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Savran: Baseball schedule in need of repair

Saturday, May 25, 2002

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor two hours of rain and sleet shall postpone the baseball game. Last month in Denver, the Pirates played a game in weather that would have daunted the Broncos. Maybe even the Avalanche, and it plays indoors.

Just a few weeks ago, the Pirates waited out yet another interminable delay in this soggy spring to play a game against Arizona.

They were predictably vilified for playing that night. But the true culprit wasn't the Pirates or the weather. The real villain was baseball's unbalanced schedule.

And how better to describe major-league baseball in general than unbalanced?

With the exception of those in your division, teams now make one trip to a city. There are no scheduling soft spots or safety zones on which to land.

You can't rely on makeup doubleheaders in August or September because when it comes to visits, it's one and done.

The Pirates' trip to Colorado, or Arizona's to Pittsburgh, was it.

It's difficult to schedule doubleheaders on getaway days, so you're literally forced to play the game, if at all possible, comfort of the players and fans be damned.

The concept of the unbalanced schedule is well intentioned. It's designed for playing as many division games as possible, making the competition within the division the main focus of the season.

How better to determine the best team in a division than by having as many head-to-head games as possible?

But the price you pay is a limited number of games outside the division.

For example, the team Pittsburghers love to hate the most, the stinking New York Mets, are little more than an afterthought.

The Pirates opened the season at Shea Stadium against them, and they won't be seen again until the last week of September.

Out of sight, out of mind.

There are concessions you have to make if you want to play the Chicago Cubs 19 times, except that the schedule-makers are making those concessions in the wrong place.

If you must skimp somewhere, don't do it at the expense of games against the teams in the National League.

Don't limit the Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies to six games against each other.

Don't make it so that the Pirates play the Anaheim Angels 2 1/2 months before they see the Atlanta Braves at the end of August.

That's ridiculous.

But, while the unbalanced schedule is the vehicle, the root of the problem is interleague play.

Twelve games are wasted against American League competition, and if intradivision games were limited to, let's say, 16, that would alleviate the pressure of playing games in conditions severe enough to park Santa's sleigh.

As attractive as it might be having Oakland come to PNC Park this season after the Pirates have had a steady diet of the Royals and Tigers, do you suppose those in Anaheim willing or able to find their way from Disneyland to Edison Field are salivating at the thought of paying actual money to see the Pirates?

And if you're sick of seeing the Tigers, do you suppose Tiger fans are any less disinterested in seeing your Pirates?

Interleague play was developed to interest all, but it exists solely for the interests of a few, which is generally how baseball operates.

The New York Yankees want to play the New York Mets, the Los Angeles Dodgers want to play the Angels, and the Cubs want to play the Chicago White Sox because they are easy sellouts.

As we've discovered all too often, and what we're about to discover again when baseball goes dark in late summer, what's good for the big guys is good for them only, and all the rest just lie there and say, "Thank you, sirs. May I have another?"

The unbalanced schedule, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.

But coupled with interleague play, it becomes untenable.

You can have one or the other, but not both.

I realize that scheduling is on baseball's back burner at the moment, although one wonders what, if anything, is on the front burner.

But it is something that needs to be addressed next season.

Assuming, of course, there is one.

Stan Savran is the host of a radio sports talk show 8-9 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970)

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