It Counts, But Why?

By John Shea
Updated: July 5, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — On Tuesday night, as fans pour into the streets of China Basin at the conclusion of the 78th All-Star Game, we’ll know which league will hold home-field advantage for the World Series.

“I don’t like it,” said Cal Ripken Jr., who’ll be involved in that other July baseball celebration, the Hall of Fame ceremony on July 29.

“Totally agree,” said fellow Cooperstown inductee-to-be Tony Gwynn, who doesn’t like it, either.

This is the fifth year of the “this time it counts” era, and we’re still paying for the 11-inning All-Star tie in 2002, which prompted the never-understood-the-game execs at the Fox network to push Commissioner Bud Selig into connecting the All-Star Game with the World Series, despite the fact there’s no connection.

It was a peculiar decision, a slap in the face of players who didn’t reach this level by jaking it. It was Fox’s way of saying the players weren’t trying hard enough, though the real problem was the managers’ emphasis on getting everyone in the game — just like T-ball — which in ’02 left them without any more pitchers and prompted Selig to end the game at 7-7.

So now we’ve got the World Series home-field advantage decided by an exhibition three months earlier. Selig insists that the competitiveness has increased since the change.

“I like Bud Selig, don’t get me wrong,” said Joe Torre, who has managed six All-Star Games in the past decade. “But I’m not sure any of the All-Stars are thinking about that when they go out and play.”

Torre, in an interview during the Yankees’ visit to San Francisco last weekend, made another point.

“As far as the whole home-field-advantage thing, to me, it’s negated somewhat by playing the All-Star Game in National League parks in two straight years,” Torre said. “That’s a disadvantage to the American League.”

This year, San Francisco. Last year, Pittsburgh. Previously, leagues rotated hosting the game year to year. Selig broke from tradition this year, explaining there are more NL teams and more new NL parks that hadn’t housed an All-Star Game.

Still, the AL is king. The league hasn’t lost an All-Star Game since 1996. It won 10 of the past 15 World Series. And it dominated interleague play for the fourth straight year, posting a 137-115 record.

In last year’s World Series, the Tigers had the home-field advantage because of the AL’s 3-2 victory in the All-Star Game, but the Cardinals split the first two games in Detroit and won all three in St. Louis. In the All-Star Game, representatives from the Tigers and Cardinals went a collective 0-for-9 at the plate. The only pitcher involved, Detroit’s Kenny Rogers, gave up a homer to David Wright.

So how is all this related again?

“Just because the Milwaukee game turned into more of a show and exhibition and you wanted to make sure everybody got in there to play and you ran out of players,” said Ripken, “I think all that needed to be put in place was a directive from the commissioner that said, ‘Look, this is not what we’re about. It happened. I can understand why it happened, and it’ll never happen again.’

“Managers are out there to play the best talent in the league and try to win this game. The incentive for the home-field advantage doesn’t jibe with me.”

Both Ripken and Gwynn, recalling their combined 31 All-Star appearances, spoke of a pride in which each league was eager to show it was better. Ripken spent his entire career in the AL. Gwynn was an NL lifer. Neither appreciated the suggestion that All-Stars don’t play to succeed whenever stepping on a diamond.

Both recommended the World Series home-field advantage should be decided another way.

“I think the season’s got to mean something,” Gwynn said. “If you’ve got the best record in your league, that should clinch you home-field advantage.”

In defense of MLB, that would be tough, especially logistically with last-minute hotel rooms. It’s easier for playoff teams in the NFL, who play once a week, or NBA, who have a relatively small traveling party. In baseball, the home-field advantage must be determined long before it’s known who wins the League Championship Series.

So the simplest solution is to decide it based on the better record in interleague play. That’s known by midseason, and that’s more of a determining factor of a league’s strength.

Either way, it’s usually the AL. But why not use a process that makes sense?