Just after Mark Grace interviewed Justin Timberlake in front of a pool to promote a movie called "Friends With Benefits," home-field advantage in the World Series was decided. That sort of thing is a familiar backdrop for baseball history, reminiscent of when Phil Cavarretta interviewed Bobby Darin in front of a massage table at Forbes Field before Bill Mazeroski's home run.
With a home run from a player who wasn't going to make the World Series, the National League secured home-field advantage by winning the 2011 All-Star Game. Again, a homer in an exhibition in July is the reason why the St. Louis Cardinals will start the World Series at Busch Stadium, and get the last two games at home if the series goes six or seven games.
The idea was that the All-Star Game was too plain as an exhibition game, and the ratings needed a boost. By putting home-field advantage at stake, people were more likely to tune in and get fired up about their league's chances. This idea totally worked.
And by totally, I mean not in the slightest. No one cared when it was instituted, and no one cares when the All-Star Game is being played. The only time anyone cares is when the World Series rolls around, when you realize that Jordan Walden and Brandon League gave up runs that helped the Cardinals get an extra home game. And not to get too righteous, but that would be the second-place Cardinals, who didn't win their division.
There's a twist this time, though. The American League was managed by Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington. He was the one who set the order of the lineup and decided when every reliever would come in. In the fourth inning, he brought in his own pitcher, C.J. Wilson.
Wilson threw an 88-m.p.h. cutter towards the middle of the plate, and Prince Fielder put a great swing on it to drive it out to left field. The NL went up 3-1. For the second season in a row, the Rangers would open the World Series on the road.
Finally, after almost a decade of home-field advantage being decided by random players in an exhibition game, the result finally makes a little bit of sense. The pitcher who allowed the home run is the pitcher who will likely start Game 1 of the World Series. The manager who put that pitcher in the All-Star Game is the manager who will pull the strings for the team representing the AL in the World Series. There's a certain serendipity to it all.
So here's how I used to rank the ways home-field advantage could be decided:
- Best record
- Interleague record
- Best run differential
- Alternate home-field advantage every year
- Number of ex-Cubs on each team
- Which manager's name makes for a more relevant anagram
- A coin flip
- A game of rosin bag/pine tar/donut, which is played just like rock/paper/scissors (best 162 out of 323)
- The winner of that year's All-Star Game
- The winner of that year's Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game
Now that I see that it's possible for the All-Star Game to make sense as the home-field decider -- just as long as a team wins the pennant twice in a row, and has a player who does something important in said All-Star Game -- I'll have to adjust those rankings. The ASG winner moves up over coin flip. It has to. It's a huge, two-spot jump, but I feel comfortable in saying that it's a better way than a coin flip.
It's still not as good as anagrams. Ron Washington = "Shown ignorant." Bruce Bochy = "Chubby core." I think it's clear that Washington's anagram is better, especially when he's putting Neftali Feliz in to close a 10-run lead. The Rangers would have had home-field advantage in the World Series if Bud Selig had responded to just one of my 1,498 letters on the subject.
For this year, though, the Rangers will have to make do with a possible three World Series games at home. It usually doesn't make any sense, but at least it makes a tiny bit of sense this year. Don't get used to it. Odds are, next year's World Series will be affected by players and managers who won't have anything to do with the Fall Classic. This is as good as it gets. And it still feels pretty lame.