Baseball Confession Time

It’s become something of a punching bag for the media, analysts, fantasy sports folks, and more recently but I like the All-Star Game. Is it perfect? No. Is it the game my dad watched as a kid (well, one of two ASGs back in the day apparently), no. But it’s still fun to see a living fantasy team take the field. 

The voting system isn’t perfect – not the fan voting or the player voting – the roster use can be a mess, and the game isn’t played like it counts, despite holding what can be a decent advantage for the winning league, home field for the World Series. 

Our Father, who art in Calgary, Bobsled be thy name. Thy kingdom come, gold medals won, on Earth as it is in Turn Seven. With Liberty and Justice for Jamaica and Haile Selassie. Amen. – Irving Blitzer

Without getting too into it, what would I change to improve an event I already enjoy?  

First, either go all-in on “it counts” and run the game like a real game or return it to the exhibition it was in the past. Just picking one of these eliminates a number of issues because if the game doesn’t count for anything, who actually plays doesn’t matter as much.

Second, change up the selection system. Take the two MVPs from the previous season and make them captains. Each chooses a starting 9. The fans get to vote on the bench and the starting pitcher. The manager gets to assemble a bullpen and choose the “final vote” candidates so that a Bryce Harper or Yasiel Puig can get on the team because everyone wants to see them play. 

Third, eliminate the rule requiring every team to get an All-Star representative. Back when Joe Torre loaded every team with Yankees this seemed like a logical move to prevent too many teams from being left out, but today the manager doesn’t have as much control and with online voting, fans can make their voices heard in a more powerful way than ever before.

And that would be it. Shake up the game, mess with the rules, and have fun. Oh, and each All-Star Game format would last say, five years, and then shake it up again. The game should be fun but it should be a game.

This Time Is Counts: The All-Star Game, the World Series, and You

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.

Bowling for Fielder

Before Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers or the Milwaukee Brewers, there was his father, Cecil Fielder.

There was also a vacation to Cape Cod I took with my family in, I believe, 1990. While my dad had to return to work early, my mother, brother, and I watched the All-Star Game on good old-fashioned over-the-air television.

I say this was “probably” 1990 because while the exact year has long since left my memory to make room for meaningless statistics and trivia on all manner of subjects, this particular All-Star Game had a first: it featured the first All-Star appearance of Cecil Fielder. Of course, he made two other appearances as an All-Star in 1991 and 1993, so this memory could be from one of those years as well.

To cut to the chase, the pitcher (whom I have no memory of whatsoever) was doing his job against the Detroit slugger and the announcer made a comment that has amused me for years. It went something like this:

It’s like he [the pitcher] is bowling as he faces Cecil Fielder.

and his partner responded:

Yes, but Fielder is larger than the average pin.

Tony LaRussa, Manager to the Stars

One of the baseball’s most legendary managers called it quits Monday. Just a few days after winning his third World Series title, his second with the St. Louis Cardinals, the bullpen manager hung up his cleats for good.

Will Albert Pujols follow his lead out of town? Will LaRussa return to manage the NL All-Star team? We’ll find out as the offseason kicks into gear.

One thing is for sure, Tony LaRussa left a lasting impact on major league bullpen management.