Photo above: New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter connects on the first of his two hits in his
final All-Star appearance, an opposite field double into the right field corner.
He later scored on a double by L.A. Angels outfielder Mike Trout. (YouTube)
Bud Selig fixed a problem he didn’t have.
In 2003, the Salesman-In-Chief announced that the MLB All-Star Game would determine home-field advantage for the World Series. The move came after the 2002 debacle, which ended in a tie after Joe Torre and Bob Brenly managed the exhibition game like an exhibition game, running out of pitchers in the process. The belief was that with home-field on the line, the players would be more invested, and that — presumably more importantly — ratings would go up, as fans of potentially playoff-bound teams would stay tuned to the television.
Neither of these things, you’ll notice, had anything to do with the World Series.
It was not the World Series’ fault, after all, that free agency increased players’ movements between leagues, simultaneously weakening old allegiances and fostering more of a group mentality among the players. Nor was it the Fall Classic’s fault that salaries went far out to sea, erasing much of the common ground between fans and the men on the field. And certainly nothing in October caused the influx of foreign players who, while passionate about playing the game, are probably (and understandably) more drawn to their current cultural counterparts than, say, to what the All-Star Game might’ve meant to Joe DiMaggio.
Baseball had problems in 2002, but who hosted the World Series wasn’t one of them. They were much deeper, and to change them would require systemic, cultural changes that were probably impossible. Fortunately, Selig the ex-car dealer knew how to make a lemon shine in the sun. Rather than try to convince a players’ union full of people almost entirely unlike him to embrace the romance of the game’s history, he tried to get the rest of us to invest in an exhibition game by tying it to our hometown team’s playoff chances. Fortunately for him, his wild-card and salary-cap implementations had watered the game down enough to keep many teams afloat into September.
So how did he do? Well, it’s now 12 years later and the American League will have home-field advantage in the 2014 World Series. It will do so largely because Cardinal Pat Neshek, a middle reliever unilaterally added to the team by Cardinal manager Mike Matheny, gave up an RBI double to Mike Trout that looked very much to be foul. Brewer third baseman Aramis Ramirez, after seeing the ball called fair, had the kind of smirk on his face that you have when a child breaks the rules to beat you at checkers — you know you got screwed, but you play along with the script.
Pete Rose must have been spinning in his casino right about then. Perhaps next season, when MLB will almost certainly give him a 24-hour reprieve at the Cincinnati All-Star Game, he’ll tell us about it. If he does, he may well point out that whether you look at ratings for the All-Star Game, the World Series, or even home-field advantage, Selig’s policy has been an almost total failure. You see, historically, home-field advantage has meant almost nothing in World Series play.
The first Series was played between the Red Sox and Pirates in 1903. The Red Sox had home-field advantage and won the series, but the road team won five of the eight games. In fact, over the first 51 World Series, comprising 292 games, the home and away teams won the exact same number of games. Seven of the first 12 Series were won by the team that DIDN’T have home-field advantage.
Between 1955 and 1984, the “road” team won 21 out of 30 series. Over the entirety of Series play, the “home” team has won just 65 of 109 meetings — essentially six out of 10, or one more than half. Since Selig made the All-Star Game count, seven of the 11 Series have been evenly split in home and away victories — in other words, most of the time, what decides the Series is who plays better on the road. Even Game 7’s don’t matter — home teams are just 19-17 in those contests (and that’s after winning the last nine in a row).
At best, Selig and Co. simply assumed that home-field advantage matters, and made an ill-informed decision with good intentions. It seems unlikely, though, that a sport as obsessed with statistics as this one had no one to point out the facts to the man making the decisions — in which case, we must consider the other, obvious motivation: money. And in that venue, it seems that Selig’s efforts also were in vain.
Interest in the All-Star Game has continued to decline since “This Time It Counts” entered the national lexicon. The games’ ratings, audience share and total viewership have never exceeded what they were in 2002 — never once, in any category. The same is largely true of the World Series — over the last 11 years, the only Series that have had higher ratings than in 2002 were those involving the Yankees or Red Sox. In other words, the average mid-market fan is no more invested in the game now than they were when home-field rotated between the leagues, and the “advantage” has essentially meant nothing more than it did before.
Other than that, “This Time It Counts” has been a wonderful policy.
Stay tuned for next time, when I’ll explain the reasons that Bud Selig has actually been extremely effective, and how we all took part in creating him.
Jack McDonald is an award-winning sportswriter whose writing has been published on Bleacher Report and in Bill Simmons’ award-winning book, `Now I Can Die In Peace’. He has written and produced sketch comedy and performs as a standup comic in Los Angeles.