The MLB Playoffs Home Field Advantage Debate… There’s No Place Like Home

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

Home field advantage matters. It’s not just a slogan to drum up interest in the All-Star game, it’s a fact. Although stats tend to reveal that the advantages are absolutely minimal, they are still advantages. Statistics don’t measure everything. They don’t take into account the subtleties of the boost a pitcher gets in a thunderous stadium when the applause rattles the batter with and 0-2 count, or when the crowd parts for a fielder diving into the stands to make an incredible grab. Position players like playing at home because they know the nuances of the stadium and batters typically feast on home cooking as well, which really goes to show when it comes to the playoffs – there’s no place like home.

All About Momentum

Obviously the crowd can be a momentum changer. In the post-season every single at bat matters, and when a team strings together a couple of hits in front of the home fans, the reaction can be electric. During these intense moments when the crowd comes alive, the momentum shift is nearly tangible.
The confidence quaking effect of the crowd is perhaps even magnified when it comes to rookies and players without post-season experience. There is an obvious reason why veteran players seem to get more work than their younger rotation mates in October. But even the most veteran and composed player can find themselves susceptible to the roar of a crowd. And then, teams that were once down and out can rally back and take the upper hand, and a deafening crowd can shake the composure of even the most unflappable of players.

Case in point, Dave Roberts steal of second base during the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, perhaps the most famous game changing performance in all of baseball history. The Red Sox faced elimination down three games to none, but because Roberts swiped second they went on to one of the biggest comebacks in all of sports history. Roberts, himself, admitted to nervousness, as everyone in the stadium knew he was going to attempt the steal. Can you even imagine the apprehension he would have had if he were attempting that steal in the Bronx? Who knows, if that game had been played in New York perhaps the nerves would have gotten the best of Roberts instead. Obviously, Rivera was shaken after the play and it ultimately cost him the save – and the Yanks the series – which may not have happened outside of Fenway. Sure the Yankees actually had home field advantage in the series but that night the advantage rested in Boston, and anyone who believes the contrary is foolish.

The Tenth Man

Baseball may be a game of stats, but it’s impossible to quantify a crowd. Baseball fans have the ability to alter the outcome of a game like no other. In basketball and football, crowd participation can be boiled down to simple distraction, but baseball is different. In baseball fans can actually change the outcome of at bats. Fans reaching into the field of play can cause a well hit ball in the corner which could be a triple for a speedster to become a ground rule double simply by touching the ball.

Fan interference can honestly make or break a big game and can often be one of the aforementioned series changing momentum shifts. Not to pander to the judge too much, but I’m sure that Sports Geek remembers that fateful night when Steve Bartman robbed Moises Alou – and Cubs fans everywhere – of a fly ball that could have altered the course of the Cubs destiny forever. While that particular instance didn’t help the home team, there are other instances where interference has. In the 1996, fan interference actually put the Yankees in position to win a crucial game one of the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles. When a 12-year-old Yankees’ fan, Jeffrey Maier, reached out and snagged a well hit, but arguably short, ball off the bat of Derek Jeter it was ruled a home run. The Yanks go on to win the ALCS and the World Series. While not every instance of fans touching a ball in play led to World Series rings, there is something to be said for having an extra game on home turf, and how that can sometimes be like having a tenth man in the stands.

Playing the Field

Probably the most important reason to have home field advantage is the field itself. Each stadium plays differently. Some stadiums are a pitcher’s paradise, and others are a hitter’s haven. There is a big difference in playing a ball hit off the monster in Fenway and a ball hit out to the short porch in Yankee Stadium. There is a difference in playing in an open air stadium like the new Target Field, or a dome like “the Trop.” Each and every stadium necessitates a different approach at the plate and in the field, and nobody knows them quite like the home team.

Put yourself in the manager’s shoes. Would you rather have home field advantage, or does it really make no difference? I’d be shocked to find any manager out there that would say they’d rather play the most important games on the road – no matter what the stats say.

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