Major League Baseball and Driver Schedules

Nov 22nd, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick KemperESPN started a documentary program a few years ago called 30 for 30, and some of the best documentaries I’ve ever watched have come from this program. Included in the program are “30 for 30 shorts”, films of 10-20 minutes that focus on a limited subject, and some of them are priceless. There is one about John Tuggle, who was the last player drafted in the 1983 NFL draft by the Giants, who went on to make the team, but who contracted cancer during his rookie season and died before the next season started. There is one about the doctor who performed a radical procedure on Dodger pitcher Tommy John that is now known as “Tommy John surgery.” There is one about Pete Rose and his current life of selling memorabilia in Las Vegas. There is one about Wilt Chamberlain working as a bellhop in the Borscht Belt in the 1950s. There is even one about how Arnold Palmer created the “Arnold Palmer” drink.

The most recent “30 for 30 short” is about a husband and wife team who created the Major League Baseball schedule for more than 20 years. Beginning in 1982, they were contracted to create the schedule, which had previously been completed by MLB personnel, but which had become too hard to do. The Stephensons originally tried to use a computer, but they found that it could only do about 80 percent of the schedule, and then there were unique requests from each team that they thought should be considered as well (for instance, the Orioles knew which game would be the one when Cal Ripken would pass Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record, so they wanted that game to be a home game), so they started creating the schedules by hand — with pencil, on paper. And that’s how they did it until MLB replaced them with a software company in 2005.

I’ve always been a baseball fan, and when I was a kid I designed a rudimentary desk game that I could play simulated games with. It was based on a physical game I played in our backyard. We had concrete steps, about six feet high, from the lower level of the yard to the middle level. A short sidewalk led to the patio, and on the opposite side of the patio, another sidewalk extended out and then turned the corner around the house. If I stood at the corner, the distance to the steps was approximately pitching distance for a kid my age, and the patio provided true bounces back to practice fielding ground balls. Of course, sometimes the ball would hit a step corner and go up for a pop-up, or maybe die in front the steps and I’d have to charge it like a bunt. I used tennis balls, which bounced better off the steps. The only drawback was a “foul ball,” a ball that would go up into the middle level of the yard, where my dog would get it and I’d have to chase her down and then throw a wet tennis ball. I eventually reduced that problem by stationing a pitchback backward at the top of the steps.

I figured out that I could pitch a simulated game. Every pitch was a strike or a ball, based on where I hit the steps, and balls in play were judged as outs or hits. Every once in a while one would hit a corner just right and rocket way back over my head, and if it passed a landmark in the yard, it was a home run. I played World Series games – mostly the A’s vs. the Dodgers, a replay of the 1974 Series. I would keep track of stats for each game in my head as I played, and I didn’t let anything interrupt the completion of a game. Not even dinner.

The desk game was an adaptation. I took a piece of paper and drew a random design – a single line going round and round in different shapes and crisscrossing over itself. Then, based on randomized approximations, I assigned each unique space confined by lines a result, such as HR (home run), K (strikeout), GO (ground-out), etc. Then, once I had my lineups set, I would close my eyes, hold a pen up over the desk, and let it drop gently onto the piece of paper. Wherever the pen landed, that was the result of the batter’s plate appearance.

It was highly unscientific, of course, and since I knew where the good results were on the piece of paper, sometimes my favorite players tended to hit a lot more home runs than other players. Also, the piece of paper would be unusable after a hundred or so games, so I’d have to re-create it or make a new one. I designed an entire season schedule over maybe a week, and I think I made it into the June games before I discovered Strat-O-Matic Baseball, which changed my life immeasurably.

In my years managing drivers, I’ve thought about the relative simplicity of creating that season schedule many times while trying to create driver schedules. Part of the problem with driver schedules are the rules. Seven days in a week. Four or five shifts in a driver week. Three shifts in a day. More drivers on day shift, less on swing, skeleton crew on graveyard. Overlap shifts to prevent simultaneous “I’m off in 20 minutes” complaints. Truck sharing and non-sharing. Driver preferences (yes, I really tried to give them the shift they wanted). The real problem, though, is the adult mind, which knows that something like this is hard to do. When I was a kid, I didn’t think twice about making my own MLB season schedule for my game. Seemed like something any idiot could do. I imagine that there is software to help with this kind of scheduling, though I’ve never tried it. For me, there is something comforting about sitting down with a piece of paper and a pencil, drawing out a grid with 21 squares, and scribbling in driver initials and truck numbers. To retain the human element, you have to take the authority away from the zeros and ones. Major League Baseball might have found a “better” way to create a schedule that best accommodated all of their scheduling rules when then switched to a computerized system in 2005. That’s how Mariano Rivera ended up playing the final game of his career in Houston against the team with the worst record in 2013.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper