In case you’ve forgotten – or haven’t been following the game closely for all that long – Until 2002, the National and American leagues simply took turns trading home-field advantage in the World Series from year to year. It was kind of a dumb system, but at least it was relatively fair. Regardless of how well your team played throughout the year, you knew before the year started (or years in advance, if you’re good with odd and even numbers…) exactly who would have the advantage of playing an additional game on their home turf in the fall classic.
But then the 2002 All-Star Game happened. In that game, managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenley (who had been doing the typical All-Star thing, trying to make sure all of their players saw the field at some point) ran out of pitchers in the 11th inning of a 7-7 tie at Miller Park. As a result, the game was called a tie, and apparently this was just about the worst thing to ever happen in the history of Major League Baseball.
Personally, I don’t get the big deal. So a silly exhibition game whose purpose is solely to allow the leagues’ best to play one another ended in a tie. Big whoop. Well, apparently it was a big whoop to then-commissioner Bud Selig (you know, the guy who knowingly looked the other way for years while steroids infiltrated major league baseball and then acted all shocked and appalled when stories about steroids started to break – but that’s a story for another day). Because after that 2002 All-Star game, he – thanks to some pushing and prodding from the FOX, who airs the All-Star Game – decided that when it came time for the 2003 All-Star game, “This time it counts!”
Beginning in 2003, the All-Star game became the determining factor for home-field advantage in the World Series. Right from the beginning, it was a crappy idea; not to mention a huge overreaction. As if this was the only way to avoid what happened in 2002 (as if it was that big of a deal in the first place). Perhaps, instead of trying to turn a fun exhibition game into something meaningful, they could’ve done something as simple as allow a pitcher who has already pitched to re-enter the game if all other pitchers had been used. You know, like managers are now allowed to do with catchers in the All-Star game.
But, putting aside some other common-sense “solutions” to the 2002 tie, the reason that having the All-Star Game determine Home-Field advantage is so terrible has been discussed at length over the last 14 years, but that’s because it’s so mind-numbingly simple. This isn’t a complicated, nuanced issue. It’s not a hypothetical issue. It’s about as blatant as problems get, and it’s one that we saw played out almost immediately.
In 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals advanced to the World Series after a stellar season in which they won 105 games and faced off against the Boston Red Sox, who won seven fewer ballgames (98) over the course of the regular season. Common sense would dictate that the Cardinals had earned the right to play more World Series games on their home turf than not; except because of Selig’s new rule, that didn’t happen. That year, the AL cruised to a 9-4 victory at Minute Made Park in Houston.
Let’s talk about that All-Star game for a moment. The game, for all intents and purposes, was lost in the very first inning for the National League as Roger Clemens (of the Houston Astros) got knocked around and gave up six runs – three of them earned – in the top of the first. Later, Chicago Cubs hurler Carlos Zambrano gave up a seventh run and Marlins starter Carl Pavano let two more cross the plate, accounting for the American League’s nine runs.
Offensively, the National League scored four runs. Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa knocked in Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols with an RBI single in the bottom of the first to open the scoring, and then in the bottom of the fourth Cardinals’ shortstop Edgar Renteria knocked a ground-rule double to score Jeff Kent, and then Pujols followed up with a two-run double to drive in Carlos Beltran and Renteria.
Do you notice something weird about that? The Cardinals had a hand in all four runs scored by the National League, and had absolutely nothing to do with any of the runs that were given up. Yet, despite the fact that their representatives in the All-Star game played exceptionally well, thanks to the failures of (primarily) Roger Clemens – who played for a division rival – they lost the game. And thus they lost home-field advantage.
When the World Series rolled around, Boston ended up rolling to an easy 4-0 victory in the series. Would Boston still have won if the first two games were in St. Louis? Maybe, maybe not. This was the season that broke their 86-year drought, after all. Maybe history was just on their side.
But here’s the thing, it’s not just the players that lose out when their team doesn’t secure home field advantage. The teams do, too. A World Series game hosted at your ballpark is worth a lot of money. Thousands of tickets sold at outrageous prices, lots of beer and snacks consumed, countless World-Series-branded items sold; a World Series game is worth big money.
So, let’s put it this way: If you’re an organization that has worked hard to craft a team that rolled through the regular season, advanced through the playoffs and wound up in the World Series as the team with the superior record; doesn’t it seem like you should get the benefit of potentially having one more home-field game than your opponent so you can rake in that extra revenue?
It would make sense to me. And I think that’s what is so frustrating about all of this. The solution to this issue is obvious – give home-field advantage to the team with the better record. They do it in basketball, they do it in hockey. It just makes sense. And better yet, it works. It’s not placing the fate of your team in the hands of a bunch of fan-voted players from other teams.
But hey, what does MLB care, so long as an exhibition game doesn’t end in a tie.