Tony La Russa will manage the National League team in the 2012 All-Star Game, the Commissioner's Office announced last week. The decision follows tradition, which says the manager for the National League pennant winner manages the league's All-Star team the following season. La Russa managed the Cardinals in 2011 and the Cardinals won the National League pennant, so La Russa will manage the 2012 National League All-Stars.
That's all well and good, but La Russa is not an active manager. He stepped down as Cardinals manager after the World Series. He's not currently participating in any baseball-related activities, at least not officially. All of which would be fine if the All-Star Game were still purely an exhibition.
But it's not.
The winner of the All-Star Game gains home-field advantage for its league in that season's World Series. It's been this way since 2003, when Bud Selig decreed: "This time it counts!" Selig's declaration followed the infamous and inconclusive end to the 2002 All-Star Game when both managers -- Joe Torre and Bob Brenly -- ran out of pitchers in the 11th inning and the game was declared a tie. Which was unsettling for the few fans who were tuned in.
Ratings for the All-Star Game had been plummeting. There were concerns about the best players not showing up for the game, to nurse an "injury" or whatnot. Managers seemed more interested in getting everyone into the game than winning. And so on. Selig, and his TV partners at FOX, cooked up the "This time it counts!" slogan, linking the All-Star Game to the World Series, as a way to bring fans -- er, viewers -- back to the Midsummer Classic.
You know what? The ratings slide continued anyway. In 2002, more than 14.6 million viewers tuned into the All-Star Game. The next season -- the first of "This time it counts!" -- viewership was down to 13.8 million. Last season, only 11 million fans watched the All-Star Game on TV.
And the part about players not showing up? That was addressed in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Going forward, players chosen for the All-Star Game must participate, unless they are excused by the Commissioner's Office due to an injury.
"This time it counts!" didn't work and its purpose has largely been rendered moot by the changes in the new CBA. Strip away the gimmicks. Get the best players on the field. And if the action is compelling, maybe fans will start to tune in again.
But what about home-field advantage in the World Series? Should it continue to be tied to the All-Star Game?
A lot of folks don't like it. They think it's unfair. They think it's goofy. They think home-field advantage should be determined by events on the field, in real games, played by real teams. Others think we should revert to the system in place before 2003: the National and American Leagues alternate, each having home-field advantage every other year.
Count me in the camp of those that never liked home-field advantage being tied to the All-Star Game. That is, until I started researching this post.
"Blasphemy," you say.
Stay with me and you'll understand.
We've had nine World Series since the change was made. In the first seven (2003-2009), the American League won the All-Star Game and had home-field advantage. In the next two (2010-2011), it was the National League.
It turns out that in seven of the nine seasons, the team with the better regular-season record had home-field advantage in the World Series. The only teams that had a worse regular-season record and yet still held home-field advantage in the Series were the 2004 Boston Red Sox and the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. In the case of the 2004 Red Sox, home-field advantage didn't matter much, as Boston won the Series in four games. With the 2011 Cardinals, home-field advantage may have played a role in helping St. Louis with its miraculous Game 6 comeback and Game 7 World Series-clinching victories.
Contrast that with the 33 World Series held in the expansion era, prior to 2003 (1969-2002). In seventeen of those Series, the team with the better regular-season record held home-field advantage. But in sixteen Series, the team with the worse regular-season record did.
In those sixteen World Series, the team with home-field advantage won the Series twelve times. Twelve out of sixteen. Seventy-five percent. Even though those teams had a worse record during the regular season.
Based on those numbers, alternating home-field advantage between the leagues seems a lot less fair than tying it to the outcome of the All-Star Game.
But there are other options, too.
Baseball could follow the path taken by the NBA and NHL, and grant home-field advantage in the World Series to the team with the better regular-season record. Bud Selig doesn't like this idea because -- apparently -- it's too difficult to plan logistics, like reserving hotel rooms in all of the cities that might host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the World Series. Hogwash. In this day and age, you can plan elaborate events entirely on-line. Making plans in eight (or ten) possible cities doesn't seem insurmountable in the least.
One last option suggested to me during a Twitter exchange last week was to grant home-field advantage to the league whose team won the World Series the year before. Interesting in its novelty, but it strikes me as the least fair option of them all.
I lean toward granting World Series home-field advantage to the team with the better regular-season record. But I'm much more open-minded than I expected to leaving things just as they are.
But if the current plan stays in place, certain changes must be made. No retired managers coming back to manage the All-Star Game. Modifying the All-Star selection process to get the best players on the field. Revamping the schedule so the best pitchers don't sit out over concerns about rest days and over-use. Sounds like the beginnings of another post.
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