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June 11, 2003

The New CBA, Part II

Article V: Scheduling

by Doug Pappas

This is Part Two of Doug Pappas' extended review of the CBA. You can access Part I of the series here. A PDF file of the CBA can be downloaded here.

Article V: Scheduling

While many provisions of the CBA have no analogue in non-sports labor negotiations, Article V, which deals with the major league schedule, is a set of work rules the UAW or Teamsters can relate to. Schedule-related provisions have been in each CBA since the first.

The CBA provides for a 162-game regular season, to be played during a period of between 178 and 183 calendar days. (Special opening series played in foreign countries can be played before the official start of the season.) All modern seasons are 183 days long: a Sunday night opener, followed by a 26-week regular season that ends on another Sunday.

The players used to open negotiations by asking for a return to the 154-game schedule, a demand which was usually dropped in about the second week of talks. A vestigial paragraph which appears in every CBA since 1970 provides that if the players propose to shorten the schedule, the owners won't cite their local radio and TV commitments as a reason to resist the proposal, but may assert any other objection they may have. Now the Commissioner is considering a 154-game schedule to make room for more playoff games.

The de facto elimination of scheduled doubleheaders means that every club plays on 162 of the 183 available days, including the All-Star break. Put another way, for six months each club plays on nine out of every 10 days, with one three-day break in midseason. During those six months each club travels from city to city two dozen times, playing road games in an average of 16 different cities.

If that's not enough to give the schedule makers gray hair, they must also build in contingencies for the weather. Dozens of games are rained out each season, and with expansion and interleague play reducing the number of visits clubs make to each city, rescheduling them can prove difficult. Scheduling rules thus take two forms: the rules governing the schedule as originally drafted, and the rules limiting how postponed games can be rescheduled.

The Original Schedule

Many of the scheduling rules are remnants of an era when the players were concerned about limiting the number of doubleheaders. The CBA still forbids clubs from scheduling doubleheaders on consecutive days, limits them to three home twi-night doubleheaders per season and forbids night games before day doubleheaders. But the scheduled doubleheader was rendered obsolete by rising attendance: When teams routinely sell more than 60% of their tickets, offering two games for the price of one guarantees a loss of revenue.

One rule that remains relevant, though, is the ban on split doubleheaders in the original schedule. Players and fans alike loathe the split doubleheader, which typically takes the form of a 1 p.m. day game, followed by hours in the clubhouse as the stadium is emptied, then refilled for a 7 p.m. night game. The fans pay twice; the players work at least a 12-hour day.

Other key rules include:

No one-day stands, except for Opening Day or doubleheaders followed by an off day.

No games during the All-Star break, or mandatory workouts on the last day of the break.

No exhibition games during the regular season, except for the annual Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown. In the old days, clubs squeezed in exhibition games whenever the schedule allowed, with the owners keeping all the money. Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, and others often promoted as the star attraction of such exhibitions weren't happy about this, but the owners took the position that players under contract were obligated to play whenever and wherever directed. The first CBA limited clubs to three in-season exhibition games per year. This number was steadily reduced in later CBAs, but the 2002 CBA is the first to ban in-season exhibition games.

No more than 20 consecutive days with scheduled games, except that if one of these games is the Hall of Fame exhibition game, a club can be scheduled on 21 consecutive days.

After the second game of the season, no more than two off days in any seven-day period.

No game can be scheduled to start after 5 p.m. if either club is scheduled to play a day doubleheader the next day.

No game can be scheduled to start before 1 p.m., except that (1) starts can be moved back to noon if both clubs either (a) were off the day before, or (b) played in the same city the previous day; (2) if the conditions in (1) are met, the Commissioner can authorize up to four games per league to start as early as 10:30 a.m. (Boston's annual Patriot's Day game is usually the only morning start); (3) on holidays, games can be scheduled to start between noon and 1 p.m. even if one or both clubs played in other cities the previous day, so long as the other city is less than a 90-minute flight away and the affected club's previous game was a day game. (Got that? The scheduling rules are highly recommended to sadistic teachers fond of assigning word problems to their students.)

