This past Tuesday evening, I found myself eyes glued to FOX as I watched the 86th Midsummer Classic…AKA the MLB All-Star Game. It was of special interest for me because 5 guys from my beloved Dodgers—Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, and Joc Pederson—were participating with Greinke and Pederson getting starting nods. As opposed to last year’s game, where Kershaw and Greinke looked sharp in their quick work, this year was a bit of a different matter. Greinke went the traditional distance that All-Star starters go and his line was 2 IP, 2 H, ER, 4 K, BB. That’s good for a 4.50 ERA. You don’t necessarily want that in an All-Star Game. Kershaw fared even worse, which doesn’t really help his big game reputation. His line was IP, 3 H, 2 ER, K, BB…an 18.00 ERA. Making matters worse is that he took the loss as the American League won the game, 6-3. A-Gon, Yas, and Joc went 0-4 at the dish with 3 Ks. Overall, it was a rough night for the Dodger All-Stars. And while I’m disappointed my guys didn’t perform well, I’m pissed that the American League secured home-field advantage in yet another World Series. That rule, which started with the 74th Midsummer Classic in 2003, is horrible. It brings me to the exact thing that forced its existence…this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the home run robbery in the 2002 MLB All-Star Game.
How I first came across this moment? The moment occurred on July 9, 2002…the date of the 73rd Midsummer Classic in Milwaukee. It was the bottom of the 1st inning in a scoreless game when reigning NL MVP, Barry Bonds, came to the plate with 2 out and no one on against Red Sox ace, Derek Lowe. Bonds belted a 1-1 sinker to deep right-center and Torii Hunter reached over and robbed Bonds of a 1st inning homer.
What it meant to me then? At the time, I thought it was an incredible play. Of course, it was fairly routine for Hunter to make such plays as that was the reason why he was an All-Star in the first place. Bonds would later smoke a 3-0 fastball off Roy Halladay in the right field seats to give the National League a 4-0 lead…a lead that didn’t hold up as the game ended in a 7-7 tie after all pitchers had been used. It was a disappointing end to an entertaining game. In the months following, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that the winner of the All-Star Game would gain home field advantage in the World Series, ending the unpopular rotating schedule between the both leagues but still punishing the better teams if their league didn’t win the Midsummer Classic. A lot of pundits point to the Torii Hunter play as the difference in that game.
What it means to me now? All of these years later, I still think that the play was spectacular. It reminded me of that time Ken Griffey, Jr. robbed Juan Gonzalez in the last-ever baseball game at the Kingdome. But in the 13 such All-Star Games since the 2002 tie, the American League has won 10 of them, giving them home-field advantage in 9 of the past 12 Fall Classic series. Though the National League has won 7 of those 12 World Series matchups—mostly off the strength of the Cardinals and Giants—the AL home-field advantage was on full display in 2005, 2009, and 2013, when the field dimensions of U.S. Cellular Field, Yankee Stadium, and Fenway Park gave the White Sox, Yankees, and Red Sox tremendous advantages over their NL counterparts. All of that is tied to what happened 13 years ago in Milwaukee, when Hunter robbed Bonds. It’s quite possible that play changed the landscape of baseball at the highest level. So many great NL teams picked off by AL teams in the World Series since and a lot of that had to do with home-field advantage…an advantage determined by an exhibition game in which 85-90% of the players participating in the All-Star Game won’t enjoy. In a 2-3-2 format, getting the first 2 at home and the last 2 at home is extremely important because you essentially get the last at-bat and in a game that has no clock, the last at-bat is crucial.