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Strange scheduling? Blame Bono, among other factors

Wondering why the Mets' schedule has been so

Wondering why the Mets' schedule has been so strange? Blame U2 and Bono, whose U.S. tour forced MLB to make some unusual choices. Photo Credit: AP

SAN FRANCISCO

Blame Bono.

With all the griping directed at Major League Baseball for what has seemed like an illogical schedule this season, there have been a number of factors at work, including emergency back surgery for U2's 50-year-old lead singer.

In late 2008, when MLB's staff, along with an outside consulting firm, began working on the 2010 schedule, it had to block off 10-day stretches at a minimum of four ballparks to accommodate the band's worldwide "360 Degrees" tour. That had a ripple effect on dozens of clubs and directly affected the schedule.

But now that this year's dates have been canceled because of Bono's surgery, MLB faces the same conflicts for 2011, when the tour will be rescheduled. Who knew that a U2 member landing on the DL could have a profound impact on baseball's playoff races for this year and beyond?

"It was highly unusual," said Katy Feeney, MLB vice president for scheduling and club relations.

Feeney oversees the entire process, and with 30 teams each playing 162 games, it is very complicated. The Mets were victimized last month by a three-game series in Puerto Rico that forced them into an overnight, four-hour flight to Washington - without a day off in between.

That quirk was made even worse when the series finale in San Juan was delayed 80 minutes by rain; the Mets didn't arrive at their D.C. hotel until 8 a.m. for a game that night. Teams understand they have to deal with the rigors of non-stop travel, but in the Mets' case, it seemed to be avoidable.

With that in mind, Jeff Francoeur, the team's union representative, believes the scheduling needs to be addressed when the collective-bargaining agreement expires Dec. 11, 2011.

"We've gotten stuck with some trips that have been bad, I think," he said. "MLB has every right to make the schedule, but sometimes it seems like they don't have the teams in mind."

Feeney and her staff do seek feedback from the clubs before setting the process in motion. They send out a questionnaire in November - 17 months in advance - to ask about preferences and possible conflicts.

The Mets originally were scheduled to play the Marlins in Miami before the series was switched to Puerto Rico - and Feeney pointed out that the union signed off on the switch.

Complaints about the schedule are nothing new, but TV is a bigger consideration than ever - both with regional in-house networks such as SNY and YES and the national giants such as Fox, ESPN and TBS.

That's the primary reason why day baseball has become such a rarity and even getaway days - early starts that allow teams a jump to the next city - gradually are being phased out as well. If players feel as if they are being "sold out" with these rocky travel schedules, well, it's because that's exactly what's happening.

Another aberration is the All-Star break, with some teams getting more of a breather than others. The Mets were among only 14 clubs to resume the second half last night, losing out on another 24 hours of recess. Francoeur said he mentioned that to a union official recently and was told that other players said it "wasn't important."

"Who are these players?" Francoeur said. "I think that's something we're going to look at."

Francoeur also was in favor of extending trips to either coast, which would allow teams to wrap up those series in one visit rather than make two or even three trips. But MLB wants to avoid trips of more than three series because teams don't want their stadiums empty for so long during the middle of the season.

That doesn't mean, of course, there won't be exceptions to the rules. MLB had to move three of the Blue Jays' home games to Philadelphia in June because of the volatile G20 summit meetings in Toronto.

Feeney said MLB is still developing an in-house, fully computerized model to handle the scheduling, but in the meantime, it is split between a master program and outside consulting firms. With so many moving parts, uneven divisions and interleague play, they still have to count manually to make sure each team has 81 home games.

"With 30 clubs, everyone has different wants and needs," Feeney said. "There's always going to be conflicts."

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