HOST WITH THE MOST? DOES INITIAL HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE ACTUALLY MATTER IN THE WORLD SERIES?

October 24, 2015
Nicholas Patrick

In 1995, the Braves brought Atlanta its first (and still only) World Series championship by defeating the Cleveland Indians. In a series during which the home team won all but one game (Game 4, won by the Braves in Cleveland), the Braves clinched the series behind a masterful pitching performance by Tom Glavine at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Clearly, home-field advantage was important. Er, maybe not. After all, each team hosted exactly three games during the six-game series.

Let’s try this again. In 1997, the Florida Marlins defeated the Cleveland Indians to win their first World Series championship in thrilling fashion, thanks to Edgar Renteria’s walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of Game 7. The clincher was the fourth game hosted by the Marlins at Pro Player Stadium during the seven-game series. Clearly, home-field advantage was important. Er, maybe not. After all, the visiting team won more games (2,3,5,6) during the series than the home team (1,4,7).

Okay, well, how about 2006, when the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series over the Detroit Tigers? The Cardinals hosted three of the five games played during the series, and the home team won all but one game (Game 1, won by the Cardinals in Detroit) throughout the series. Surely, home-field advantage was important in this series, right? Well, not really.

Consider that this World Series was played in the current era where World Series home-field advantage is tied to the outcome of the same season’s All-Star Game. In the 2006 All-Star Game, with the American League down to its last strike, the Rangers’ Michael Young hit a two-run, go-ahead triple off the Padres’ Trevor Hoffman to defeat the National League, 3-2. The AL victory ensured the eventual AL Champion (Tigers) would enjoy the prize of initial home-field advantage in the World Series. But such home-field advantage doesn’t pay off until Game 7 (because the team with initial home-field advantage actually hosts an equal or lesser number of games than its opponent during any World Series that lasts just four, five, or six games). Furthermore, initial home-field advantage doesn’t pay off even in some cases when the World Series does go the distance (like ’97, when visiting teams fared better than home teams; or, say, 2014, when home teams fared better but when the champion ultimately hosted fewer games than the runner-up).

So how often does initial home-field advantage actually matter???  Consider that in 1946, Baseball relaxed wartime travel restrictions and settled into the familiar 2-3-2 World Series format (where the team with initial home-field advantage is scheduled to host the first two and final two games, and where its opponent is scheduled to host the middle three games), maintaining this format ever since. From 1946 through 2002, initial home-field advantage simply alternated year-to-year between the American League and National League. Beginning in 2003, and continuing to this day, Major League Baseball grants World Series initial home-field advantage to the league who wins the same season’s All-Star Game.

Of the 68 World Series played since 1946, initial home-field advantage has only paid off (in other words, the eventual champion had initial home-field advantage, ultimately hosted a greater number of games in the series, in a series during which home teams fared better than visiting teams) in nine Fall Classics, shown below in bold:

Year Champion Runner-Up Initial HFA? Games Hosted by Eventual Champion Home Team Record
1946 Cardinals Red Sox Yes One More 5-2
1947 Yankees Dodgers Yes One More 5-2
1948 Indians Braves No Even 3-3
1949 Yankees Dodgers Yes One Fewer 1-4
1950 Yankees Phillies No Even 2-2
1951 Yankees Giants Yes Even 3-3
1952 Yankees Dodgers No One Fewer 2-5
1953 Yankees Dodgers Yes Even 5-1
1954 Giants Indians Yes Even 2-2
1955 Dodgers Yankees No One Fewer 6-1
1956 Yankees Dodgers No One Fewer 6-1
1957 Braves Yankees No One Fewer 4-3
1958 Yankees Braves No One Fewer 4-3
1959 Dodgers White Sox No Even 3-3
1960 Pirates Yankees Yes One More 3-4
1961 Yankees Reds Yes One Fewer 1-4
1962 Yankees Giants No One Fewer 4-3
1963 Dodgers Yankees No Even 2-2
1964 Cardinals Yankees Yes One More 3-4
1965 Dodgers Twins No One Fewer 6-1
1966 Orioles Dodgers No Even 2-2
1967 Cardinals Red Sox No One Fewer 4-3
1968 Tigers Cardinals No One Fewer 2-5
1969 Mets Orioles No One More 4-1
1970 Orioles Reds No One More 2-3
1971 Pirates Orioles No One Fewer 6-1
1972 Athletics Reds No One Fewer 2-5
1973 Athletics Mets Yes One More 5-2
1974 Athletics Dodgers No One More 4-1
1975 Reds Red Sox No One Fewer 4-3
1976 Reds Yankees Yes Even 2-2
1977 Yankees Dodgers Yes Even 3-3
1978 Yankees Dodgers No Even 5-1
1979 Pirates Orioles No One Fewer 2-5
1980 Phillies Royals Yes Even 5-1
1981 Dodgers Yankees No Even 5-1
1982 Cardinals Brewers Yes One More 5-2
1983 Orioles Phillies Yes One Fewer 1-4
1984 Tigers Padres No One More 4-1
1985 Royals Cardinals Yes One More 3-4
1986 Mets Red Sox Yes One More 3-4
1987 Twins Cardinals Yes One More 7-0
1988 Dodgers Athletics Yes One Fewer 3-2
1989 Athletics Giants Yes Even 2-2
1990 Reds Athletics Yes Even 2-2
1991 Twins Braves Yes One More 7-0
1992 Blue Jays Braves No Even 3-3
1993 Blue Jays Phillies Yes Even 3-3
1995 Braves Indians Yes Even 5-1
1996 Yankees Braves Yes Even 1-5
1997 Marlins Indians Yes One More 3-4
1998 Yankees Padres Yes Even 2-2
1999 Yankees Braves No Even 2-2
2000 Yankees Mets Yes One Fewer 3-2
2001 Diamondbacks Yankees Yes One More 7-0
2002 Angels Giants Yes One More 5-2
2003 Marlins Yankees No Even 3-3
2004 Red Sox Cardinals Yes Even 2-2
2005 White Sox Astros Yes Even 2-2
2006 Cardinals Tigers No One More 4-1
2007 Red Sox Rockies Yes Even 2-2
2008 Phillies Rays No One More 4-1
2009 Yankees Phillies Yes Even 3-3
2010 Giants Rangers Yes One Fewer 3-2
2011 Cardinals Rangers Yes One More 5-2
2012 Giants Tigers Yes Even 2-2
2013 Red Sox Cardinals Yes Even 3-3
2014 Giants Royals No One Fewer 4-3

If (and only if) the Royals defeat the Mets in Game 7 of the upcoming World Series, and if home teams fare better than visiting teams throughout the series, then we can add 2015 to the list.