October 24, 2015
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|
|1967||Cardinals||Red Sox||No||One Fewer||4-3|
|1975||Reds||Red Sox||No||One Fewer||4-3|
|1986||Mets||Red Sox||Yes||One More||3-4|
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.