July 15, 2003

Home-Field Advantage in the World Series. With all the hullaballoo over the new plan of awarding the All-Star Game winner home-field advantage in the World Series (which is shockingly creating even more buzz than the powerhouse matchup of Esteban Loaiza vs. Jason Schmidt), FOXSports went and did a quick check to find out just how much home-field really means in the World Series.

Interestingly enough, they found out that it means a lot. In the 98 World Series played since 1903, the home team has a 56-42, for a .571 winning percentage. Continuing the theme, I did some research on my own and found that in the 35 Game 7's (one of them was actually a Game 8, caused by a tie in the Series), the home team has a 19-16 record, for a similar .543 winning percentage. This slight but not overwhelming advantage seems in line for a sport where home-field advantage probably means less than it does for any other major sport.

Now, these stats are actually hiding a fairly massive shift in the game during recent years. From 1903 through 1981 there were 78 World Series played (there was no Series was played in 1904), and the teams with home-field advantage were actually at .500, 39-39. Continuing this theme, for the first 31 Game 7's the visiting team counter-intuitively had a winning record, 13-16.

I hadn't actually heard too much about this subject before the last few weeks, when people began to really think about the ramifications of the new All-Star Game rules, and it got me to wondering just what could have caused such a massive shift in the very foundations of the game. And once I started looking into it, the answer was fairly obvious: the Designated Hitter.

The DH was first introduced in 1973, and made its World Series debut in 1976 (Dan Driessen of the Reds holds the odd distinction of being the first NL DH). For the first ten years of its World Series existence the DH was alternated like home-field advantage (though, perhaps in an attempt to even out the factors, it was only used in seasons when the NL had the advantage). Starting in 1986, however, the rules changed, with the DH being used in all of the games played at the AL team's park.

What this means is that starting in 1986, for perhaps the first time, the team playing at home actually has a real advantage in the World Series, since fundamentally different games are being played in AL and NL parks. The home team gets to use players and play a style of game they are intimately familiar with, with the visiting team being forced to learn a new game at precisely the most important time of the year.

Perhaps because of this, in the 16 World Series played since this rule went into effect, the team with the home-field advantage has a 14-2 record, including an 6-0 record in deciding Game 7's. And for this reason, the fact that home-field advantage has become such an important part of the World Series, I can't be in favor of it being decided by an exhibition game. In this case, I think that alternating is fairer.
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