Home sweet home: It matters | TheUnion.com

Home sweet home: It matters

San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro grabs a ground ball before throwing out San Diego Padres' Everth Cabrera at first during the fifth inning in a baseball game Friday in San Diego. Scutaro is one of the Giants' representatives on the National League All-Star team.
Gregory Bull/Associated Press |

The Major League Baseball All-Stars will take the field at 5 p.m. Tuesday night at Citi Field in New York to showcase their extraordinary talent for the fans, have some fun and, of course, determine which league, American or National, will have home-field advantage in the 2013 World Series.

This has certainly worked out well for the San Francisco Giants as of late, having won two championships in the past three years and having home field in each of those World Series. Yet, we shouldn’t forget the Giants had the better record in both of those instances, so had it been them on the losing side there would have been a much different reaction from fans in the community.

Dating back to the implementation of Bud Selig’s new All-Star home field agenda in 2003, a rule that begun following the outcry of the 2002 MLB All-Star Game which as you may recall ended in a 7-7 tie, seven of the 10 World Series Champions crowned have done so with home-field advantage. Sure 70 percent is considered a vast majority, but we also have to ask ourselves, “What does home field really provide?”

If you think Game 7 is what it’s all about, then take a step back and reconsider because only one World Series in the last decade has actually gone to a Game 7, but it was a devastating blow for the Texas Rangers in 2011 when they fell to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Rangers had the better record (96-66) and owned a 3-2 series lead, but then they went on the road and lost Game 6 in heartbreaking fashion at St. Louis (90-72) to force the all-important Game 7. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for them. Texas has become somewhat of a modern era replica of the Buffalo Bills, although they’re probably pretty happy they didn’t pull off the four peat. You’d almost rather not make it to the World Series if you knew you were going to lose, especially twice.

Some believe playing in front of your home crowd doesn’t make a huge difference in baseball compared to sports like football, basketball or even hockey. Fans at those sporting venues may be louder and make it tougher on an opponent, but for baseball, such as with many sports, there are many intangibles that factor into a team’s success when they have the comfort of playing in their own yard. Whether it may be knowing the dimensions of the field, the hops off the dirt or turf, the composition of the mound and the absence of stress from having to travel and adapt to a new environment. A series doesn’t need to go to Game 7 for home field to make a difference. How a team starts in its first couple of games can dictate how well their momentum carries over on the road. They might night even need to come back home for a Game 6.

Here’s the kicker though. Of the last 10 World Series Champions, only half of them have had the better record. In 2002, the Florida Marlins (91-71) defeated the New York Yankees (101-61) and they did it in six games without home field. In 2003, it was the Boston Red Sox (98-64) upsetting the St. Louis Cardinals(105-57) in a sweep, but Boston had home field. In 2006, St. Louis (83-78) knocked off the Detroit Tigers (95-67) in five games without home field. In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) cruised passed Tampa Bay (97-65) in five games as they started off on the road. Then there were the 2011 Texas Rangers.

Oddly enough, baseball is the only sport where its all-star game influences the scheduling of playoffs. In football the better team is always at home until the Super Bowl when the site is neutral. The one exception is if your team didn’t win its division, then it could still find itself on the road to a division winner with a less impressive record. For basketball and hockey it’s the same deal. Members of the winning teams typically get a bigger payout than those who lose and even more for making it if their contract specifies. For example, in the Pro Bowl, players on the winning team get $45,000 while the losers receive $22,500.

So why should baseball be the sport that does things differently? If giving the winner of the All-Star Game home field for the World Series is baseball’s way of adding “meaning” to an already over-hyped exhibition game where fans vote in their favorite players and some teams aren’t even represented, then why do teams play 162 games if their record doesn’t mean anything for the Fall Classic?

In 2012 Tony LaRussa came out of retirement to manage the National League All-Star team. He called the shots for guys on a roster when he had no affiliation or invested interest of winning to gain the National League home-field advantage. That’s like giving someone your credit card in a casino and telling them to go do their best for three hours. What do they care if they lose? Some suggestions for solving the dilemma are going back to the old ways of rotating home field between leagues or simply giving it to the team with the better overall record or inter-league record. This year we’ve gotten a much healthier dose of inter-league since the Houston Astros made the switch. With 15 teams in each league we now see an inter-league match up happening nearly everyday all season long.

Whatever baseball decides to do in the future it can’t possibly get any worse than we already have it. Ties in all-star games are pathetic, but there is no justice with the system we have in place. It does spark interest, and controversy, for us fans on who wins the All-Star Game, but it falls short for the integrity of the game by essentially penalizing teams who put in the time and effort to be the best. The National League enters Tuesday’s contest riding a three-game win streak and historically owns bragging rights as well, having won 43 of them compared to American League’s 38. There have been two ties, at Miller Park in 2002 and at Fenway Park in 1961.

To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, email bshepard@theunion.com or call 530-477-4234.

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