End The Home Field Advantage

Though there have now been back-to-back entertaining All-Star Games (and this one, as we used to say at ESPN, “moved like a rocket”), the idea that the American League has gotten home field advantage for the World Series seven consecutive years based on a game played under rules that necessarily favor the American League, must somehow be corrected.
The obvious problem is the imbalance in the intensity of offense. Though there are two fewer American League teams, the total number of starting offensive positions is still just a ratio of NL 128/AL 126. But in that virtually identically-sized talent pool, there are, at minimum, 14 offensive positions in the American League (and thus 14 potential American League All-Stars) who do not have to have much, or even any, defensive capability. Even defensively-skilled American League All-Stars are all afforded the potential opportunity to play “half games” by filling in as DH’s; their National League counterparts must either play more in the field – and thus be more worn down – or sit games out.
American League pitchers also have a slight physical advantage. While their performances are certainly taxed by the fact of facing the DH, it’s not as if they have to get four outs every inning – and the trade off is, (virtually) never having to hit, and (virtually) never having to run the bases, unlike their National League counterparts.
Finally, the All-Teams-Represented anachronism — a rule left over from the days when it was assumed television viewership in each city depended on a representative from the team in each city — clearly hurts the National League. It might not show up in a given game, but over the course of the twelve years since the 16/14 split began, this must have an impact: the NL is stuck with two more Mandatory Choices, each year, than is the AL. Tonight, the question was, which of the four solo NL guys – Francisco Cordero, Ted Lilly, Brian McCann, or Ryan Zimmerman – was ultimately of less use to Charlie Manuel than, say, a Mark Reynolds pinch-hit appearance might have been?
The solution? Two more guys on the NL roster than the AL? Eliminate the mandatory team representatives? Hard to say. But giving the American League the home field in the Series based on what is deteriorating into a self-fulfilling prophesy, is madness.
CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCHES

Four years ago I was to throw one out before a game at Staten Island of the New York-Penn League and I called an old friend of mine, a former pitcher of some prominence, for advice. From Baba-Booey to President Barack Obama, the rules he gave me should be handed out in advance to all ceremonial first pitchers (and, after tonight’s great Obama looper, kept in the President’s mind for whenever he next takes the hill).
The first rule is: don’t take the hill. “That is not there for you,” my friend said. “All you can do there is fall off. Go to the front of the mound, the skirt, and move up just far enough that it looks like you’re on the mound but you’re really going to land on level ground as you throw.”
The second rule is: aim high. “Think about every first pitch you’ve ever seen,” he said. “The ones that the catcher has to leap for, or go over his head, some people might laugh but at least a few will go ooooooooh. The ones thrown in the dirt just get moans. When it doubt, fail upwards.”
But the last rule, he said, was the most important, and, chronologically, the first. “Try to get the actual baseball early. Or — screw it — just pick up any ball that’s handy. They don’t care. Get it as early as possible: ten minutes, half an hour, whatever. And just hold on to it and pretend it makes you less nervous.” I thought he was going to go all psychological on mine. “And as you turn the ball over in your hands, as you rub it, as you look at it, pick at the seams. Use your fingernails and just pull up on every thread. Just keep doing it, as many times, to as many pieces of thread as you can. Just keep doing it.” I asked why. “You’ll see.”
I got the ball probably half an hour before the first pitch, and, while dismissing myself as a moron for following my friend’s goofy advice, I decided to adhere to it. I picked at each thread. Nothing happened. No elevation. No loosening. No sense of having done anything to the ball. A decided sense of my friend, in a distant city, chuckling as he thought of me pointlessly pulling at red threads that wouldn’t budge.
I warned the Staten Island catcher P.J. Piliterre (who I was delighted to see in Tampa last March, in camp with the big boys; good luck with spelling that battery of Pettitte and Piliterre) that I would aim high, then trotted out to the front skirt of the mound, gave the seams a few final tugs, and fired. The immediate good news: it was relatively close to the plate. The immediate bad news: he might have to reach up for it.
Then the miracle happened.
A few feet in front of the plate, as unexpectedly and sharply as if it had been hit by a bullet or an arrow, my first pitch dropped, a good eighteen inches. Piliterre had to drop his glove to catch what would have been, dare I say it, mistaken for an off-speed overhand curveball, for a strike. Piliterre was laughing as he met me near the plate to give me the ball: “I see you’ve been picking at the seams.”

18 Comments

OK, I’ll bite…how does picking at the seams cause the ball to behave in this way? There must be some law of physics at play here, but I have no earthly clue of what that might be….

I second that question: I’m no expert, but I feel fairly comfortable with my knowledge of basic physics. However, with this I am baffled.

