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Volume 21 No. 2
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‘No playbook’ for MLB hurricane rescheduling

Even as one of Major League Baseball’s younger leaders, Executive Vice President Chris Marinak has still been around long enough to see a lot of different situations. But never had he experienced the scheduling complications created by the one-two punch of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The recent, destructive storms in Texas and Florida prompted the shift of a late August series between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and then last week relocated a New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays series to Citi Field in New York and flipped a Milwaukee Brewers-Miami Marlins set from Marlins Park to Miller Park.

Prior to last month, MLB had made weather-related relocations to neutral sites only three prior times: in 2004, 2007 and 2008 due to two hurricanes and heavy snow. But in nearly matching that mark over a single fortnight, Marinak, the rest of the league office, the participating teams and the MLB Players Association had to balance a wide array of factors. Among them: getting the games played without disrupting October’s postseason calendar or having excessive numbers of doubleheaders; compliance with the collective-bargaining agreement; travel considerations; hotel room availability; facility and staff readiness; and weather.

The Yankees played the Tampa Bay Rays at the Mets’ Citi Field.
“There’s really no playbook for a situation like this, certainly not when they stack up like this, and every situation is different,” said Marinak, who along with MLB Chief Operating Officer Tony Petitti was a key figure in the rescheduling efforts. “You just have to figure out what’s happening, look at all the available data, make an honest assessment, and then make the best decision. But in each situation, we considered at least four or five different venues.”

That consideration of alternate ballparks brought its own share of challenges. In the case of the Rangers-Astros series last month, the Rangers refused to switch home series with the Astros, and the Astros didn’t want to play at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, as the home team. That disagreement prompted Astros owner Jim Crane to say, “I’ve told anybody that if the situation was reversed, I would have [switched the series]. I would have given them a break.”

Conflicting events at Yankee Stadium, including an NYC FC soccer match, prevented a simple flip of the Yankees-Rays series. The Marlins, meanwhile, were prepared to play host to the Brewers at Marlins Park, despite extensive flooding and power outages in the Miami area. But team President David Samson said the region and public resources still had “other needs that must take priority at this time.”

For each of the three relocated series, tickets were sold at flat or heavily discounted rates, with the upper decks closed and the ticket proceeds largely going to cover the expenses of staging the games. The Rangers-Astros series, which drew a total of 12,993 for the three Tropicana Field games, operated at a fiscal loss.

The Astros, Rays and Marlins will now be eligible to file business disruption insurance claims to help cover lost revenue from the missed home games. Those claims will be made individually by the clubs, but they will each draw from a leaguewide insurance policy MLB brokers on behalf of all 30 teams.

The 2018 schedule, released last week, includes an earlier-than-ever domestic start of March 29 and several additional off days for each team, provisions of the labor deal designed foremost to give players more rest during the six-month grind of the regular season. But Marinak said those additional open dates will be helpful should more situations like hurricanes Harvey and Irma arise.

“In the cases this year, there weren’t a lot of extra dates for us to work with,” he said. “But next year’s schedule does offer some additional options if we unfortunately find ourselves in this case again.”