It was the 2002 All-Star Game that screwed everything up.
The game lasted 11 innings, and ended in a 7-7 tie. The crowd was restless. The players were used up. TVs had been turned off and the nation went to bed. That’s when Bud Selig, the MLB Commissioner, decided it could never happen again.
In 2003 the MLB unveiled the “This Time It Counts” campaign that declared that whichever league – American or National – won the All-Star Game, the champ from that league would win home field advantage in the World Series.
And while I understand that no one wants the MLB ASG to fade into irrelevance like the NFL Pro Bowl, it’s an absolutely bogus idea. It has been from Year 1.
The All-Star Game was and is meaningful. But it should never “count” for anything.
Only one World Series has gone 7 games since the 2003 rule change, and that was in 2011: Rangers vs. Cardinals. STL was the Wild Card that year. They stormed back from 10.5 games back on August 25, to clenching the Wild Card spot on the final day of the season with a record of 90-72.
They proceeded to beat the Philadelphia Phillies (102-60) in the NLDS, the Milwaukee Brewers (96-66) in the NLCS, before facing the Texas Rangers (96-66) in the World Series.
That year, in the All-Star Game at Chase Field in Arizona, the Brewers’ Prince Fielder hit 3-run home run in the 4th inning en route to being crowned the Most Valuable Player and claiming home-field advantage for the National League.
And from Cardinal fans everywhere: Thanks, Prince.
Because when the World Series ended up going 7 games, it was the 90-72, Wild Card Cardinals who hosted the final two games at home instead of the 96-66 AL West Champion Rangers. Which led to the Cardinals being down to their last strike twice in Game 6 before David Freese played the hero with a walk off HR in what I believe was the greatest World Series game in history. (My apologies to fans of the 91 Twins, 86 Mets, 01 Diamondbacks and 60 Pirates.)
Then they took Game 7 to celebrate in front of their own fans at Busch Stadium.
Now, one can argue that the outcome may have been no different on the road than at home, but it doesn’t take much imagination to believe that the team that got down 3 games to 2 before coming home and being down to their last strike not once, but twice, might have had a different on the road instead. Surely the value of home field advantage is greater than the one strike the Rangers needed to clench their first World Series Championship.
Again: Thanks, Prince.
Or more appropriately: Thanks, Bud Selig.
Which brings me to last night.
If you don’t know, this year is Derek Jeter’s last season. You should know, because no matter what city you live in, if Jeter has visited this year, there was likely some sort of ceremony to honor his legacy. Following in Mariano Rivera’s footsteps from last year, Jeter is being lauded with gifts at every ballpark he enters. It’s fun and means well. Personally, I’m starting to get tired of it, but whatever.
Last night was Jeter’s final All-Star Game.
Anyway. Jeter was leading off last night for the American League, which in itself highlights the ridiculousness of the ASG meaning something. Jeter is hitting .272/.324/.322 this year, and probably doesn’t deserve to be playing in the ASG to begin with, let alone starting and leading off. If the game counts, wouldn’t the American League want to play their best players and try their hardest to win?
But starting Jeter and batting him leadoff allowed for a cool moment where he came to the plate first and received an extended standing ovation. Because the All-Star Game, ultimately, is not about winning or losing. It’s about honoring the best of the best and highlighting their skill and their legacy. Jeter was worthy of receiving that, but was not worthy of starting, in my opinion.
So the American League is more interested in honoring Jeter than winning the game. Even though it could cost them home-field advantage in the WS. Okay.
Cardinals’ ace, Adam Wainwright, was the starting pitcher for the National League. Waino didn’t get to play in the 2011 World Series due to season ending Tommy John surgery. He made some comments following the game that really highlight the reason the All-Star Game should never count.
He told a group of reporters that he, “Was gonna give [Jeter] a couple pipe shots. He deserved it.”
Wainwright is a guy with a devastating 12-6 curveball, and has a track record of never giving hitters good pitches to hit. He’s an ace for a reason. But given the situation, he decided that Jeter “deserved” a 90-mpb four-seam fastball out over the plate. Which, not surprisingly, Jeter smacked for a leadoff double. Jeter would score on a Mike Trout triple, and Waino would end up with 3 ER in the first inning after Miguel Cabrera homered.
