For 22 years—from 1982 to 2004—a husband-and-wife team created the schedule for every MLB season by hand. In the 2000s, they were replaced by a computer system, which was able to take the various factors under consideration—cramming 2,430 games into 26 weeks while balancing travel, TV partnerships, weather, and more—to spit out an annual plan. But now, with the coronavirus pandemic raging, the MLB has to had to entirely scrap its 2020 schedule in exchange for an entirely new—and dramatically shortened—plan.
So, in the spirit of a fun challenge, Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri circled back to that husband-and-wife duo, Henry and Holly Stephenson, to see how they would handle 2020’s amended schedule. The couple, now in their 70s, took out a pencil and paper and got to work.
“It looked to us like the issue was how to create some kind of clarity and simplicity,” said Henry.
In this video interview, Baccellieri, alongside Sports Illustrated host Robin Lundberg, discuss the sports calendar the Stephensons came up with.
Here's the full video transcript:
Robin Lundberg: Putting together a Major League Baseball schedule is an ambitious endeavor in normal times. But especially now. For more, I'm joined by our MLB writer Emma Baccellieri. Now Emma, you caught up with a husband-and-wife duo who put together the Major League Baseball schedule for more than 20 years. How would they approach this?
Emma Baccellieri: Yeah, Henry and Holly Stephenson are now in their 70s, but they still know a lot about scheduling. And so when I posed the question to them of how they would want to take a look at this, they pretty much right away had an idea of how they would break down 82 games in the regionally-limited divisional structure MLB is talking about here. And it only took them a pencil and paper to sit down and scratch it out.
Robin Lundberg: It feels very baseball...pencil and paper. Doesn't it?
Emma Baccellieri: Yeah. Very old school, very traditional.
Robin Lundberg: Like keeping the stat cards for yourself while you're at the games. Of course, there would be no fans at these games. Did they mention at all any of the extra challenges that the circumstances would provide for schedule-making?
Emma Baccellieri: So actually in normal circumstances, when they were doing this in the 80s and 90s and early 2000s, the biggest things they had to deal with were all the requests that teams had. Like if you're on the road for Memorial Day, you want to make sure you can play at home for Fourth of July because you want to pull in one of those big holiday ticket rushes. You know, everyone wants to be home for Father's Day. The Red Sox have to be home for Patriots Day and the Blue Jays have to be home for Canada Day. Stuff like that that, you know, makes it more complicated when you're putting together a schedule, that every team has these requests. And under these circumstances, you wouldn't really have any of those because no one is worried about, you know, packing stadiums. And so that actually makes it a lot easier when you don't have to account for all of the special requests.
Robin Lundberg: So maybe, you know, it's much more difficult to have a season, but in some ways easier to make the schedule. Emma, appreciate your time, as always.