Commentary: Dumb home-field advantage rules working against the Cubs


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Despite finishing with MLB's best record this season, the Chicago Cubs will not have home-field advantage for the 2016 World Series, should they earn a chance to play in it.
Despite finishing with MLB's best record this season, the Chicago Cubs will not have home-field advantage for the 2016 World Series, should they earn a chance to play in it.

“The All-Star game had become dull.” That is supposedly what incited former Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bud Selig to base home-field advantage in the World Series upon the outcome of the MLB All-Star Game. While Selig's sixteen-and-a-half-year tenure at the helm of one of the world's most lucrative, popular sporting organizations was filled with polarizing decisions and scandals that changed the way that baseball was viewed in the public eye, perhaps Selig's most inane act while in office was choosing to have the fate of home-field advantage in the league’s championship series rest on the result of an exhibition game.

Driven to make the drastic decision by the 7-7 tie that occurred in the 2002 All-Star Game, in which both the American League and National League teams ran out of available pitchers in extra innings, Selig attempted to heal MLB’s bruised public image with the rash decision. The 2002 All-Star Game, ironically held in Selig’s hometown of Milwaukee, ended in inglorious fashion, with fans in attendance booing and throwing objects onto the field after the game was brought to a halt following the conclusion of the 11th inning. Naturally, as devoted followers of professional sports typically do, fans blamed the commissioner for the anticlimactic tie. As a result, Selig’s idea of damage control was to denounce the annual game as being too boring and uninteresting and enact a rule regarding home-field advantage in the World Series as a smoke screen for his true intent of improving his own image.

Prior to the decision to implement the home-field advantage stakes, aside from receiving a heftier paycheck than that of the losers, winning the All-Star Game provided the victors with nothing more than the posterity of knowing that they were the better team in a game that no one truly cared about. Also, home-field advantage in the World Series merely alternated each season between the AL team and the NL team.

At the time, that arbitrary determination was adequate, as interleague play, which did not exist at all until the 1997 season, was not frequent enough for the regular season records of teams belonging to different leagues to hold the same weight. Selig’s rule change was essentially a lateral move, though, because it changed the style of play in the All-Star Game very little. Pitchers were still not left in for very long. The game’s managers continued to limit the playing time of players belonging to their respective clubs. There was still an overall friendly, giddy vibe to the game and not much seriousness displayed by the players.

Furthermore, in 2012, when the Houston Astros relocated to the American League, thus allowing for season-long interleague play, an arbitrary basis for determining home-field advantage in the Fall Classic was no longer needed, as the records of teams in each league could then be fairly compared. The NBA and NHL, each leagues that feature constant competition between teams in different conferences, use regular season records to determine home-court/home-ice advantage for their respective championships. MLB should reciprocate, and one could reasonably assume that the Chicago Cubs agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment.

The Cubs finished the 2016 regular season with 103 wins, eight more than the next closest teams, and were far and away the best, most complete team in the majors from April to October. However, because the AL trumped the NL 4-2 in this year’s Midsummer Classic, if the Cubs advance to the World Series, they will be at a home-field disadvantage. Yes, even if the Cubs face off against the Toronto Blue Jays, who won 14 fewer games than the Cubs in the regular season, the Blue Jays of the American League will receive the blessing of home-field advantage in the World Series.

Adding insult to injury, the Cubs are at the mercy of another scheduling flaw of the MLB postseason, as the 2-3-2 format that the MLB utilizes for playoff series serves as an additional hindrance to the North Siders. For best-of-seven series in the MLB’s postseason, home-field determination follows a 2-3-2 format, meaning that the team with home-field advantage hosts the first two games, followed by three games at their opponent and concluding with two games at the original host team. While the NBA and NHL utilize a far more reasonable and far fairer 2-2-1-1-1 format, MLB remains staunchly set in its archaic ways.

Before major American sports leagues were incredibly lucrative like they are now, it was far more fiscally reasonable, due to travel expenses, for playoff series to follow the 2-3-2 format. In fact, the primary reason why the NBA implemented it for the NBA Finals (the only NBA playoff series that utilized that format up until its recent renunciation) is because, in the early to mid-1980s, the NBA Finals frequently featured two teams on opposite coasts, with the Los Angeles Lakers squaring off against the Boston Celtics or the Philadelphia 76ers on six different occasions between 1980 and 1987. This sparked the shift to the 2-3-2 format that cut back on travel and saved the NBA, as well as the media covering it, a pretty penny.

But the year is 2016, and organizations such as Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association no longer need to concern themselves with such minute issues as travel expenses. Therefore, the 2-3-2 format, like the current deciding factor for home-field advantage in the World Series, is pointless and needs to change. The Cubs, presently engaged in a hard-fought National League Championship Series that is knotted up at one game apiece, are now being forced to play three consecutive games at the Los Angeles Dodgers, meaning that there is a slight chance that the Cubs have played their last game at Wrigley Field this season. Like a tennis player having his or her serve broken in a match, a baseball team dropping a game at home early in a best-of-seven series tilts the proverbial seesaw in the opposite direction as a result. Additionally, in terms of the baseball series, when the next three games are on the road, it unfairly exacerbates the disadvantage even more for the losing home team.

Needless to say, MLB’s dilapidated playoff game location policies are not doing the Chicago Cubs any favors this postseason. Home-field advantage should be just that: an advantage. It should not be a semi-advantage with enough fine print disadvantage possibilities to equate it with a pharmaceutical advertisement. Posing as yet another example of the outdated nature of the Big Leagues, the MLB regular season is far too long as it is, harking back to the days when "America’s Pastime" was literally America’s only pastime and most players were paid less than stellar salaries, which forced them to work other jobs during the offseason. The 162-game schedule made sense back then. Now? Not so much.

So, instead of attempting to save travel costs and shorten the maximum possible duration of the playoffs by a few days, the MLB should modernize like the NBA did and adopt the 2-2-1-1-1 policy. And, more importantly, the All-Star Game’s connection with home-field advantage in the World Series should be put to an end. The season is far too long and arduous for a single exhibition game featuring unequal representation of MLB's 30 teams to decide the home-field determination for the most important event in all of baseball.

The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of suffering from these maladaptive policies, and teams will continue to suffer from them for as long as they are in place. Selig may have saved face with his audacious decision in the wake of the 2002 All-Star Game, but he marred the big picture of Major League Baseball in doing so. As for the 2016 Chicago Cubs and their ardent supporters, it is only appropriate that their collective journey to the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years has been made even more challenging by extraneous hurdles out of their control. Like political journalistic/baseball fanatic George Will once said, “Chicago Cubs fans are 90 percent scar tissue.” And Bud Selig’s past idiocy can only cut but so deep into the leathery epidermis that is the Windy City.

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