Buchan: All-Star outcome no way to decide World Series home field


WALLA WALLA - It was comforting to hear the mid-summer hum of baseball back on the airwaves over the weekend.

Comforting, too, to know that those familiar voices - John Sterling, Vin Scully, Joe Castiglione, Jon Miller, Rick Rizzs and the like - will be with us right through the end of September, spinning their baseball yarns and keeping us abreast of our favorite teams and players.

Those of you who love baseball and are SiriusXM Satellite Radio subscribers know exactly what I mean.

Baseball's six-month marathon is a pleasant, easygoing companion who hitches a ride with us during the onset of college basketball's March Madness and lingers well into the college and professional football seasons. From spring's snow melt to fall's first freeze, baseball season spans the NBA and NHL playoffs, all of the big golf and tennis tournaments, NASCAR and horse racing's Triple Crown.

And this summer the Olympic Games as well.

But last week was a bit of a bummer. From Monday through Thursday, the airwaves were mostly silent during baseball's annual All-Star Game hiatus.

With no other professional or major college activities on the sports agenda, baseball's All-Star break is largely considered the deadest four days of the year on the sports calendar.

And does anyone really care about the All-Star Game these days?

If television ratings are a true gauge, the answer to that question is not so much. This year's 6.8 TV rating was a record low, eclipsing last year's record-low 6.9 tally, and surely suggests that interest in the game is in steady decline.

There was a time when baseball's All-Star Game was a big deal. Almost as anticipated as the World Series, in fact.

Who can forget Pete Rose's home-plate collision with Ray Fosse in 1970 that gave the National League a 5-4 victory. Or walk-off home runs by Ted Williams in 1941 and Stan Musial in 1955. In 1971, six future Hall of Fame players slugged home runs in a 6-4 American League victory.

But that was another time and another place. Back when a true rivalry existed between the two leagues and the All-Star Game was played with steadfast purpose. Do what it takes to win.

For a lot of different reasons - rampant free agency and inter-league play being the most obvious - the Midsummer Classic has lost its luster.

Commissioner Bud Selig recognized this in 2002 when a game deadlocked at 7-7 was called after 11 innings because the managers, Joe Torre of the American League and Bob Brenley of the NL, ran out of pitching. It was an embarrassing moment for Selig, especially considering the game was played in his own backyard, Miller Park in Milwaukee.

So Selig decided to eliminate the malaise. He upped the ante and declared that the World Series home-field advantage would belong to the league that won the All-Star Game.

This Time It Counts was the All-Star mantra that Selig and Major League Baseball introduced in 2003

But does it really? Then or now?

Judging from Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander's comments after giving up five first-inning runs in last week's game that catapulted the National League to an 8-0 victory, the answer is also not so much.

"That's why I don't try to throw 100 mph all the time; it usually doesn't work out too well for me," Verlander said after doing just that in the first inning against the NL All-Stars, who were primed and ready for the heat.

"I know this game is important, that it's for home-field advantage," Verlander continued. "But it's (also) for the fans. They don't want to see me throw 90 and paint the corners; they want to see a 100 mph fastball. I gave 'em that."

Yankees, Rangers and White Sox players, who currently lead their respective divisions and are first in line to reach the World Series, might have wished for a little more corner paint.

But herein lies the problem. The All-Star Game is for the fans.

Their vote determines the starting lineups. They pay the freight by filling the stands. Their enthusiasm has even turned the Home Run Derby into a successful All-Star extravaganza.

It's not their fault that players could care less about what once was a heated rivalry between the leagues in an era when player movement from league to league was limited to trades and inter-league play was an aberration.

And no amount of contrivance is going to resuscitate that rivalry mentality.

Selig has been baseball's commissioner since 1992. And he's contributed greatly to the popularity of the game.

Realignment, inter-league play and wild-card playoff teams have all come under Selig's watch. He also pushed for stricter drug-enforcement rules that have reduced, if not eliminated, baseball's steroid stigma. And Jackie Robinson Day, the World Baseball Classic and the introduction of limited instant replay are likewise on his resume.

But tying World Series home-field advantage to the outcome of the All-Star Game is not one of Selig's finer moments. It's a wrongheaded idea.

The home field is simply too important in a seven-game series.

Since 2003, the league that won the All-Star Game has won six of the eight World Series. Over the past quarter of a century, the league that held home-field advantage captured 19 of 24 world championships. There was no World Series in 1994 because of a players' strike that terminated the season in August.

There's no better example of the importance of home-field advantage than the Minnesota Twins, who defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the 1987 World Series and the Atlanta Braves 4-3 in 1991. Those Twins teams were 0-6 in St. Louis and Atlanta combined, but they never lost a game in the Metrodome.

Had Selig's rule been in place back then, and had the National League won the '87 and '91 All-Star Games, Minnesota fans would doubtless still be looking for their first world championship.

Contact Jim Buchan at jimbuchan@wwub.com.


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