PHOENIX – Bud Selig's brainwashing is still working. One of these years, the players in Major League Baseball are going to look at the dumbest rule in the sport – the All-Star game determining home-field advantage in the World Series – and ask themselves how they tolerated something so backward, so inane and so downright wrong for as long as they did.
The willful acceptance continues to astound. Yahoo! Sports asked 25 All-Stars on Monday whether they would be in favor of scrapping the current format and returning home field to a method that makes more sense – perhaps to the team with the best regular-season record, or maybe the representative of the league with the best aggregate record in interleague play. Something different. Anything, please.
Matt Holliday of the Cardinals takes a hack during Monday's Home Run Derby. He's among the players against having World Series home field decided by the All-Star game.
The results: 40 percent of those surveyed like the current format, and even though it's a small sample size, and even though it was a totally informal poll, still – 40 percent are happy to proceed with tonight's All-Star C-List game (around 8:40 p.m. ET on Fox) determining who gets to host Game 1 of the World Series.
There is any number of things wrong with this, and the 15 sane players opposed to it made sure to point them out. The Atlanta Braves' rookie closer, Craig Kimbrel(notes), brought up a salient issue: "It's an exhibition game." Which, yeah, it pretty much is, and, hey, as long as we're making exhibitions count, let's fold spring-training records into the regular season's. Look! The Pittsburgh Pirates are under .500 again! Maybe all is right with the world.
In case that doesn't sound right, consider the beef of another reliever, the Washington Nationals' Tyler Clippard(notes): "We're in a National League park and still using the DH." See, every time Selig wants to argue that this game should matter, smart people prove otherwise. When managers are yanking starting pitchers after an inning of work … and when Derek Jeter(notes) is begging out of the game because of "fatigue," along with another dozen or so players … and when an NL stadium hosts a game with the DH – really, MLB wants people to take that seriously?
"Just give it to the team with the best record," Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw(notes) said, and angels sang at all the sense it made. "They earned it. If you've got a team in last place having an outcome into who gets home-field advantage in the World Series, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense in my mind. If you have to make the game mean something, there are a whole lot of other ways to do it."
To find those, all you had to do was ask. See, players talk about this in clubhouses. They dream up creative ideas because the current one, novel though it may be, lacks verve.
Just look at the rationale some of the 10 advocates for tying home field into the All-Star game use.
Right. Like when Pete Rose barreled through Ray Fosse in 1970 because he totally wanted the NL to win home-field ad … oh. Never mind.
No, don't look at them. They always have held lame excuses for all-star games. Look instead at baseball's past All-Star games. Until the managers bungled the 2002 game so miserably, baseball's had no issues. Certainly there was no need to incentivize it. Before the tie, the narrative that July '02 week concerned potential labor problems and nothing to do with what exactly the game meant.
Unfortunately, the enormous overreaction led to the biggest fallacy of all.
Let's all say it together: Players in baseball's All-Star game play no harder because of home-field advantage than they did when it didn't exist. For the players on awful teams – the Houston Astros' Hunter Pence(notes), Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters(notes), Kansas City Royals' Aaron Crow(notes) and plenty more – home-field advantage means absolutely nothing. Each will play hard anyway. Everyone in baseball's All-Star game does, because even if the managers treat the All-Star game like Little League, handing out participation trophies right and left, the players understand that baseball does not operate at different speeds like football and basketball and anything less than maximum effort will draw ridicule.
"I don't want to embarrass myself," St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday(notes) said. "I play as hard as I can. I'm going out there to do the best I can to represent my team and my family and my city."
Notice he didn't say his league. The advent of free agency eroded league pride. The introduction of interleague play – a Bud Selig production – obliterated it. And the fraternization between teams and leagues – see Yankee Russell Martin(notes) giving his former Dodgers teammate Matt Kemp(notes) advice during the Home Run Derby – ensures little animus during the game.
It sounds proper for a player to say that of course he wants to win the game for his league; it's just not true. He wants to win the game because competitors want to win games, and they especially want to win games with historical importance.
"If I'm in a competition," Holliday said, "whether we're playing Nintendo or PlayStation 3, I'm trying to beat you."
That's all anyone needs: a team, a challenge, a goal. Perhaps baseball could adopt the Heath Bell(notes) Plan, so named after the San Diego Padres' closer, who brainstormed with his teammates the likeliest plan to pass muster with the commissioner's office and satisfy the union as well.
All-Star game opinions
Likes current system
Dislikes current system
"We were thinking the American League and National League can have different charities, and we can play for that," Bell said. "If you're the MVP, you get X amount of money for your own personal charity. And everyone that shows up, the money goes to that charity. It would give awareness to the charities, people would talk about it, and you'd want to play for that reason. If I was commissioner for a day, that's what I'd do."
Sounds pretty similar to No. 2 on this list, only the charitable angle makes it all the more palatable. If Jeter's All-Star appearance were tied to his Turn 2 Foundation, he'd be far less likely to flake, even if his body needed the break to recover. Not only would it bring meaning to the game – legitimate, real meaning – it would incentivize appearances after a year in which more than 11 percent of players on active rosters are All-Stars.
Only one player went Switzerland on the survey, and it was Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett(notes). He refused to say whether he liked or disliked home field's tie to the game. He did acknowledge a preferred plan to the current one, which would seem to intimate his place in the dislike column.
"I think we should have the two managers that go to the World Series manage the deal," Beckett said. "Have everybody get picked. And then they draft them. So it's not National League vs. American League. At least they could do this every two or three years, just to make it fun."
Hockey tried an All-Star draft this year, and, being hockey, buried it on a Friday night. MLB's ability to package events and content far exceeds hockey's. Beckett envisioned a TV show with a live draft. Intrigued yet? If not, imagine this:
That's cool. That's fun. That's innovative without insulting anyone. It keeps the sensibilities of an exhibition game while ensuring enough intrigue to satiate the masses. It's better than what baseball has now.
"This is the way the league wanted it," Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre said, "and this is what we accepted."
He's right. This is a collectively bargained issue. MLB and the players' association plan on discussing it as they hammer out a new agreement this fall. In the past, it was one of Selig's pet issues, certainly not something worthy of a fight. Now, if enough union members get on board and refuse to accede, they can, at the very least, pressure Selig into dumping the rule that is among the most laughable parts of his legacy.
Bell summed it up rather aptly: "It kind of stinks."
Sure does. For at least another year.
And hopefully no more.
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