Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
When Adam Wainwright allowed a double to Derek Jeter in the first inning of the All-Star Game and revealed in a mid-game interview he had planned to gave Jeter “a couple of pipe shots,” Wainwright meant to pay #RE2PECT to a retiring legend. Instead, he kick-started the inevitable “This Time It Counts — but should it?” debate.
For the 11th year, the exhibition game determined which league would enjoy home-field advantage in the subsequent World Series. Thanks largely to Wainwright and teammate Pat Neshek allowing all five runs, the American League will host the first game of the Fall Classic.
But should it?
The general consensus, not the least bit hindered by Waino’s confusing admission and retraction, is that giving the game “meaning” in light of the 2002 contest, which ended in an 11-inning tie, is misguided. Home-field advantage is huge, the thinking goes, and the players don’t care about the All-Star Game — despite Bud Selig’s best efforts.
I won’t attempt to gague how much players care about the game; despite Wainwright’s comments, he seemed truly honored to take the mound first, and it’s not like he pitched better to players not named Jeter.
But let’s take a look at how much home-field advantage really helps in the World Series. Well, in the last 40 World Series, the team with home-field advantage has gone on to win 29 times. And since Selig’s change to the All-Star Game, about 59 percent of World Series games have been won by the home team. Never have less than half the games in a World Series finished in the home team’s favor during the “This Time It Counts” era.
It has happened in the past, however. Take the 1996 World Series, for example. The Yankees had home-field advantage and defeated the Braves in six games, but that Game 6 was the only game of the series won by a home team. Further, the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective posited home-field advantage is overrated because one team still only hosts 57 percent of the games in a seven-game series.
Regardless, home-field advantage is just that: an advantage, even if the size of the boost is up for debate.
So how best to award that advantage?
Prior to 2003, the leagues simply alternated hosting the World Series. As dubious as the merits of the All-Star Game might be, the previous technique was decidedly more arbirtrary.
So, do you just give it to the league with the better record in interleague play? Let’s look at how that would’ve played out in the last 10 years. The AL bested the NL in interleague play every single year, yet the NL got to host three World Series, thanks to Selig’s method. In fact, since 2002, the winner of interleague play has only aligned with the All-Star Game winner about 64 percent of the time.
In other words, the Midsummer Classic doesn’t necessarily tell us who the best league is, but it does spare us the result of just having the American League get home-field advantage every season.
When it comes down to it, the MLB should be considering what the important end result really is. Is it reaching a statistical ideal where the most-deserving team always gets home-field advantage? Let’s keep in mind that letting the lesser team host four of seven games is at least a win for parity — something the MLB could desperately use more of. (The Yankees have 27 titles, as much as the bottom 21 teams combined.)
Or is it to provide fans the most enjoyable experience possible?
The truth is, the All-Star Game has always counted. In a league where diehard fans can justifiably miss more than 60 of their teams’ games, the All-Star Game counts because it is one baseball game everyone wants to watch. No other sport is as perfectly suited to cutting and pasting its stars to form two sides of a juggernaut exhibition. No other major sport lets its All-Stars wear their own uniforms. And no sport is as stubbornly tied to the magic of summer.
The All-Star Game isn’t perfect. And maybe there is no bulletproof argument against Selig’s method. But from a fan’s perspective, the game is meant to be enjoyed, and that’s hard to do when you’re suddenly forced to ask yourself, “Should I care?”
If you enjoy watching it, then you should care. And if you enjoy it, it counts. Simple as that. We don’t need home-field advantage on the line to justify it.
But please, don’t let the game end in a tie. Let Puig pitch, if you have to. After all, the fun is what really “counts.”