MLB General

Home-Field Disadvantage

Place your votes and punch your ballots.  Right into sheer lunacy.

I’m guilty. I just max-voted for A.J. Pierzynski on  

25 times, I clicked on the circle next to his name and hit the “Vote Now!” button at the bottom of the page. You can also count 13 votes for Nomar Garciaparra and 12 for Billy Wagner on the National League side of my online ballots.  

After all, I’m a baseball fan, and the All-Star game is my chance to point and click my way to the definition of fanatical support for my hometown team and favorite players across both leagues.

I’ve been doing this since I was five years old at Comiskey Park, although back then you actually had to punch-out the circles with a pencil and drop them in ballot box on your way out of the stadium. In my youth, I root, root, rooted even harder for the home team, often filling every position of my ballot with White Sox players, regardless of their on-field production. I’d even bribe my little brother – a devout Cubs fan – to follow suit.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know baseball – my mother will still spin a tale or two about borderline altercations between her audaciously sarcastic little boy infuriating older gentlemen over the logistics of daytime batting averages – I just didn’t care.

Thing is, I didn’t have to. And no fan really did – unless that speech about the integrity of the game or the requisite standards of All-Star-caliber play actually caromed into their subconscious – because it was the All-Star game.

An exhibition.

A public showing of athletic skill with nothing hanging in the balance, sans the wounded pride of the losing league.

But that all changed in 2003.

What began as a two-year experiment intended to add meaning to the midsummer classic was extended last season. And earlier this year, team owners and players agreed to again give home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game.

That’s not a statement or decision that can easily be taken seriously. Back in 2003, when my buddy Fats told me about it, I was waiting for the climactic, humourous twist. I was sure he was joking.

And three years later, the joke’s on Major League Baseball.

It’s not enough that every team is required to be represented at the All-Star game; the fact that the Kansas City Royals will be represented at PNC Park on July 11 is a flat-out joke.

Mark Redman’s season stats read like a Rob Zombie screenplay: 5-4 record, 5.59 ERA, 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And opponents are batting .293 against him. The guy doesn’t even average six innings per start.

I’m sure he’s ecstatic about his vacation from baseball hell (the Royals, at 27-53, were out of contention before the ivy started growing on the outfield fence at Wrigley Field), but exactly zero reasons exist for Redman to trot onto the field in the company of baseball’s best.

And it’s not enough that managers like Chicago’s Ozzie Guillen stockpile their benches with players from their own respective teams. Example: Guillen selected both of his “first baseman,” Paul Konerko and Jim Thome, as All-Star reserves even though Thome’s actually donned his glove about five more times than I have this season.

Guillen is merely following in the infamous footsteps of managers like Atlanta’s Bobby Cox and New York’s Joe Torre, who often gave the nod to less-deserving players on their own rosters when filling out their All-Star benches.

And what about the voting public?

The other side of the coin in the home-field advantage experiment: a meaningful All-Star game would be more attractive to the people who annually vote-in the starting lineups.

Fact: last year’s game in Detroit drew the lowest television ratings in the history of the event, breaking the mark set only a season before.

Home-field advantage isn’t a big deal, it’s a HUGE one.

Ask the Miami Heat about games 3, 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals. Or the Carolina Hurricanes about their Game 7. Talk to 20 of the past 25 teams who won the World Series; they had home-field advantage.

So what IS the solution? Could MLB actually take away the fans’ voting “rights?”

That decision wouldn’t be without precedent: fans weren’t even allowed to vote until 1947 and when ballot-stuffing reached epic portions ten years later, Commissioner Ford Frick revoked their privileges until 1970.

But that will never happen. Fans drive the game fiscally.

And they’re not likely to change the way managers select reserves, either. Those leading men seemingly absolve themselves of any real persecution in public opinion’s court because they represented their league in the previous World Series. They earned the right to pick their own guys.

MLB needs put a stop to the charade next season. Home-field advantage should be determined during the regular season. After all, they play 162 games that count. A single “exhibition” game shouldn’t have influence of any kind over the World Series. Their All-Star game should resemble those played in the other leagues, with wide-open, breakaway plays and three-person alley-oop dunks.

Or more aptly, the event that precludes the game itself: home run derby.

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