Sunday, October 21, 2018

Dial 2-3-2 … Sorry, Wrong Number

By Anthony Brancato

Why did baseball go to so much trouble to award the team with the better record the home-field advantage in the World Series, only to largely dissipate that advantage by observing a 2-3-2 distribution of home games for the two teams, when both the NBA and NHL rewards the higher-finishing team more appropriately with their 2-2-1-1-1 format?

And just because "it has always been done that way" is no excuse. In its "Original Six" era and for four years thereafter, the NHL had the first-place team from the regular season (in each division starting in 1967-68) play the third-place team and the second-place team play the fourth-place team. It was not until the 1971-72 season that they went to first vs. fourth and second vs. third, a far more logical and a much fairer arrangement. The NBA did the first vs. third and second vs. fourth thing too until realigning into four divisions beginning with the 1970-71 season.

On Tuesday, for the second time in baseball history, the team with the better record, the 108-54 Boston Red Sox, will host the 92-71 Los Angeles Dodgers, for four of the seven games of the 2018 World Series should it go the full seven games. But if the Dodgers can "steal" one of the first two games in Boston and then come home and win three straight, they would win the Series after having played three of the resulting five games at home.

That is hardly fair.

And it is not as if baseball hasn't corrected errors of this sort before. When the League Championship Series were best-of-five, from 1969 through 1984, one team hosted the first two games, then the other team hosted the last three games, if necessary — but regular-season records did not determine which team got the first two or the last three at home. That was determined on a rotating basis: in odd-numbered years, the NL East and AL West champions got the three home games, while in even-numbered years the NL West and AL East teams did (the idea being to prevent having two West Coast teams host games at the same time).

With the first-ever Division Series in 1995 (it would have been 1994 if not for a strike), its format was the same, the team having the home-field advantage getting Games 3, 4 and 5 at home, allowing the team with the "disadvantage" to sweep a series in three straight after having played two of the three games at home.

But after three years of endless complaints from everyone from the media to the players' union (not only about this, but also about the provision that barred one division champion from home-field advantage in the Division Series each year even if they finished with the best record in the league, again in an effort to prevent West Coast teams from playing at home at the same time — and twice out of a potential six times this forced the two division winners with the best records in a league to play each other in the first round), the home-and-away format for the Division Series was changed to 2-2-1, which is what it remains today.

As for the claim that going to a 2-2-1-1-1 format for both the League Championship Series and the World Series would needlessly "push back" the end of the postseason, that is every bit as spurious as "it has always been done that way" as a justification to use an unfair format. Exactly how many days would the postseason be "pushed back"? The answer is four — two during the LCS and two during the World Series.

And if the Lords of Baseball are so concerned about the World Series ending too late in the year, then why not go back to the traditional 154-game regular season? Think of all the totally awesome arguments this would stimulate — the number-one such argument being that Babe Ruth should be re-crowned as baseball's true home run king, on the grounds that Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa all should have "asterisks" attached to their home run totals — Maris because of the longer schedule, McGwire and Sosa because of both the longer schedule and alleged steroid use.

The Fall Classic would be more "classic" if its drama lasted a day or two longer, and if that drama was scripted more fairly. The 2-2-1-1-1 format would accomplish both.

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