Also (and much more importantly), I sure wish there was footage of this pitch somewhere…

The AL pitchers being more rested? Because they don’t have to hit? Gimme a break! What about the NL pitchers being ‘soft’ because they don’t have to throw strikes to everyone with another TIRED NL pitcher on deck. The batting average for all pitchers last year was .194, so they aren’t THAT tired. I think the AL pitchers are better than their NL counterparts because they dont have the luxury of a free out every third inning and have to stay sharp. Just as logical and hard to prove as your idea.Then there are the Thomes and big Papis and Hafners of the world. This year, they aren’t hitting much better than those pitchers, are they? Of course they draw more walks and tend to hit the ball a bit farther. The answer is simple. Give the NL teams a DH. All the time. There is more strategy in the AL game by my estimation. In the NL your hand is forced to do things. Its not strategy, often times its merely desperation. And why dont NL teams carry more slugger types? Youd think at least one of the NL teams would see that discrepancy in the inter-league records and use the AL roster model as their basis. I guess Philly kind of did with Ibanez in left come to think of it.The disparity of teams leading to two more mandatory choices I’ll buy. You have a good point there. That should have been gone as soon as the World Series home field advantage came into play.The fans picking the offensive starters and letting the manager pick the rest is fine. I’d like to do away with fan voting, too, but I don’t see that going anywhere.

Good questions in 1 and 2. C’mon Keith you did the baseball part, time to fulfill the nerd part of this blog’s title! :)

I was thinking it’s like the stalling speed of an aircraft. And apparently aerodynamics plays a role in curveballs (kind of obvious really): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curveball

Did keith ever apologize to Pujols….
Here’s the problem: The trainer’s name wasn’t found anywhere in the report, meaning Leitch smeared the trainer and Pujols in one inaccurate swoop based on an “80 percent” certainty rate. I think we learn in our 11th-grade journalism class, if not out of the womb, that it’s irresponsible to tell a potentially damaging story if you’re not entirely certain it’s true. Eighty percent may as well be zero percent. The mess was exacerbated by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who ran with the story and caused a national feeding frenzy, and not until Pujols threatened legal action did a shamed, humiliated Leitch emerge with a correction titled, “A Deeply Regrettable Wrong,” apologizing to the trainer in the process.

Did keith ever apologize to Pujols….
Here’s the problem: The trainer’s name wasn’t found anywhere in the report, meaning Leitch smeared the trainer and Pujols in one inaccurate swoop based on an “80 percent” certainty rate. I think we learn in our 11th-grade journalism class, if not out of the womb, that it’s irresponsible to tell a potentially damaging story if you’re not entirely certain it’s true. Eighty percent may as well be zero percent. The mess was exacerbated by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who ran with the story and caused a national feeding frenzy, and not until Pujols threatened legal action did a shamed, humiliated Leitch emerge with a correction titled, “A Deeply Regrettable Wrong,” apologizing to the trainer in the process.

Keith, a good comment and a good story – enjoyed ‘em.

Also, thanks for again mentioning ‘Mark Reynolds should have been an all-star’. Though I have to admit Victorino did acquit himself well.

And Haren should have been the starter! Other than win-losses, which were not his fault, he has had the best record in the league this season… and didn’t give up a run last night, like you-know-who.

While I loved President Obama’s appearance and obvious love of the game , I can’t help but think that St. Louis had prepared a lovefest for Stan Musial similar to that of Ted Williams in 1999.

I always thought the DH rule mostly benefits the teams with money to burn. They get to play 10 players instead of just 9, effectively increasing the amount of value they can utilize at any given time. If a team doesn’t have excess cash, spending money on that 10th man means spending less money on everyone else.

I thought this article presented an interesting argument on the subject, although I don’t necessarily agree with it.
http://basebology.blogspot.com/2009/06/does-al-have-inherent-advantage-in.html

Why was’nt there more of a tribute to Musial? Did the Secret Service keep the players from going out on the field to shake his hand? Joe Torre was’nt wrestled to the ground when he did so. Some Cards fans are miffed that the President wore a White Sox jacket when he greeted Musial. And I’m happy to see that Bernie Miklasz agrees with me that Ken Burns baseball series gave Musial short shrift. I remember waiting patiently through all the accolades for East Coast players only to see Musial’s career dismissed in one minute of film as great but, hey, let’s get back to the more colorful players! Then there’s the forgotten man of baseball: Curt Flood. Keith, you said one time that the lawyer who represented Curt Flood should be honored at Cooperstown, my immediate thought when you said that was: Why not honor Curt Flood? I remember the grief Flood endured. I remember the racial slurs lobbed his way and the pressure put on Busch by the other owners to fire him and yet there was not one single mention of him during the All Star Game. It’s as ridiculous as Roger Maris not being a Hall of Famer.

If MLB really wants the game to count they should do away with the fan voting. Since they won’t do that they need to at least cut it down to voting on the reserves. The whole mandatory choice rule is a joke. The best teams aren’t even of the field because of it so how can you put so much stock in the game?
http://moneyball.mlblogs.com/

End the Home Field Advantage:
I couldn’t agree with you more, Keith. I also believe the AL gets the same advantage in inter-league play as well as having (on average) a chance to have a better-rested team in October. This is getting into “Ditch the DH” territory but why not designate hitters for poor-hitting short stops while we’re at it? The logic eludes me.
Back to All-Star, the magic is gone when it counts for something. For example, the John Kruk/Randy Johnson moment is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of All-Star b-roll in existence and it could never happen in this environment. The fans have 162 games (or more) to see their favorite players pushing the limits of their skills. All-Star is for fun, for magic, for goofiness and pies in the face. Bring back the joy.
Ceremonial First Pitches:
Bravo to your big league pal on great advice and to you for trusting enough to follow it. Great story.

