Every time ESPN chooses to put the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball, fans get up in arms over the change in schedule. This is especially true for home games, where the switch from a 1:00 pm game to an 8:00 pm game disrupts the plans of Mets fans that want to attend the games; particularly ones with families or the need to get up early on Mondays. Last week, ESPN released its schedule for the first half of the MLB season, and the one game the Mets play on ESPN — May 26 against the Atlanta Braves — happens to be Banner Day.
So how often are the Mets actually chosen for Sunday Night Baseball? I looked at the past four years at every Sunday night game, except for the second games of doubleheaders. I may have missed a game or two, but I wanted to avoid days where there was still an option to see a game on a Sunday afternoon. It will also include regularly scheduled night games as the database does not record which channels the game aired on. This comes into play with the Texas Ranger in particular, who schedule night games that aren't on ESPN. Presumably Texas gets pretty hot in the summer and it's more comfortable at night.
The Mets, along with the Braves, were tied for third in home games with nine. Boston had ten home games and Texas had a shocking nineteen games played on Sunday Night in Arlington. Having never been to Texas, I have no idea what's so appealing that they keep scheduling games there. That's nearly five games a year, and if you look at the schedule for the upcoming season, you'll see that the Rangers have two more home games in the first half next year, and one road game, on Sunday Night Baseball.
The ESPN crew has only visited 20 of the 30 cities over the last four years, with Arizona, Baltimore, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Seattle, and Toronto having not appeared on Sunday Night Baseball at home. Washington, Cleveland, and the Chicago White Sox, have only hosted one Sunday Night Baseball game in the past four years each. In fact, the White Sox only played two Sunday Night games all last season, once in Texas and once in Detroit. The Astros and the White Sox will get a game in the first half of 2013, but the other teams will not, despite the Blue Jays and Nationals both being compelling teams to watch. Even with the interleague-all-the-time format of baseball that begins this season, only one of the released games is an interleague game: the Braves at the Tigers on April 28.
I took a look at road games too, wondering if ESPN would work in some of the teams in cities it wasn't visiting. There, the Mets are tied with the Cubs and Phillies for seventh with seven Sunday Night games. The Yankees lead the pack with thirteen, and Arizona, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh have zero appearances as the road team on Sunday Night Baseball over the last four years. This means Arizona and Baltimore haven't appeared on the Sunday broadcast since 2008.
The last time the Pirates were scheduled for ESPN on a Sunday was May 19, 2002. The Pirates and Kip Wells won that day, defeating Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and former- and then-future- Mets Dave Milicki, Billy Wagner, and Richard Hidalgo. ESPN is all about the good matchups, and the Pirates haven't been good in ages, but that's ridiculous. The last time the ESPN crew decided to visit Pittsburgh on a Sunday was 1996. That was at Three Rivers Stadium, and Roger Maris was still the single-season home run king. The Yankees hadn't won a World Series in nearly twenty years. ESPN couldn't choose one Pirates game in the second half last year so the nation could see Andrew McCutchen playing in PNC Park?
The Mets have been featured in just under 16 percent of all ESPN Sunday Night Baseball games over the last four seasons. Randomly assigning teams in an even fashion would put each team at just under 7 percent. Of course, the Mets haven't been particularly good lately. The Yankees are just under 21 percent, which is probably closer to how often a consistently good Mets team would appear. Ultimately we're talking about four total Mets games per year, which isn't a huge deal, but still seems somewhat unfair.
This isn't a perfect sample, with regularly scheduled night games, doubleheaders, Subway Series, and weather-related planning playing a role. A broadcast team might want to avoid Colorado, particularly for April night games, but that's no excuse if the goal is to give you a broad coverage of the entire landscape of the sport, including all teams. Just tossing a bone to a couple of the seldom-selected clubs would lighten the load for the more commonly selected ones, as those teams have a more difficult travel schedule when they need to play a Monday game elsewhere the following day.