The Midsummer Classic is here again, and along with the fanfare comes all the things we love to hate about baseball's annual early-July vacation: two entire consecutive days without a baseball game; counting how many times Chris Berman will say the word "back;" the anguish of seeing your favorite players getting all buddy-buddy with the horrible villains he's suddenly found himself on the same team with; and days of hand-wringing over "This Time It Counts."
That the All-Star Game determines home field advantage in the World Series has been a thorn in our paw for some time. And the numbers seem alarming, I'll grant you that. Since the 2002 All-Star debacle in Milwaukee that ended in a 7-7 tie and started all this nonsense, the team whose league won the All-Star Game and secured home field advantage in the Fall Classic has won nine of out 13 years, a 69% winning percentage. That seems
nice bad! An advantage that gives one team such a strong edge should probably not be decided by an exhibition game that was played three months ago and ended with Brad Brach striking out Jay Bruce.
But is it really that serious? Let's look at the nine series wins for the home team. Four of them came via sweep, and it's a bit of a stretch to say that home field advantage had anything to do with a series in which the runners-up failed to notch a single victory. Let's toss those in the rubbish bin. Another pair of the five remaining were decided in five games, and so the team with the nominal home field advantage actually played more often on the road. We can probably scratch those as well. So of the original 13, three series were won by the home team, four by the road team, and six series saw the home team win but without the advantage entering into the equation. This seems much more reasonable, and maybe just something that's not worth getting upset about.
Baseball has always marched to the beat of its own drum, and that drum just happens to mark time at a very slow time signature that is highly resistant to change. It has always taken baseball much longer to adapt and evolve than the other major sports. A big part of that is the composition of the league itself, and how it's organized.
Much more so than in any other major American sport, the American and National Leagues are seen as separate entities that exist together in partnership, rather than two pieces of one whole. Until 1997, the two leagues never played each other during the regular season, and until 2013 they played each other only during specific times of the season. Even with year-round interleague play now in effect, games against out of league opponents account for just 12.3% of the major league schedule, far lower than the NBA (37%), NHL (34-39%) and NFL (25%). And don't even get me started on the fact that the two leagues don't even play by the same rules. Because of this greater degree of separation, in makes less sense than in other sports to simply hand the home field advantage to the team with the better record.
Are there better ways to decide who should be the home team in the World Series? Sure! You could just let the team with the better record have the advantage -- it's not as strong of a reason as it is in other sports, but it's still probably the best. You could just have all the games played at a neutral site like Wrigley Field, which is a perfect choice both for it's place in baseball history and because there will never be a conflict where the actual home team plays in it. You could let a game of rock, paper, scissors decide, because there's never been a conflict that couldn't be decided by a swift round of roshambo. Heck, this is America, so we may as well get real capitalist with it and just let the teams' owners bid with cold hard cash for the right to decide where the games are played and what the rules of the game will be.
But there are worse ways to do it as well, like the way we did it up until 2003, when home field advantage simply alternated between the leagues every year. Neither way really makes a lot of sense, but baseball very rarely makes any sense anyway, and if you're going to do things that didn't make any dang sense, you may as well have some fun while you're doing it.
. . .
Travis Sarandos is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, a staff writer at BP Milwaukee and a very nice person. You can follow him on Twitter at @travis_mke.