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Deciding All-Star's home-field fate
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07/09/2004 5:27 PM ET
Deciding All-Star's home-field fate
Selig favors; sides will discuss at season's end
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Hank Blalock gave the AL home-field advantage in 2003. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
HOUSTON -- Major League Baseball created it. The Fox Network applauded it. And the players association signed off on it.

Hank Blalock then homered off Eric Gagne during last July's All-Star Game in Chicago and for the first time, an All-Star Game decided home-field advantage for the World Series.

This one will count again when the AL meets the NL in the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night in Minute Maid Park. But it's the end of a two-year agreement between MLB and the union to play the game under the experimental format in which the winning league earns home-field advantage in the upcoming World Series. And no matter what happens, the format isn't expected to be revisited by MLB and the union until this offseason.

"The biggest concern was giving the leagues a reward for the result of the game," said Tony Clark, the Yankees first baseman who is one the league representatives to the players association. "Whether we renew it or not, it has to be tweaked a little bit. One year isn't enough to judge it. We want to judge the impact after the two full years."

Artistically, many observers love the format, including Commissioner Bud Selig.

Last year's TV ratings, which received a 9.5 share, were similar to the year before when Selig had to stop the game at Milwaukee in a tie after 11 innings because both teams had run out of pitchers. At that point, it seemed obvious that changes had to be made.

"We had already been considering options even before that happened," Selig said. "The game was boring. People were gone in the fourth or fifth inning. It wasn't just because of the tie. Really, home-field advantage makes sense. It really means something."

To punctuate that point, Fox reported that ratings actually rose in the later innings last year as the game reached its climax. And because of an increase in the amount of households watching the game, total viewership went up by 3 percent. The count of households per rating point increased last year to 106.7 million U.S. homes with televisions, according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

This year, while network ratings are steady, baseball viewership on some regional cable and over-the-air stations has skyrocketed. Plus, an anticipated match-up on the NL side between starting catcher Mike Piazza of the Mets and possible starting pitcher Roger Clemens of the Astros has added additional intrigue to the festivities after the confrontations those adversaries had when Clemens played for the Yankees.

The highest-rated All-Star Game since Nielsen began measuring the television audiences in 1968 was the bicentennial game at Philadelphia in 1976. That game attracted 27.1 percent of U.S. homes with televisions. But those were the days of only three major over-the-air networks and long before cable and satellite television had the ability of bringing hundreds of stations into individual homes.

Up until last year, the two leagues simply alternated home-field advantage in the World Series at the end of each season. Selig said that in itself had become an anachronism.

"After all, this wasn't Einstein's theory of relativity -- one year you've got it and the next year I've got it," Selig said. "It was sort of a brainless equation."

In January 2003, the owners voted 30-0 in favor of linking the All-Star winner to home-field advantage in the World Series. Months of subsequent negotiations with the union also wrought the rule changes for the way reserves and pitchers are selected to the game.

After the postseason, it will all be up for grabs again.

"We have to go back in on it," Selig said. "But our broadcast partners love it. Fans enjoyed it. We have a great sport with a great and interesting tradition. But the old ways of doing things are over. It's time that baseball as a whole is responsive to our customers for a change and those customers are our fans. We have to do what fans like. We can't dismiss doing it because of what other people might think.

"You ask me if I like it. I like it a lot. I think the fans do, too."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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