Bud Selig has presided as commissioner of baseball over some of the most difficult times the sport has ever experienced. Selig was acting commissioner when the 1994 strike forced the cancellation of the World Series, and also seemed to turn a blind eye to the rampant steroids abuse that increased throughout the 1990's and into the beginning of the new millennium.
Selig also made a much maligned decision in 2002, allowing the All-Star game to end in a tie when the managers had used up all of their available pitchers, and didn't want to force those pitchers to continue throwing for a potentially endless amount of innings.
But that black eye on Selig and baseball has been turned into a positive – Selig announced that the following All-Star game in 2003, there would be something new on the line. Home field advantage for the World Series would now to go the League that wins the All-Star Game.
This decision was met with much controversy and still is met with criticism, but in this writer's opinion, the decision has brought renewed interest to the game and has helped make the game more competitive. It has also helped solve the debate of the best and most fair way to determine home field advantage between two teams who share only a handful of common opponents, who probably didn't even meet in the regular season, and whose leagues might not necessarily be balanced talent-wise.
The competitiveness of the game simply cannot be questioned – these teams have taken it up a notch.
This was evident in Tuesday's night game in St. Louis. On a ball hit to the left centerfield wall, when the ball bounced away from left fielder Justin Upton, Curtis Granderson turned on the burners and legged out a triple. With one out, and strong hitter Victor Martinez up and untested youngster Adam Jones on deck, NL manager Charlie Manuel did the same thing any baseball manager trying to win a game would do – intentionally walk Martinez, and force the young Jones to take the plate to try and give his club the lead.
The results from the game bare the results out as well. Since the rule change, the average run differential in the game has been less than two runs, including five one-run games in seven games played. In the ten years prior, the average run differential was nearly four runs, and there were just two one-run games.
And the fans have responded to the change, even in an era in which All-Star game viewership is on a strong and steady decline.
In 2002 (the year of the tie), the MLB All-Star game received a 9.5 television rating. That number has largely held steady, with a 9.3 rating in 2008, and early returns expecting a solid return as well for 2009.
Compare that to the NBA's All-Star game, a comparable sport when it comes to viewership and a midseason All-Star game. In 2002, the NBA posted an 8.2 rating for its game. Even with the switch to cable network TNT, in 2003, the game garnered a 6.6 rating. The 2009 version of the NBA All-Star game? Just a 4.2 rating.
So, in a time period in which the NBA has lost nearly half its viewership of its All-Star game, the Midsummer Classic has held steady, in no small part due to the game once again becoming an actual ‘game', and not just a meaningless exhibition in which many stars would rather be elsewhere.
The other factor, of course, how is it fair to determine home field advantage?
Overall record, while it works in some sports, has a tough time holding up in baseball. In the NBA, a team will play about one third of its games against teams from the other conference. That's a huge mix, and allows records to balance out. Even with the implementation of interleague play, teams still only play 15-20 games against teams of the opposite league, and don't face them all.
What does this mean? It means that with a strong schedule mix, a superior conference will likely see their records improved because of their boost in wins from playing the other conference. This same affect is largely minimized in such a small mix like what we have in baseball.
This is prevalent yet again this year. In 2009, the AL had a .548 win percentage against teams from the NL. Given that we're still talking about hundreds of games, it's fair to say that playing in the American League, on the whole, provides a more difficult road to success.
In other words, let's just use for example last year's two World Series participants. Tampa had 97 wins, and Philadelphia had 92 wins. But let's say those win totals were reversed – Philly sported 97 wins in the regular season, Tampa had 92. If we were just to use overall record, Philadelphia would earn home field advantage. Yet in 2008, the AL had a .591 win percentage over NL teams. So which teams likely had a tougher road and more success in that road? Philly's 97 wins wouldn't quite be so impressive, and in all likelihood less deserving of home field.
Had Tampa had the opportunity, like NBA teams do, to beat up on some of the clearly weaker NL competition, they likely could have pulled out more wins, and likewise, Philadelphia with a tougher schedule, would have put together fewer wins. And while Philadelphia would have still triumphed in their division, they would have done so with fewer wins, and vice versa for Tampa. So, awarding the Phillies home field for having a better record but against weaker opponents would simply put; be unfair.
The best way to find a fair way to determine home field is have it be at the league level, and the only league vs. league game currently held is the All-Star game – so until MLB decides to hold the World Series at a neutral site in some capacity (another debate for another day), there has to be a fair way to determine the team with home field advantage. And the All-Star Game is it.
Critics can continue to complain that an exhibition game should never determine an advantage for the league crown, and they probably have a point. But so long as there is not a better way to determine it, and so long as it helps bring intensity and a competitive nature to the game (and in turn, keep fans tuning in), this is a rule that should be here to stay.