The 2002 All-Star Game was a baseball game like no other: it ended in a tie after both teams ran out of pitchers in the 11th inning. To spice things up, including viewership, Bud Selig announced a new twist in 2003: the winner of the All-Star Game would determine which leave received home-field advantage during the World Series.
Over on Baseball Nation Wendy Thurm took a look at the controversy and history of the midsummer classic and boils down the options concerning the semi-exhabiition game and the postseason.
Her findings reveal that while determining home-field advantage through an unofficial game seems less fair than simply alternating between leagues, as was the previous tradition, in actuality, “This time it counts” is a bit more equitable.
It turns out that in seven of the nine seasons, the team with the better regular-season record had home-field advantage in the World Series.
Alright you might say, but what about a longer sample of World Series contests? Well, Wendy Thurm had that data too:
Contrast that with the 33 World Series held in the expansion era, prior to 2003 (1969-2002). In seventeen of those Series, the team with the better regular-season record held home-field advantage. But in sixteen Series, the team with the worse regular-season record did.
In those sixteen World Series, the team with home-field advantage won the Series twelve times. Twelve out of sixteen. Seventy-five percent. Even though those teams had a worse record during the regular season.
Based on those numbers, alternating home-field advantage between the leagues seems a lot less fair than tying it to the outcome of the All-Star Game.
At this point if you have a beef with the All-Star Game “counting” the evidence isn’t going to help you out a heck of a lot. But this issue remains a divisive topic among fans despite nearly a decade of history behind it.
The underlying issue: the Designated Hitter. While every team usually gets a boost playing at home, American League teams have a disadvantage when they head on the road to National League parks. Every time an AL team plays in an NL park the DH is taken away and AL pitchers are forced to hit. No one enjoys this (well, this is unfair, some people do enjoy this, including a few pitchers. Let’s say no one enjoys watching this most of the time). And many big league teams are shelling out nearly $100 million dollars (or more) for a team which, in the biggest games, doesn’t get to play as it was intended.
The idea of a neutral site for the World Series has been floated in the past. As has the transition to a Super Bowl-style pre-decided, rotating, location. This causes some issues as well. Given the fear of cold weather by Major League Baseball, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland etc. would never see another World Series game.
When the Series is held in a National League park, would the DH apply if the AL won the All-Star Game? Would the series simply rotate between AL and NL parks, playing by the rules of that league for the entire series?
The elephant in the room is the designated hitter itself. While home field is an advantage, both the World Series and Interleague play face problems of fairness because American League pitchers are forced to hit when playing in National League parks and National League teams get to have an extra hitter when they visit the Junior league. Essentially tipping the scales in the favor of the NL team each way.
It’s difficult for me to say, but I think the DH should be adopted by the NL. I like that baseball’s leagues have a real difference between them. I enjoy small ball from time to time just as a change of pace. But I would never want the Red Sox, the team I grew up with, to shift to the National League and abandon the DH.
The Astros are moving into the AL West in 2013. The tougher league and to a division with two powerhouses in the Angels and Rangers. It may take a while for Houston to become competitive again, but when they are, with nine real hitters in their lineup, the AL Astros will always be more talented than the same roster in the NL with a pitcher replacing their DH.