A club's last road game before a home off day can't start after 5 p.m., except (a) as necessary for national TV commitments (e.g., the ESPN Sunday night game--the Yankees' June 8 game against the Cubs would otherwise have violated this rule) or (b) the road game is being played in Texas or Florida after June 1. In the latter circumstance, the players gladly sacrifice a little sleep so as not to be boiled alive on the playing field.

The last game of any other series can't start after 5 p.m. if either club is scheduled for a day game the next day, in a city more than a 90-minute flight away. This rule recognizes the Cubs' unique circumstances--the ordinance authorizing night games at Wrigley Field limits them to 18 home night games per season--by authorizing six exceptions per year for clubs traveling to Chicago to play the Cubs, so long as they're coming from a city less than a two-and-a-half-hour flight away. (From a quick Web search, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Denver are all more than 90, but less than 150 minutes from Chicago by air.)

Teams are entitled to an off day for trips from the Pacific Time Zone to the Eastern Time Zone. The Commissioner is empowered to grant seven exceptions to this rule each season, no more than one affecting each club, to allow a club to play an East Coast night game the day after a West Coast day game. Except for transcontinental trips, off days are to be non-travel days whenever possible. As a result, teams head straight for the airport after the last game of a series, even if it's a 16-inning night game, rather than return to their hotel to rest and travel the next day.

Rescheduled Games

Clubs have the right to reschedule postponed games as split doubleheaders, up to a maximum of two split doubleheaders per team, if either (a) the home club doesn't have enough comparable seats remaining during the rest of the season to accommodate rainchecks, and both the postponed and the rescheduled games occur during the last regularly scheduled series between the clubs in that park; or (b) the rainouts occurred at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field and there's no other practical way of rescheduling the games. For Fenway and Wrigley only--tiny parks which generally play to near-capacity--"scheduling a postponed game as part of a conventional doubleheader will not be considered a practical alternative." Any proposed split doubleheader not falling under these rules requires MLBPA approval.

A postponement may be rescheduled as a one-day stand, or a night game before a day doubleheader, where such scheduling is necessary to complete the season.

A postponement may be rescheduled to an open day during or after the same series, so long as (a) the open day is a road off-day for the visiting club (i.e., it doesn't follow the last game of a road trip), and (b) the rescheduling won't force the home club to play on more than 24 consecutive days, or 25 days if the Hall of Fame Game is included.

Except as necessary to accommodate network TV or stadium commitments, only postponed, suspended and tied games may be rescheduled, except that any game can be rescheduled to a date and time consistent with the rules governing the original schedule. Thus teams can generally switch Saturday games from day to night, or vice versa, without player consent, but can't move the first or last game of a series to a time inconsistent with the other rules.

Except for the rules governing split doubleheaders, which can only be waived by the MLBPA, any other rule relating to scheduling or rescheduling may be waived by majority, secret ballot vote of the players on each club affected by the rule. Separate ballots are required for each waiver, and waiving the rule once doesn't constitute a precedent for further waivers.

Miscellaneous Provisions

MLB must provide a tentative schedule to the MLBPA for review by July 1 of the preceding year. The MLBPA must complete its review no later than October 15. The version of this clause in the prior CBA became an issue in 2001, when MLB proposed to contract the Twins and Expos. One of the MLBPA's grievances asserted that because it had already approved a 30-team schedule for the 2002 season, the owners could not subsequently adopt a 28-team schedule without union review and approval.

The new CBA expressly authorizes up to 18 interleague games per year. Until now, the existence and details of interleague play required regular negotiations with the MLBPA. The CBA further provides for the use of the DH in all interleague games played in AL parks.

The CBA expressly incorporates the current playoff format, while allowing the owners to expand the Division Series from five games to seven. If they do, or if they propose any other change to the format of the postseason (such as awarding home field advantage to the winner of the All-Star Game) the owners must negotiate the change with the MLBPA. If the Division Series is expanded, the players' share of the additional revenues is not subject to negotiation: their cut will come from the first four games of the series instead of the first three.

Next week: Salaries and salary arbitration. I promise they're simpler than the scheduling rules...

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