TORONTO, Ontario — Brian Butterfield said he is a traditionalist. The Toronto Blue Jays third base coach and Orono native doesn’t like interleague play.
But since it is here to stay, he would like interleague play to determine which league gets the home-field advantage in the World Series.
Beginning in 2003, the winner of the Major League All-Star game dictated which team earned home-field advantage.
The 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee ended in a 7-7 tie when both teams ran out of players after 11 innings. Commissioner Bud Selig decided to call the game to save pitchers’ arms.
The negative backlash from the Milwaukee fans and the media resulted in Selig trying to save face by making the game more meaningful the following year.
Since that time, the team with the home-field edge (four home games out of seven) is 5-4 in the World Series.
However, the World Series has only gone to one Game 7 and that was last year when the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers 6-2. The National League had won the All-Star game 5-1, which eventually gave the Cardinals the right to host the seventh and deciding game.
The team with the home-field advantage hosts games 1, 2, 6 and 7 while the other team has games 3, 4 and 5 at its field.
Butterfield said he hates having the All-Star game decide that important dynamic.
“It makes no sense at all. You can’t use your best players for the whole [All-Star] game,” said Butterfield, referring to the common practice of playing everybody two or three innings. “And the manager has to be careful not to use players who may have an injury like a hamstring pull. You have to protect him because it’s the regular season that matters.”
Butterfield said the league that wins the most interleague games should get the edge because those games count.
He is a big advocate of the extra wild card team, which comes into play this season.
Instead of having just one wild card team in each league, there will be two and they will have a one-game playoff to determine the last playoff team. That team will join the three division winners.
“I love it,” Butterfield said Monday from Tampa, Fla., where the Jays open a series with the Rays. “It’s a great idea and they’re going to be pleased they did it. It’s going to add an awful lot of excitement even though we’re coming off the greatest last day of the season I’ve ever seen [in 2011]. More teams will be competing for the playoffs so more teams will be playing for something. A lot of good teams have missed the playoffs in the past.”
As for interleague play, Butterfield admitted there was more of a “buzz” and “electricity” than normal in Toronto over the weekend when the National League East’s New York Mets came to town.
“But I prefer playing within our league. It makes the World Series more special. And I love competing against teams in our own league. You’re more familiar with them. The TV monitors in the dressing room are tuned to American League games,” said Butterfield, who had to look at a lot of videotape to put together a game strategy for the Mets series.
The American League East is topsy-turvy this season.
Entering Monday’s games, perennial doormat Baltimore was leading the division with a 27-15 record. Tampa Bay was 25-17 and two games back, while Toronto was 23-19 and four out. The two teams that are usually battling it out for the division title, big spenders New York and Boston, are 21-20 (5½ behind) and 20-21 (6½), respectively.
Is the division up for grabs with Yankees’ future Hall-of-Fame closer Mariano Rivera lost for the season with a knee injury and the Red Sox without injured outfielders Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Cody Ross, who are out indefinitely?
“It looks that way,” said Butterfield. “But the Red Sox and Yankees are good teams. I wouldn’t get too carried away based on what has happened in April and May. They have a lot of good players.”
He said the Orioles and Rays can stay in the hunt thanks to their pitching.
“Baltimore has some great arms and they have hitters who can hit the ball into the seats,” said Butterfield. “[Starting pitcher Jason Hammel] was a great pickup from Colorado [in a trade].”
He also considers Buck Showalter a quality manager.
The Rays, according to Butterfield, have a terrific manager in Joe Maddon and they also have plenty of good arms.
“The middle of their lineup is underrated and they do so many different things to score runs,” said Butterfield.
He noted both teams are solid defensively and said his Blue Jays are young but can compete if “we stay healthy and keep getting better.”