The Major League Baseball All-Star Game, a fun exhibition to get the sport’s best players on the field at the same time, will be just that once again. After 14 seasons of trying to give the Midsummer Classic a little extra meaning, the league’s powers that be finally restored it to what it should be.
The newest collective bargaining agreement, inked by the game’s owners and players union in the late hours of Wednesday night, wiped out the rule that home field advantage in the World Series would be decided by which side won the mid-July contest. It was a good move to go back to that all-important edge being decided in games that count and going to the team with the best record.
Granted, the now-vanquished award for winning the All-Star Game did help the Cleveland Indians this past year. The Chicago Cubs were far and away the best team in baseball during the regular season. They were the only club to hit the 100-win mark. However, because the American League squad won this season’s 87th All-Star Game, it was the Tribe that hosted four of the seven Fall Classic contests and had the chance to have the deciding Game 7 on familiar grounds. Even though that final game did not go the Indians’ way, playing a seventh game of a postseason series at home is always more of an advantage than hitting the road.
While Clevelanders reveled in the opportunity to go to Progressive Field for the monumental final contest, think about if the shoe had been on the other foot. Imagine if the Indians had rolled through the regular season and had the game’s best record. Now imagine if the National League had won the Midsummer Classic. Tribe fans would not have been very happy watching their Indians having to try and win a World Series in front of thousands of rabid, screaming Cubs fans.
Giving home field advantage in the season’s final series to the team with the best record only makes sense. It really should not be tied to a game meant to have fun.
That meaning was given starting in 2003 and was done as something of an overreaction by then commissioner Bud Selig. In 2002, both sides used up all their pitchers as the game went into extra innings. Tied at 7-7 through eleven frames and out of relief pitching, the only call to be made was to end in a tie. Fans were not happy, as could be expected, making a mockery of a historic game. Selig, not wanting to see one of his league’s showcase events be a laughingstock again, decided tying the outcome to World Series home field advantage would make the game more meaningful and force managers to manage the game and roster with more of an eye toward winning.
In theory, that was not the worst idea ever. All-Star Games generally get scorned for players being soft and the contest not being anywhere near the standard of a normal game. The NFL’s Pro Bowl has taken the biggest criticism. Giving players some extra incentive to go as hard as they can in an All-Star Game can only make it more interesting.
The thing is, baseball’s parade of stars was always the one ASG that seemed to deliver the same or close to the same product as the regular season affairs. Still, Selig wanted to avoid a scenario in which there was no winner. He wanted to make it so that managers did all they could to put the best players on the roster and have in-game strategy with a purpose of trying to win and not just get all players into the game.
That thought is a pretty good one. The ASG managers are the prior season’s World Series skippers. Typically, they are playing to get back to the Fall Classic the next year and want that home field advantage.
Where the prize for winning the Midsummer Classic fell on some deaf ears was with some of the players. While the league tied home field advantage in the World Series to the exhibition game, it did not get rid of the rule that all teams must have at least one player on the All-Star squads. That includes teams that are clearly not going to be playing in October so home field any time after September ends is pretty meaningless. Not everyone had the same goal in mind.
However you slice it, having the most important series of the year be decided by a majority of players who are at home watching it rather than playing in it was pretty silly. Still, it might be worthwhile to consider some other fruitful reward for the winning side. The game is at a point where it needs some sort of spice added to it. This past season’s ASG did a 5.4 television rating. That was the worst ever for any that had been televised, dating back to 1967.
Obviously the game lost some luster in 1997 when interleague play began. Before that, the only time you would see a National Leaguer and American Leaguer on the same field would have been the July showcase or World Series. Now you can see the best of both leagues square off much more often. Viewership has steadily declined. Ratings for the contest were regularly in double digits in the 1990s and in the 20s in the 80s and before.
It is clear that hanging something as important as World Series home field advantage in the balance of the game did not draw viewers the way the heads of MLB had hoped. With that being a main priority of adding that stipulation, awarding that honor to the team that earns it during the regular season with the most victories only makes sense.
Maybe the league could attach something slightly less important like the winning league gets the extra off day between the regular season and postseason. MLB certainly needs to find a way to make the game itself more appealing to get fans to watch again on a nice summer night. Maybe that is impossible with interleague play and more entertainment options on TV than ever before.
Either way, home field for the World Series is now being decided as it should – over the 162-game schedule. Cleveland fans will rejoice over that in 2017 if the defending AL champion goes another step further and carries the game’s best mark into October. Especially if the American League happens to lose this coming July.
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