Even though Chase field doesn’t sit real well with me as the host of an All-Star Game, I try not to begrudge any city their festivities. Phoenix seems like more a Super Bowl town, but I remember being at the All-Star Game at the Vet and having an amazing time, and we all the know the Vet shouldn’t have ever hosted anything. I’m not even going to make the jump that Phoenix in the summer contributed to the waves of players bailing on the game. Did you hear Derek Jeter is emotionally and physically exhausted? Tough life. He’s part of a constantly changing roster that had the National League scrambling to find anyone at all to play third base. The lack of stars and the lack of a baseball town doesn’t change the fact that the winning side will get home field advantage in the World Series. It may be the dumbest rule in all of sports, but it does validate that slogan. This game does count. At least for about six or eight teams.
I had my first of two fan experiences at All-Star Games in 1986 at the Astrodome. In 1986 you could still be impressed by something like the Astrodome and it was the National League that won the game every year. By the time the game came to Philly in 1996 the American League was on the verge of starting a ruthless run of domination. I remember looking at the lineup disparities back in those days. You’d see the NL squad and just shrug and then the AL lineup would come up and you’d have Pudge in his MVP caliber years hitting 9th. You knew it wasn’t going to end well. Then Greg Maddux would go out, get rocked as usual, and we all moved on.
The point I’m making is that the balance of power in the leagues is often cyclical. The teams weren’t losing all those years because the other side was trying harder. They were losing because they were facing a profound deficit of talent. The disparity in talent often comes just below that top-tier, though. The teams playing for the World Series could be pretty evenly matched, but the 6th best AL team would destroy the 6th best NL team and so on down the line. You have players from teams that don’t have any chance of making the playoffs deciding which team gets home field advantage. It’s one of a number of problems that come up when you attempt to solve a problem that has no fair solution aside from alternating year to year. This is the decision that was made, though, so tonight fans in Boston, New York, Texas, Atlanta, Philly, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh (Go Pirates!), should be paying some attention to the outcome.
Charlie Manuel said he believes that home field cost the Phillies the 2009 World Series. I’m not sure if MLB actually injected those words into Charlie’s brain, but he said them, regardless of their complete lack of any factual support. The Phils split the first two games of that series on the road and returned home in great shape–only to completely fumble away control because Cliff Lee couldn’t start every game. It’s funny how often you hear that the lack of offense cost the Phillies the 2010 NLCS, but you never hear much about how a lack of pitching killed the Phillies against the Yankees. Blanton, Pedro and bizzaro Hamels? Hard to believe that wasn’t enough to get the job done.
Anyway, even if it didn’t hurt the Phillies in 2009, the fact remains that if you do get down to a game seven (a pretty rare occurrence of late), you want to be playing that game at home. If I can become completely Phillies-centric for a moment you want the NL to win the All-Star Game for the same reasons you want the Phillies to win the division. The Phillies are perfectly capable of winning games on the road, but they have a documented home field advantage. Their record at home this year is especially strong and multiple opposing pitchers have wilted at Citizen’s Bank Park in recent post-seasons. Not only that, but you want games 1&2 at home as well. The Phillies have used that to bury teams in the NLDS the last few years.
The bottom line is, I’m happy that Roy Halladay is starting the All-Star Game. I don’t trust Jair Jurrgens. I like hearing that Cliff Lee wants to pitch. I think both of those guys realize the significance of the game, and while some of the players are spitting off platitudes, it is probably genetically impossible for Lee and Halladay to go out there and not try to dominate. Even Hamels wanted to pitch. He’s getting feisty. So, I think the Phillies are going to have 1/3 of the game covered, and then it becomes a question of can the rest of the NL staff hold the AL down until someone can come up with a key hit. That was formula last year, and it’ll be the one the NL will have to follow this season as well if the Phillies or another National League team has any hope of getting home field advantage.
Let me go check and see what Las Vegas says about this game. National League (-118). Really? I think that’s an NL line. Book it.