As the sports media cycle zoned in on the College Football Playoff, Rob Gronkowski’s third back surgery and the continued dominance of the Dallas Cowboys, perhaps the most important buzzer beater of the entire sports year went almost completely unnoticed.
With the clock ticking down to just four hours remaining before an ensuing lockout, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Union agreed to a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. The deal allows baseball to boast a 26-year stretch without a labor dispute — an impressive feat in American sports leagues — and continues to ride its recent momentum from this year’s historic World Series.
While much of the league will remain status quo with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, baseball finally changed one of its biggest and longest-standing mistakes: the MLB All-Star Game.
The new collective bargaining agreement signed late Wednesday night finally eliminated the idea of home-field advantage being attached to the All-Star Game. Now, the pennant winner with the best regular-season record will be awarded the influential World Series Game 7, and the All-Star game includes a larger financial compensation for the winning team, still incentivizing the game’s best to compete at a high level.
In 2002, then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig grossly overreacted to a 7-7 tie in the league’s All-Star Game. Fearing the game would lose its legitimacy, Selig attached World Series ramifications to the game, rewarding the winning league’s World Series representative with home-field advantage.
Selig’s initial decision made sense at the time. He understood what we as fans suffer through when we watch 300 points scored in the meaningless NBA All-Star Game, or watch a glorified version of two-hand touch football in the NFL’s Pro-Bowl in Hawaii. Selig wanted to make baseball’s showcase game competitive. He wanted to add meaning and make players care.
After 14 seasons of this format, however, it has become apparent that the implications attached to this game were far from ideal. To demonstrate the frivolous nature of this now former rule, look no further than the most recent 2016 season. A home run hit by a Kansas City Royal off of a San Francisco Giants’ pitcher, played in a stadium in San Diego in July, determined that Game 7 of the World Series would send a team from Chicago to a stadium in Cleveland in November.
Many can argue that the change in itself is meaningless. Crowd noise might be less influential in baseball than it is in any other sport. While this may be a true statement, baseball is the only sport where the dimensions of a team’s home field can be so unique. Baseball teams literally build their rosters with players that will thrive more in their home park than they might otherwise.
A ball hit out over the left-field wall in Nationals Park may not be a homerun in Fenway Park due to the Green Monster. Houston’s Minute Maid Park had a hill in center field until this past season. The uniqueness of every team’s ballpark adds character to the nation’s pastime.
In basketball, the rim is always ten feet above the floor. In football, 100 yards always separate the end zones. In other sports, the rules are the same, regardless of what field the game is played on — but not baseball.
In addition to playing with the unique quirks of one’s home baseball stadium, where the game is played in Major League Baseball determines the rules of the game. If the game is played in a National League park, the pitcher must hit. If the game is in an American League stadium, designated hitters must be used. Forcing teams to change a winning strategy that has worked for them all year based off of the results of an all-star game was ludicrous.
For a league which built an all-star game around the slogan, “This time it counts,” now the whole season counts. No longer will a game that has no relevance to regular season standings have a potentially monumental impact on postseason success. Teams now have late-season incentive to continue to push into the postseason.
As baseball and its hot stove continue to hide in the depth of the winter months, let’s not fail to recognize the recent progress of its new CBA.
Thomas Schlarp is a sophomore in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. This is the final installment of The Stove.
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