Now, Jeter still had to hit that ball, and the same excuse can’t be said for Trout’s or Cabrera’s ABs, but you can’t just give the leadoff hitter a “pipe shot” to start the game, right? Not in a game that counts for something, right? Wouldn’t the National League want to do everything possible to win the game if home-field advantage was riding on it?
Apparently letting Jeter have his moment in his final All-Star Game was more important than winning home-field advantage for either league. Which highlights the truth about the All-Star Game: to players and to managers, the value of the ASG lies in honoring and celebrating the best ballplayers in the world. Which was done well*.
* – With the glaring exceptions that there was no Tony Gwynn tribute during the game, and Wainwright’s post game comments ended up devaluing Jeter’s performance. MLB claims they did a pre-game Gwynn tribute. Waino claims he was joking and backtracked quickly, albeit awkwardly, immediately after his initial comments.
And don’t even get me started on the All-Star Game Fan Vote. You can’t convince me that the managers would rather pick their own “last one in” instead of letting the general public decide. The general public nearly selected Eric Sogard to be the Face of the MLB! An extra inning game could feature a wasted bench and a relief pitching or pinch hitting appearance by someone the fans selected?! Not a chance.
The values conflict. Is it a celebration? Or is it competitive? It can’t be both, and right now, it is.
In the end, the American League won 5-3. Who knows how much treatment of Jeter’s final ASG hurrah impacted the outcome, but it’s absurd that a single game with completely different values and so much grey area would be so valuable.
Prior to 2003, the home-field advantage simply alternated years: NL one year, AL the next, and so forth. I think that’s a stupid decision too because in the game of baseball, nothing ought to be random. Teams spend countless hours and millions of dollars trying to find a slight edge to tip the scales in their direction. Scouts drive to the middle of nowhere to find a diamond in the rough high school player that no one knows about. General Managers study numbers and trends to determine which players have the best shot at improving their team OBP. Managers shift their defenses significantly based on player spreads and pinch hit or run for players based on the slimmest of margins in batting average or speed.
So why allow something like the All-Star Game tip the scale so significantly toward the AL or NL. Everything in baseball is earned, and home field advantage should be too.
1. Overall Record. This is the easiest and most obvious choice. The team with the best record overall should host Game 1 of the World Series. In 2011, the 96-66 Rangers would’ve hosted the 90-72 Cardinals. It’s how the NBA and NHL do it. It’s not rocket science to give the best team home-field advantage.
2. Interleague Record. Red Sox manager John Farrell suggested this following the game last night, and at first glance, I like this idea a bit more. But it comes with some caveats. Which ever team performs better against its interleague competition ought to have the advantage. However, the layout of interleague play needs significant tweaks as well. Is it fair that the Royals have to play the Cardinals each year while the White Sox get to play the Cubs? The balance of competition would need to be adjusted before this would be a good idea.
3. Winning % Against Common Opponents. This would be interesting. Find all the teams that the two World Series teams both played during the season and determine both teams winning percentage against both. If the Athletics and the Dodgers had 10 teams that they both faced, then they should total up their winning percentage against the similar opponents and determine who is the better team that way.
4. Head-to-head Record. Obviously, not all interleague teams play one another each year, but how much more intense would the matchups be if they were the first determiner of the host of the World Series? And while the MLB is trying to line up divisional matchups at the end of the season now, what if there were huge interleague matchups that fell late in the season that still mattered?! Example: Oakland and San Francisco play each other each year. What if in mid-September, those two teams both have their divisions locked up, and they have a 4 game home-away series together? Doesn’t that ratchet up the matchup when the two teams have a high probability of both being in the playoffs and facing one another in the playoffs? Probably not the best option, but it’s better than the status quo.
At the end of the day, the All-Star Game shouldn’t matter. It should be a day to celebrate and honor the best in the game. Jeter deserves all the accolades, and the All-Star Game is the place to do it. But not when it counts for something. No way.