The Evolution of Major League Baseball Scheduling

Holly Stephenson, baseball schedule for 25 years, in a new ESPN Films short:

It was impossible to actually meet all the requirements. So the secret really was to know how to break the rules.

A husband and wife team, Henry and Holly Stephenson, managed the Major League Baseball league-wide game scheduling for about 25 years. They were recently replaced (yes, with some more advanced computer scheduling, albeit still outsourced to a small team of individuals).

This 30 for 30 Short on The Schedule Makers was more fascinating than I might have expected.

The team who replaced this couple are those at the company Sports Scheduling Group. Michael Trick, a member of this team, had this to say on his blog after seeing the short:

It was fascinating to hear the story of the Stephensons, and a little heart-breaking to hear them finally losing a job they obviously loved. I have never met Henry or Holly, and they have no reason to think good thoughts about me. But I think an awful lot of them.

I began working on baseball scheduling in 1994, and it took ten years of hard work (first Doug and me, then the four of us) before MLB selected our schedule for play.

Why were we successful in 2004 and not in 1994? At the core, technology changed. The computers we used in 2004 were 1000 times faster than the 1994 computers. And the underlying optimization software was at least 1000 times faster. So technology made us at least one million times faster. And that made all the difference. Since then, computers and algorithms have made us 1000 times faster still. And, in addition, we learned quite a bit about how to best do complicated sports scheduling problems.

Another way to see this is that in 1994, despite my doctorate and my experience and my techniques, I was 1 millionth of the scheduler that the Stephensons were. Henry and Holly Stephenson are truly scheduling savants, able to see patterns that no other human can see. But eventually technological advances overtook them.