End the home field advantage:

Keith, these are reasons why you need to be on TV talking baseball (MLB Network as a guest of Bob Costas or on your own weekend show on CNBC).

Using Bud Selig’s logic to fix this problem, next year we’ll see the voting pooled into one giant vote with the top 2 players at each position (6 OFs) voted in to start two arbitrary-but-equal teams playing a real scrimage (like how a gym class would split up and play a game) with the best of the best and best of the remaining teams filling out the 33 man rosters.

http://RememberingShea.blogspot.com

The solution to ending the all-star imbalance is obvious. Tell Bud Selig to put his Milwaukee Brewers back in the American League where they belong! End of discussion.

Off-topic:

Yesterday VH1 ran the documentary “Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants.” Keith, you are featured prominently in the segments regarding the “SpongeBob is gay” issue and the thefts surrouding the Burger King giant SpongeBob giant balloons.

Just thought you – and others – might be interested. It’s a great documentary.

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/2009/07/14/2009-07-14_spongebob_squarepants_gets_.html

Jan/Santa Clarita

The problem with home-field advantage being based on the All-Star Game is that the game is a popularity contest, and the managers work harder at playing everyone than at winning. So, as was suggested above, either end the voting and put the best out there in a serious game or don’t make the outcome matter.

As to Musial, Burns’s New York/Boston bias–and he isn’t alone in that–meant less attention to the midwestern players and teams. Anyone doing a documentary, as in life generally, has to make choices, but Burns really gave him (and several others) short shrift. And yet it may be that nobody ever hit better in Ebbets Field than Musial did–the Brooklyn fans really respected him above all other opponents, if I am correct in my interpretation.

The argument most make in favor of the home-field advantage idea is that now the all-star game “means something again”…as if that stipulation was the only one that could accomplish that. Surely there’s some other stipulation that could make the game more meaningful, if that’s what you want. Personally, if they wanted to put roughly a 12-inning limit on the all-star game on a permanent basis, I’d be perfectly okay with that too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having a meaningful all-star game, but there needs to be some other way to make that happen, rather than home-field advantage in the World Series. If one determines then other, then in reality, you’re prioritizing the all-star game OVER the World Series…that the former is more important than the latter. And that, on its face, is ridiculous. I say, pick a charity every year…charity gets, say, $1 million from MLB. If the National League wins, then the American league players have to write the check…if the American league wins, the National Leaguers pay it. Put money on the line, and that’ll motivate everybody (except maybe A-rod).

That’s just one thing I’d do as Czar of baseball. I’d also get rid of the DH. Unlike Keith, I like inter-league play, I just hate the unbalanced (or more accurate, inequitable) schedule it creates…so I’d move Houston to the NL west, move Colorado to the AL west, to have 15 teams in each league, and five teams per division. Then you can get some “schedule equity” with your inter-league play. 16 game against your division, eight games against the other two divisions in your league, then 18 inter-league games…15 games (five three-game series) against one division in the other league rotated every three years, then 3 games against your “natural” or “closest geographic” rival. In the year your play your rival’s division, you play home-and-away…the other two years, it’s just one series, one year at home, one year away. There’s your 162 game schedule. (I’d think the owners would like that too…you could do a lot more four-game series, cut down on travel costs!)

The argument most make in favor of the home-field advantage idea is that now the all-star game “means something again”…as if that stipulation was the only one that could accomplish that. Surely there’s some other stipulation that could make the game more meaningful, if that’s what you want. Personally, if they wanted to put roughly a 12-inning limit on the all-star game on a permanent basis, I’d be perfectly okay with that too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having a meaningful all-star game, but there needs to be some other way to make that happen, rather than home-field advantage in the World Series. If one determines then other, then in reality, you’re prioritizing the all-star game OVER the World Series…that the former is more important than the latter. And that, on its face, is ridiculous. I say, pick a charity every year…charity gets, say, $1 million from MLB. If the National League wins, then the American league players have to write the check…if the American league wins, the National Leaguers pay it. Put money on the line, and that’ll motivate everybody (except maybe A-rod).

That’s just one thing I’d do as Czar of baseball. I’d also get rid of the DH. Unlike Keith, I like inter-league play, I just hate the unbalanced (or more accurate, inequitable) schedule it creates…so I’d move Houston to the NL west, move Colorado to the AL west, to have 15 teams in each league, and five teams per division. Then you can get some “schedule equity” with your inter-league play. 16 game against your division, eight games against the other two divisions in your league, then 18 inter-league games…15 games (five three-game series) against one division in the other league rotated every three years, then 3 games against your “natural” or “closest geographic” rival. In the year your play your rival’s division, you play home-and-away…the other two years, it’s just one series, one year at home, one year away. There’s your 162 game schedule. (I’d think the owners would like that too…you could do a lot more four-game series, cut down on travel costs!)

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