9/22/2013 6:53 P.M. ET
Having home-field advantage isn't a necessity
In recent years, teams put too much emphasis on playing in front of their fans
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
The Dodgers want it. The Braves are obsessed with getting it. The Cardinals, Pirates and Reds would prefer it. Anyway, just between us, one of the most overrated things in sports is home-field advantage in baseball during the postseason.
There, I said it. Now I'll prove it.
Well, with a lot of help from common sense, along with the prolific folks at the Elias Sports Bureau.
Let's start with the controversy that really isn't involving baseball's decision to award home-field advantage for the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. The system began after the 2002 Midsummer Classic ended in Milwaukee with a tie. Here is my first point of many: Of the 10 World Series champions since then, a reasonably thinking individual could make the case that only one of those winners clearly was the inferior team in that particular World Series.
The 2003 Marlins. Somehow, they whipped a Yankees bunch that was in full dynasty mode with the in-their-prime versions of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and the rest. That was the first year of the All-Star Game determining World Series home-field advantage and guess what? The Yankees had home-field advantage, and they still lost. Not only that, they did so at Yankee Stadium in Game 6.
As for the World Series winners since then, we've had those two inspired Red Sox teams during their post-Curse of the Bambino era. We've had the relentless Cardinals of Tony La Russa -- twice. We've had the Yankees getting it right again for George Steinbrenner in his final days. We've had the White Sox and Phillies rising throughout their magic seasons to crush the overmatched Astros and Rays, respectively. We've also had a couple of pitching-rich Giants rosters with a lot of Buster Posey.
The bottom line: Baseball's last nine World Series champions would have won it all regardless of where the Fall Classic was played. That means we've put too much emphasis on this home-field advantage thing -- at least in recent years, and maybe further back than that.
Still, the frantic pursuit continues for those wishing to host as many home playoff games as possible. Since the American League won the 2013 All-Star Game, it will have home-field advantage in the World Series. But in addition to those National League teams I mentioned earlier, you have the Red Sox, Tigers and Athletics in the AL seeking to finish with the best record in their respective league in order to receive home-field advantage through the LCS.
How important is all of this when it comes to trying to reach the World Series and actually winning it?
Not as much as you may think.
All of the following statistics were provided by Elias, starting with these telling ones: Since division play began in 1969, there have been 43 postseasons. The NL team with the best record in each of those years has reached the World Series 17 times and won eight, and the AL team has done so 21 times and won 11. Those aren't impressive numbers, and neither are these: In the early years of division play, baseball used a best-of-five format in the LCS, and the team playing at home during a decisive Game 5 won just 16 times to the opponent's 18.
OK, OK. In contrast, teams with the home-field advantage have done better throughout history in decisive Game 7s during the LCS and the World Series. Out of 51 such games, the home team is 28-23. Plus, if you consider all of the 104 World Series that have used a best-of-seven format, the team with home-field advantage is 60-44.
Here's something else to consider, though. I live in Atlanta, where the Braves want home-field advantage more than anybody else, and where such a thing hasn't mattered for a while.
We're talking about for a long while.
During seven of the Braves' last eight trips to the playoffs (including their last six in a row), they've lost in the first round. That includes last year's first NL Wild Card Game. More strikingly, in six of those seven losses for the Braves, the other team clinched that particular playoff series or Wild Card Game at Turner Field.
So much for home-field advantage. In reverse order, Turner Field rarely has been louder than it was last season when the Cardinals came to town for their Wild Card Game with the Braves. In addition, future Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones announced his retirement during Spring Training, and after an impressive regular season, a victory over the Cardinals would keep his farewell alive.
Instead, it died along with the 2012 Braves with much help from an infield fly rule call that resembled the outfield fly rule. There also was Jones' crucial error earlier in the game. (Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Rangers spent last year losing at home to the Orioles in the first AL Wild Card Game). Before that, the Braves were ousted at Turner Field from the 2010 NL Division Series by the Giants to end the career of legendary manager Bobby Cox.
As for those other NLDS elimination games at home for the Braves during their string of them, there was 2004 against the Astros. There was '03 against the Cubs. There was '02 against the Giants. The Braves did sweep the Astros out of the '01 NLDS with the final game in Atlanta, but the year before that, the Braves were swept out of the NLDS by the Cardinals with the final game at Turner Field.
That said, the Braves are clinging to a 1 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals for the best record in the NL at 90-62, and they are ahead of the Pirates by 2 1/2 games and the Reds by 3 1/2 games. So given that the Braves have the best home record in baseball by a bunch at 52-22, they believe gaining home-field advantage through the NLCS will enhance their desire to grab their first World Series championship since 1995.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.