When Major League Baseball revealed its new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA, for those late to the party) a couple of weeks ago, the announcement was dominated by so many minor issues you wonder what took so long.
There were expected adjustments to free-agent compensation, the minimum stay on the disabled list (for non-concussion-related injuries) was dropped from 15 to 10 days, players got four more off days, no changes were made to the option rule and the 25-man roster continues to expand to 40 for the last month of the season. Ho-hum. No biggie.
It seemed like the only change anyone cared about is the one that eliminated home-field advantage in the World Series being tied to the winner of the annual All-Star game between the American and National Leagues. That rule had been in effect for the last 14 years, the result of the 2002 game being called after 11 innings with the score tied, because both teams had used all available pitchers.
Because it was determined fans had been "cheated" out of a decision, then-commissioner Bud Selig, in an effort to ensure a decision, instituted the rule that the winner of the All-Star game would earn home-field advantage for the World Series. The irony here is that the game, both before and since, has generally been described as "meaningless." And yet the entire baseball world seemed to overreact to a "meaningless" exhibition game that didn't produce a winner and loser.
You want to talk about "meaningless" games that end in a tie? Baseball has been playing them during spring training forever, usually with lineups dominated by minor league players, and it's just one of the rituals of spring. That's not a fair comparison, but was an 11-inning All-Star game that didn't produce a decision really that big a deal? Apparently it was, even for those deeply entrenched in the "meaningless" camp.
So for the next 14 years, through two CBA negotiating sessions and countless debates pro and con, home-field advantage went to the winner of the All-Star game. It should be noted the original vote by the owners to pass this rule was 30-0. It may be the only unanimous vote in anybody's baseball lifetime.
The main question here is a simple one: Who really got hurt by that rule?
Certainly not the fans -- remember the reason the rule came about was because there had been a perceived injustice to ticket holders. Had rain washed the 2002 game out any time after the fifth inning with the score tied, the same thing would've happened -- and the rain check on the back of every ticket would've declared it an official game as far as everyone was concerned. But the outrage was such that it was deemed something had to be done -- and, let's face it, TV ratings couldn't be hurt if baseball could spruce up its midseason showpiece, hence the All-Star Game's connection to the World Series.
The AL has won 11 of the last 14 All-Star games but only eight of the 14 World Series, which can hardly be called domination, so it's not like we've seen any drastic change of power. The Houston Astros' move from the NL to the AL, giving each league 15 teams, had much more to do with balancing the two leagues.
Former Orioles outfielder Eric Byrnes, a colorful analyst for MLB Network, is one who seemingly has strong feelings both ways. He's one of the few who said he liked the idea of the All-Star Game having some real meaning (it really is hard to argue that point), but he covered his track on the air by saying "the Cubs deserved to have the seventh game of the World Series at home, not in Cleveland, because they earned it [with the best record]."
That seems to be the prevailing reasoning for the recent change, but the fact of the matter is, the best record didn't determine home-field advantage prior to 2003 -- that was done by simply alternating it between the two leagues. As baseball will soon find out, that would be a better logistical solution than the one agreed upon in the latest CBA (which has to approve all changes, including the one Selig made after the 2002 nightmare).
Under the present rule, which gives home-field advantage to the league champion with the best winning percentage during the regular season, we will have less than a week to know where the World Series will start. That will affect everything from ticket sales to travel and accommodations and will be a challenge for just about everyone except the teams involved.
Add in the fact that October is the biggest convention month of the year and the busiest in the hospitality industry, and the World Series is likely to become a logistical nightmare. And who is that going to benefit?
Certainly not the traveling fan.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com