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Home Field Edge Matters
by Larry Ness - 07/19/2013
Tuesday night’s All Star game marked the 11th anniversary of that infamous 7-7 tie, played (fittingly) at Milwaukee’s Miller Park back in 2012. Bud Selig came under heavy criticism for calling that game after 11 innings and I must admit I enjoyed watching him squirm but really, what else could he do? Anyway, beginning the very next year, it was decreed that the All Star game’s winner would determine home field edge in the World Series. Now according to Selig the tie had nothing to do with that change. "People think that World Series home field was because of the tie,” Selig was quoted as saying in a USA Today article before last year’s game. "That's a popular misconception. We were going to change it anyway. We didn't have a great system before (alternating years). One year you've got it, the next year I've got it. It wasn't exactly Einstein's theory of relativity on how we picked somebody.'
I’m no fan of Selig but he’s certainly right about MLB not having much of a system in place for determining the home field edge in the World Series, prior to 2003. Clearly, giving the team with the best regular season record of the two World Series participants would not only be the fairest method but it would also be the simplest. So naturally, MLB doesn’t want to do that. Now many argue that the home field edge in MLB is not nearly as advantageous as in other sports but let me offer some recent history to disprove that thought. Let me start with the fact that 24 of the last 30 World Series winners have owned the home field edge in those series (81.3 percent). Let me add that the last NINE Game 7 winners, have been home teams (note: the last visiting team to win a Game 7 was the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates of “We are Family” fame, beating the Orioles 4-1 in Baltimore).
The AL won last night’s game 3-0, ending a three-year NL winning streak. That means the AL representative will get Games 1, 2 , 6 and 7 at home. The AL had earned home field advantage by winning the All Star game seven straight years, from 2003-09, prior to the NL’s just-mentioned three-year winning streak. However, the AL representative was able to take just FOUR of those seven series. The NL won the 2010-12 All Star games and rode the home field edge to consecutive wins by the Giants, Cardinals and the Giants, again (second time in three years). That gives the NL a 6-4 lead in World Series titles the last 10 years, despite the fact that the AL has won every interleague season series since the NL won it during the 2003 season (that’s nine straight years, pending the outcome of 2013’s IL results).
Now let me get back to my point regarding home field edge. I doubt any reasonable person would disagree that the team with the best regular season record of the two World Series participants “has earned” the home field edge. This is a system that should have been in place from the very first World Series (played in 1903), but hasn’t. Note that if that system (best record equals home field edge) had been in place these last 10 seasons (since 2003 when the All Star game winner determined home field), it would have only affected just two of the series. In EIGHT of the last 10 years, the team with the best overall record also owned the home field edge by virtue of its league winning the All Star game.
However, what is noteworthy is, in the two seasons in which the team with the worse record was awarded the home field edge because of the All Star game result, we saw that team prevail in the World Series. It happened first in 2004, when the 98-win Red Sox had the home field edge over the 102-win Cardinals (Boston won 4-0) and in 2011, when the 90-win Cardinals had the home field edge over the 96-win Rangers (St Louis won 4-3). Think I’m making a bit too much of such a small sample size? Fair enough, so let’s ‘drift’ back over the previous 20 World Series, prior to the time in which the All Star game winner determined the home field edge.
Staring in 2002 and going back to 1982, we had 20 World Series (remember, there was no World Series in 1994, because of the strike). In that 20-year span, there were 12 times when the team with the worst record of the two World Series participants was awarded the home field edge because of MLB alternating years. How many of those 12 teams won? Try 11! Throw in the two examples listed above from the period of 2003-2012 and in the 14 World Series in which the team with the worse record owned home field advantage (either through the leagues alternating it year-by-year or by its league winning the All Star game), that team went on to capture the title 13 times! Do you really want to argue that the home field edge doesn’t count for all that much?
Here’s hoping (in the spirit of fairness) that the AL team which reaches the World Series in 2013 owns a better record than its NL opponent. Join me Friday afternoon when I’ll have my Midseason Report, featuring some second-half predictions.