Husband-wife team out bid after 24 years

Updated: December 1, 2004, 5:37 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- One of baseball's longest streaks comes to an end in January when next season's schedule for all 30 major league teams is released.

A small company outside Pittsburgh, the Sports Scheduling Group, has been selected by Major League Baseball to draw up the 2005 schedule, unseating the husband-and-wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson, who have been doing it for 24 years.

Each year, Major League Baseball accepts competing scheduling proposals from outside groups. The Sports Scheduling Group won the contract in part because it did a better job of avoiding "semi-repeaters," in which the same teams play in back-to-back series at home and then away, said Katy Feeney, MLB senior vice president of scheduling.

Baseball has been outsourcing the job for decades.

Harry Simmons, who at one time worked in the commissioner's office, used to make the schedules each year, mostly by hand. It became such an extensive task that Simmons eventually left the office and devoted himself almost entirely to scheduling.

"As the number of games and the number teams changed, it just became more and more complicated," Feeney said.

After Simmons quit, the Stephensons were hired in 1981. They use computers, which have made the job easier but have not entirely eliminated the human element.

"I think each team looks at the schedule from its own perspective and there is without exception a lot of points of view," Stephenson said. "There will never be a day when everyone sits down and says, 'This is great.'"

Each team plays 162 games, half of them at home, half away. League officials would not discuss the criteria of a winning proposal but said the process has become increasingly complex, with new divisions, interleague play, extended playoffs and more demands from cities with scheduling conflicts.

As a result, scheduling has become much more of a science and academics now play a larger role, Feeney said.

In fact, Doug Bureman, co-founder of the Sports Scheduling Group, teamed up with a business professor from Carnegie Mellon University and a professor of industrial and systems engineering at Georgia Tech to put together the winning proposal.

Bureman would not talk specifically about what kind of technology his group used. Nor would he say how much his group is being paid.

As for the Stephensons, they are already working hard to get their job back.

"I'm a little surprised myself that we've been doing it this long," Stephenson said. "We're working on a schedule for 2006. We'll see whether it takes."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press