As I suppose you already know, MLB decided that the All-Star game would determine which league has home-field advantage in that year’s World Series in response to the controversy over the 2002 All-Star Game tie. The slogan adopted for the All-Star Game was: “Because this time, it counts.” I heard a talk show host say that in the 2008 All-Star Game, in old Yankee Stadium, A.L. manager Terry Francona had Francisco Rodriguez pitch to the first two N.L. batters in the top of the 9th, in a 3-3 tie, then brought in Mariano Rivera because Francona “wanted to listed to Mariano’s entry music”—Metallica’s Enter Sandman. My first response was to think well, Francona had seen Rivera enter a lot of games at Yankee Stadium, when hearing that song was almost always a prelude to Francona’s team getting beat by Rivera’s team, and probably figured that this was his only opportunity to order in Rivera himself and take part in a ritual Francona admired, and this time have it be on Rivera’s side. That wasn’t a hard motivation to understand. The host’s point, though, was that Francona’s remark was making a mockery of the “this time, it counts” rhetoric about the All-Star game, by showing that he was not focused on the goal of winning the game and getting home-field advantage for the A.L. The obvious remedy to the scenario of players (and possibly the manager) on teams that are not even going to be in the playoffs decide, by their quality of play in the All-Star game, whether or not their league’s team will get home-field advantage, is to have the advantage go to the World Series team with the best regular-season record. If both teams have the same regular-season record, split the tie by going with the team with the best playoff record, i.e. 7-3 over 7-5. This set-up would mean that the individuals with the most at stake in the question of which team gets home-field advantage would have the most impact on deciding the question. It’s a basic situation of aligning incentives: a team that might be in the World Series has a lot more interest in getting home-field advantage by winning games in September and early October than a player on a 43-46 team has in getting home-field advantage for his league by winning an exhibition game in mid-July. The incentive of winning home-court advantage is why NBA teams with a 60-20 record and the division and conference wrapped up keep playing hard in games in late April. This last season, the Spurs and Heat played a 7-game series that showed the two teams to be almost exactly equally matched. The Spurs had gone 58-24, losing 7 of their last 10 games, while the Heat had gone 66-16, winning 9 of their last 10 games; and the Heat played the last two games of the series with San Antonio at home, winning both games. It’s not hard to imagine that if they had played better at the close of the season and gotten home court, the Spurs would have beat the Heat in the Finals. I’m making a pretty elementary point that has been recognized by a lot of people already, but it can be helpful to think through an issue rather than immediately and randomly react to what someone says or tweets, and by your own thinking you can clarify your opinion about that issue; and that’s what this post is doing.
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