Home-field advantage a huge issue
Big league teams have had great success at home in '08
NEW YORK -- When Commissioner Bud Selig, reacting decisively to the 2002 All-Star Game that ended in an unsatisfactory tie, called for subsequent Midsummer Classics to decide home-field advantage in the World Series -- a call with which the Players Association eventually concurred -- the concept was generally waved off by critics as a gimmick.
Let's just say the accompanying slogan -- "This Time It Counts" -- didn't wow many. You mean, they wondered, the first 72 All-Star Games were just for laughs?Yet the decision to spike All-Star spoils by adding the extra World Series home game to bragging rights has been consequential. You know what they say about bragging rights -- to coin a paraphrase ... that and five bucks will get you a gallon of gas. But this tangible prize has made the All-Star Game more topical -- although, apparently, not affecting the outcome of the World Series at all. World Series home-field advantage is an especially hot topic this time because, well, home-field advantage in general is a hot-button issue. Home teams have ruled the regular-season action at a rate not seen in 30 years. The proverbial and winning formula espoused by managers such as Sparky Anderson and Gene Mauch -- win two of three at home and break even on the road -- doesn't have a chance. While sports scientists seem preoccupied with determining why baseball has suddenly gone NBA, the lure and value of that extra October game is evident. "Yeah," said Mark Buehrle, the ace lefty of the American League Central-leading White Sox, "I keep hearing how this is one of those years where every team is winning at home and losing on the road. "So, this year, home-field advantage is huge." Buehrle, a three-time All-Star (2002, 2005-06), isn't on this year's squad. Dustin Pedroia is, and the AL's and Boston's starting second baseman understands all the home-edge fuss. "I think it's huge," Pedroia said. "Last year it was big for us." National League manager Clint Hurdle won't have much trouble coming up with a believable speech when he tries to fire up his players by stressing the value of the prize. "We're not going just to hang out," Hurdle said. "We [the Colorado Rockies] just got it handed to us after having to start the World Series in Boston. So we know the importance of the home field. We're going to stress bringing a competitive edge. This isn't going to be a celebrity golf tournament." The sentiments by Buehrle and Pedroia, incidentally, are about the most passionate endorsement of the concept you'll hear from the players' fraternity. The majority frown on it, on both egotistical and practical levels. Proud Major Leaguers resent the implication that they need a carrot to perform at their best. And those in position to perhaps actually play in the World Series reject the likelihood of players from also-rans determining the outcome of the All-Star Game and thus their October fates. They may not have to worry about that this time. Contenders have a great shot at taking matters into their own hands -- 46 of the 64 All-Stars on the two squads represent teams within five games of their division's or their league's Wild Card lead. Against the background of the regular season, the stakes can't get bigger than this: Of the eight teams either leading their division or a Wild Card race at the break, only the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies have a winning record on the road. Those eight combined are 23 games below .500, best exemplified by the Century Club, the Chicago Cubs, who are virtually invincible in front of the ivy, but have had great difficulty playing out of a suitcase. Let the rhetoric rage. The concept is here to stay, avers Bob DuPuy, the CEO of MLB, which is comfortable with how the wrinkle has been adopted. "We are satisfied with the current system, which gives the All-Star Game much more significance," DuPuy recently told The Associated Press. "Clearly there has been a renewed emphasis on winning the game over the past few years and we believe the play and managerial strategy reflects that. I would not expect any change in the current system." In one sense, the debate is much ado about literally nothing. Incredibly, in the five years that it has been at stake in the All-Star Game, not once has the home-field edge actually come into play. NL teams in fact have hosted more Series games (13) than has the AL (12). In four of the World Series (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007) participants hosted an equal number of games. And the only disparity was in 2006 in favor of the NL's Cardinals, who finished off the Tigers in Game 5 at Busch Stadium after splitting the first two games at Comerica Park. Furthermore, while the team with the home-field advantage has taken three of the five World Series played since the Midsummer Classic became part of the scenario, teams in that role won eight of the last nine Series before the All-Star Game got in the act. But here is the reality: The important factor isn't where you might finish if the Fall Classic extends beyond five games, but where you definitely start. Think "momentum" in a short series. In the last five Octobers, the AL team is 8-2 hosting Games 1 and 2, three of the home sweeps leading to Series sweeps (by the '04 and '07 Red Sox and the '05 White Sox). Delving beyond, the home team has won 28 of the last 38 World Series games. And here's the killer stat, the one that captures a decade of overall AL dominance and ratchets up the NL's desire to make it open the next World Series on the road: Since 1998, AL teams are 21-3 at home in the Fall Classic. So have at it, AL. And good luck trying to derail a runaway Midsummer train, NL.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.