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The Delicate Art of Scheduling Big-League Games

SCHEDULING a season's worth of games is a tricky business in any pro sport, but baseball probably presents the biggest challenge.

Twenty-six teams play 162 games apiece, almost double the number in any other sport. Complicating factors include seasonal weather patterns (there are few domed stadiums) and the traditional format of grouping games in series.

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Asked where the satisfaction comes in schedule making, Katy Feeney, the point woman in the National League scheduling process and the NL's vice president of media and public affairs, says succinctly: "The games get played; the season gets done."

Even before the '92 season opens April 6, one peculiar stretch of the National League campaign has received unwanted attention. Because the Astrodome has been rented out for the Republican convention Aug. 17-21, the Houston Astros will have to hit the road for nearly a month. (TV folks need the facility much longer to set up and dismantle equipment.)

Since this scheduling oddity violates baseball's collective bargaining agreement, the Major League Players Association filed a grievance. To settle matters, Astros owner John McMullen has agreed to a peace offering of a $100,000 donation to a baseball program at the United States Naval Academy and $25,000 to New York-area Little League programs.

This, of course, doesn't mean the air has been totally cleared regarding the Astros' 26-game "eviction."

"I wouldn't say they're not going to be complaining," Ms. Feeney says."Nobody is ever happy with their schedule.... Basically, all teams would love to be home for June, July, and August and not April and September, unless they're in a pennant race."

Work on the 1993 schedule began late last year, and won't be completed until late summer or early fall. Before final approval, it must be reviewed by the clubs and the players' union.

Until the late 1970s, Feeney says, the work was done by hand, but now much of the operation has been contracted out to computer programmers Henry and Holly Stephenson of Staten Island, N.Y.

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"The raw data is pretty straightforward," Feeney says. "You have to play a certain number of games, a certain number of road games, and you have to play a certain number against every other team."

Ultimately, a number of other requirements must be met, including those intended to make the schedule "a little easier on the players," according to Arthur Schack, counsel to the players association. To wit: baseball's labor agreement dictates that a day doubleheader can't follow a night game. Then there are the custom features, requested by the teams, such as April's traditional Patriot's Day game in Boston.

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