it will not be acceptable, but they will get to where they can probably come close to it."
Until then, Rosenfield remains the man for the job.
"I just turned 86 -- how much longer am I gonna be around?" he said. "But I don't want this league to have a bad schedule. Would I like to stop? Some days I say, "Yes." It's like a giant puzzle. I spend so much time on it because I know how important it is."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.