From the archives. . .
Major League Baseball officially reached its halfway point Tuesday, July 16th as the All-Star Game played out at Citi Field in Queens. Hosted by the New York Mets for the first time in nearly 50 years, the AL shut out the NL 3-0, ending their three-year winning streak and effectively securing home field advantage for the American League in the 2013 World Series.
While most baseball fans soak in the revelry of the Midsummer Classic, enjoying the crescendo of activity that surrounds a grand event like the All-Star Game, my reaction is the opposite. I’m annoyed because it’s 10 years and counting since MLB decided it was a good idea to give away home field advantage for the World Series as the prize for winning the All-Star Game.
A prize—what is this, a carnival? Seems to be, and here’s how it happened.
In 2002, the All-Star Game resulted in an awkward 7-7- tie when the game was called in the 11th because both teams ran out of available pitchers. To say fans were salty is an understatement. Roaring with contempt, the crowd pummeled the field with garbage and jeered the umps like crazy. So, the following year in an effort to incent managers to ‘manage’ better and entice players to take the game for real, baseball’s brightest came up with the dazzling idea to give the game-winning league home field advantage in the World Series.
Yea, that’s right. In a sport grounded in stats and numbers, both sides of the baseball aisle capriciously agreed to toss out WS home field advantage to the All-Star Game-winner. It’s absurd for sure because the All-Star Game and World Series matchups are completely different levels of play and intertwining them is a mistake because it corrodes the game.
By design, All-Star Week is a relaxed and friendly matchup between the leagues. The Midsummer Classic a time where players take a break from regular season action and come together to enjoy a saturated baseball experience. During All-Star Week, everyone is a baseball fan, players included and everyone from enthusiasts to celebrities, players, old-timers and dignitaries get to rub elbows, take in the atmosphere and enjoy electrifying pre-game events like the All-Star Workout and the Home Run Derby.
At its core, the All-Star Break is just that, a break. It’s a truth all baseball fans know though the powers that be continue to deny it by offering up a sacrosanct distinction like World Series home field advantage. Fans don’t expect to see pennant race action on the field at the All-Star Game.
Bringing baseball’s best together is what the All-Star Game is all about. It’s a way for baseball to showcase its top talent and it gives fans a chance to see the biggest names in the Big Show on one field. The entire game is suspect as far as legitimacy goes; players are only in the game long enough to make an appearance and the starting lineup is a popularity contest determined by fan voting. And, let’s not forget the All-Star Break is baseball’s equivalent to conventions in corporate America and if someone told me I’d half to work half of my vacation week, I’d be bitter.
The buildup to the All-Star Game is reminiscent of Apollo Creed’s showboating before he took on the Italian Stallion in Rocky. MLB should capitalize on that and pay it forward. With all the hoopla, FanFests, charity runs and benefit concerts surrounding All-Star Week, certainly there is a more appropriate reward and incentive geared to the spirit of the tradition that’s sufficient enough to entice the players to put on a show. Giving away home field advantage for the pinnacle series in baseball—a matchup that’s at least three months out between undetermined teams is amiss. It’s just not logical and it’s a wasted opportunity for the fans, players and the sport to leverage this event to provide to enrich to dignify the game of baseball and give back to the base that sustains its existence.
Everyone knows there’s big money in professional sports and there’s no shame in admitting it. Instead of shying away from that truth, leverage it and use All-Star Week as a backdrop for something greater than the game—like veteran’s issues, preserving baseball history, child hunger in America or pick one of the many pressing concerns facing us today. Find a cause, tie it to the All-Star game, market the heck out of it, make it about the greater good and finally, put something on the line all players can be proud of (charitable donations, face time with at-risk youth, drug use prevention). Then and only then will baseball see its players put their heart into playing the All-Star Game.
By no means am I trying to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony or anything like that. What I am saying is that certainly, the powers that be could devise a more appropriate benefit structure to incent its players to put on a show at the All-Star Game. Giving away home field advantage is not an appropriate reward and it’s not just a miss, it compromises the integrity of the game. Baseball has an opportunity to leverage such a historic event for a grander purpose and a game befitting the moniker of America’s Pastime needs to step up to the plate and take a swing at some of the bigger issues on society’s playing field.
Baseball should treat the World Series with the dignity it deserves and award home field advantage based on merit relevant to the teams in the final matchup. There is no logical reason home field should be given away in July and at this point, a solid game of roshambo seems like a more sound way to determine home field rather than giving it away to the All-Star Game victor. The spoils just don’t jive with the contest. Leagues could easily be unbalanced, with all the rules regarding eligible pitchers I’m surprised the AL and NL can finish a game in any given year. Bottom line: giving away home field is like wearing an Armani suit with clown shoes. It’s just not fitting.
Giving away World Series home field advantage is more of a gamble to the integrity of the sport than Pete Rose betting on baseball. The All-Star Game isn’t really a serious matchup; it’s more like a midseason pickup game amongst friends with a fan-generated starting lineup and a game that informal shouldn’t determine who gets home field advantage in World Series play. Call me a baseball purist; I just think that it is a sport with a season built on endurance, determination, and statistics and deserves more respect than handing out home field advantage like some prize from a street fair.
What do you think?