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.

Yankees Win World Series: The Empire Struck Back

Last night the New York Yankees ended their nine-year struggle to win the World Series. The Yankees also outspent every team in baseball…again.  Weighing in at just over $201 million in 2009, the Yankees outspent the Mets, who had the second highest payroll, by $52.1, or just over one season of the entire Pittsburgh Pirates roster.

Through their “drought,” the Yankees spent this way every year until last year when their bundles of cash and a frozen economy let them scoop up all three premier free agents. Baseball is broken as long as this is allowed, but since a salary cap is highly unlikely, fans have only one consolation: the big bad is back.

By winning another World Series, the baseball-watching public, not just Red Sox Nation, can see clearly again which team is the enemy. Which team they will root against no matter whom the opponent. For the Red Sox, this makes the rivalry an actual rivalry! During the 86 years the Sox suffered, the Yankees feasted. That’s closer to the Washington Generals and the Harlem Globetrotters.  Between 2000 and 2009, the Red Sox and Yankees were both among the elite of baseball.

Entering the next decade, the Red Sox and Yankees are the only teams to have won two World Series championships in the 2000s. They enter the 2010s on even footing. Forget 27 rings. Forget 86 years. Baseball has changed since 2000. On base percentage, the smart front office, and the goal of finding players who are great athletes and put up great statistics, have created a smarter, better version of America’s pastime.  It’s an arms race and we’re minutes from midnight: the next ALCS between baseball’s clearly richest team and likely its smartest.

Yankees suck! (Unless you’re a fan. Then, well, at least you picked the right sport.)