Tonight’s World Series opens up in St. Louis because the National League won the 2011 All Star Game. For many in and around the game, linking home field advantage in October to an outcome in July is the height of folly, but this season at least, the symmetry is almost perfect.
In order to advance to the World Series, the Cardinals had to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that currently employs Prince Fielder. As some might recall, it was Fielder’s three-run home run that propelled the National League to victory at the home ballpark of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who just so happened to be the victims of the Brewers in the NLDS. What does all this have to do with the American League champion Texas Rangers? Well, Fielder’s game changing blast was hit off C.J. Wilson, who will toe the rubber for the Rangers tonight in St. Louis, and the manager of the American League was none other than Texas’ Ron Washington.
Unfortunately, the lineage from All Star Game to World Series hasn’t always been as direct, but that doesn’t mean the idea of tying the two games together is as baseless as many seem to suggest. After all, before the midseason classic was first used to decide World Series home field in 2003, an alternating system existed. That’s why, for instance, the 85-win Minnesota Twins hosted the 95-win Cardinals in game 7 of the 1987 World Series. Perhaps more than any other Fall Classic, home field proved to be a decisive factor in that series, but you never hear anyone call into question the credibility of the Twins’ championship.
Baseball’s home field advantage determinant has been the subject of increased criticism this October because the 96-win division champion Rangers will be opening the series on the road against the 90-win wild card Cardinals. However, it should be noted that this is only the second time since 2003 that World Series home field has gone to the team with fewer wins in the regular season. In 2004, the 105-win Cardinals traveled to Fenway Park to open that year’s World Series against the 98-win Boston Red Sox, but otherwise, until this year, the team with the better record has enjoyed home cooking in October. Of course, after drawing the short end of the home field process in both 1987 and 2004, you can’t blame Cardinals’ fans if they refuse to apologize for having the opportunity to host this year’s World Series opener.
Home Field Advantage Versus Win Differential, Since 2003
Note: Italics indicates wild card.
All kidding aside, using the All Star Game to decide home field in the World Series is no worse than and arguably a better alternative to switching back and forth between leagues. If we assume that the stronger league will not only feature better teams, but also produce more All Star game victories, the chances of a correlation between “best team” and home field advantage should be stronger than a random assignment.
Of course, just because it might be “better” to decide home field with the All Star Game doesn’t mean it is the “best” system. What many seem to be clamoring for is a strict “better record gets home field” approach. Although major league baseball claims that last minute logistics preclude using such an arrangement, the incongruence between records compiled in different leagues is just as good a reason for rejecting that proposal. It’s bad enough that wild card contenders within each league play a widely different schedule, but trying to create an apples-to-apples comparison between the AL and NL would be misleading at best. Even with interleague play, records compiled within each league are relatively self-contained, so implementing such a system could still have the effect of simply being random.
If baseball really wants to award home field to the best team possible, it could always develop a sabermetric-type formula to normalize performance across several variables to determine the most deserving candidate. Absent such a detailed, analytical approach, which would probably wind up resembling the BCS computer and therefore invite unwanted controversy, why not use the All Star Game? Besides, if home field is really valued that highly, teams could always arrange to have their best players actually show up for the game. It’s been almost 10 years since home field was tied to the All Star Game, so maybe it’s about time the players and teams most likely to be impacted realize that, this time, it counts.