In the nine years since baseball’s Think-of-Something-Anything response to the embarrassing 2002 All-Star Game tie, the gimmick – deciding which league would secure World Series home field advantage for its playoff champion – has been annually hammered into our heads as not just a Rationalization for a decreasingly relevant concept, but The Rationalization. It’s personal, it’s for pride, it’s for home field advantage, it’s not a break, a diamond is forever, promise her anything but give her Arpege. The sad part is, some people have now heard it so often, they believe it.
In point of fact, in those nine years The Rationalization has directly and personally impacted only seven players.
Only All-Stars Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, and Albert Pujols of the 2011 World Champion Cardinals, and All-Stars Josh Hamilton, Alexi Ogando, C.J. Wilson, and Michael Young of the defeated Rangers, were even winged by what happened in an All-Star Game. When the N.L. won last summer, the Cards got Game 7 and the Rangers didn’t. But one can argue convincingly that a team blowing a three-run lead and then a two-run lead in Game 6 could’ve done just as badly at home as they did on the road (and we don’t even need to address the possibility that the Cards might’ve won the Series in Game 6 if Tony LaRussa hadn’t forgotten how to phone his own bullpen in a noisy stadium).
The simple fact is that since the Butt-Covering Home Field plan was instituted in 2003, we’ve only had one seventh game, and thus we’ve only had one seventh game whose venue was decided by what happened in the All-Star Game. Other than last year, we haven’t gotten close. Only two other Series even reached Game Six.
There is absolutely no recent evidence that home field advantage is even keenly influential, let alone decisive. Twice the American League All-Stars gave “their” winner home field advantage only to see the National League teams (the 2006 Cardinals and 2008 Phillies) still wind up playing more home games than their A.L. rivals, and prevailing in the Classic. The 2010 Giants had home field, and didn’t need it. They won even though they played more games on the road than at home. In all the other Series (save for last year, of course) winner and loser played the same number of home games.
There’s no measuring for the psychological impact of knowing you have that 7th Game in your yard, and there’s an obvious advantage to the front end of the equation in which you are in strong position to win the first two at home (as did the ’04 and ’07 Red Sox, ’05 White Sox, and ’10 Giants). But did the Red Sox and White Sox pull off their three sweeps because they started in their own ballparks, or because they were decisively stronger clubs than the ’04 Cardinals, ’05 Astros, and ’07 Rockies?
Besides which, although they’ve been on a great run since the 1979 Pirates won at Baltimore, last year’s Cardinals victory only improved the home team’s record to 19-and-17 in the sundry Games 7 of the modern World Series. Whichever method gives you that decider – All-Star Stunt, Alternating Year Rotation, or something new – it just isn’t a guarantee you’re going to win it.
The All-Star Game was doing just as well (or just as badly) as that of any other sport until the Tie Disaster Of 2002, and that could’ve been remedied by keeping a small reserve of emergency pitchers for each team. It didn’t require a decade of selling as an ultimately decisive advantage, a not-at-all decisive advantage, decided by players making cameos under rules designed to insure they’re still just playing an exhibition, that has only come in to play once in all that time.
Let’s end this “Home Field” farce, now.