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Fred Sheehan

Fred Sheehan

Frederick J. Sheehan Jr. is an investor, investment advisor, writer, and public speaker. He is currently working on a book about Ben Bernanke.

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Baseball in Extra Innings: The Wish without the Will

My ticket to the seventh game of the 1967 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals cost $8.00. That was in the grandstand. The price of the same seat, for the 2013 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals (at Fenway Park in Boston), is $300.00. The inflation of words is bound to the inflation of prices. The grandstand is now called the "right field boxes." It looks as though box seats, which were front-and-center, not extending far beyond the home and visiting team dugouts, now run to the right-field, bull pen.

The regular season price for that same seat in 1967 was $2.25. From a Red Sox program during the 1967 season: "Box Seats...$3.00. Reserved Grandstand...$2.25. Note: Grandstand Admission ($1.50) and Bleacher Seats ($1.00) are on sale at the box office at Fenway Park only on day or night of game." (I do not know what the same seat costs in the 2013 regular season. More than I would pay.)

The discussion here is not about inflation of prices but the inability of practically any institution, anywhere in the United States, to address its demise. Aside from the World Series, a leading spectator sport at the moment is the Obamacare (the new and outdated nationalized health-care dinosaur) computer system. "What else would you expect from the federal government?" is the accurate but not encompassing cry. What else do we get - if not "expect" - anywhere, today?

Aside from government, the baseball lesson is just as evident in education, museums, houses, and there is no end to this list.

Baseball, since 1967, has paid much higher salaries which have been supported by higher ticket prices and other sources of revenue. The middle class must now dig deep into its pocket (or, add to its rising credit-card and student-loan balance) to attend a major league baseball game. However, it is the "other sources of revenue" that have supported the binge.

The 1967 regular season program lists the souvenirs sold at Fenway Park. It is not a long list. The most interesting are "Key Chain & Miniature Purse...75 [cents] and "Garter...$1.00." Garter? A 1968 program lists a Bat Key Chain & Rabbit's Foot...50 [cents]. The purse is gone. Maybe 75 cents was too much.

Of clothing, "Baseball Caps...1.50, T-shirts...1.50, and Campus Shirt...$2.00" were it. The program does not note if these were Red Sox caps. They may have been, but an older fan from 1967 tells me we did not yet wear ball caps with team insignias. There is an asterisk beside all of the (non-cap) clothing. The program notes: "Shirts are children sizes only."

Adults did not wear clothes with words yet. For the most part, children did not either. Watching a sports contest on television today, it is obvious who is playing, when flipping through channels, since most adults suit up for the possibility they will be called upon to pinch hit.

The revenue from television and all of its siblings, including websites, has blossomed. The 2013 Red Sox website sells 33 different hats, the priciest at $39.99. This can not be the full range, since most of the caps are blue. Adults walk the street wearing every color of Red Sox ball cap, pink seems to be the favorite. Sources of income go on, to pastures well beyond tickets, paraphernalia and media income.

Baseball may chase other pockets of revenue, but of diminishing returns. "We'll charge more," seems to work, but baseball has followed this path at the cost of losing its base. Corporate expense accounts fill the seats. Future patrons (children), attend fewer games than before. They drift to soccer and lacrosse.

Quantity destroys quality. In 1967, after the regular season, the first place team in the American League met the top team in the National League in the World Series. That was it. Now, there are layers of playoff games before the World Series, often played into November, when interest in baseball is hard to stir. A few years ago, the commissioner of baseball rued that interest was fading when the World Series was played, and declared Major League Baseball must reduce the number of playoff games to increase World Series drama. What has baseball done since? Added another layer of playoffs.

As to healthcare, it is obvious the entire non-system is a riot of paperwork, constantly lost or slave to some computer's backtalk, a maze of arduous barriers to patients and doctors alike. The confusion needs to be dismantled. Firing every bureaucrat with the power to create forms is a great place to start.

In 1971, 57% of American households watched the Worlds Series. In 2012, 10% did so. Expecting the 10% to finance Derek Jeter's salary is not wise. The problems are obvious; but they cannot (will not?) be addressed. Everyone knows advertisements between innings last far too long now. This, when attention spans have vanished. The box scores for the four games already played in the 2013 World Series show the games lasted 3 hours and 17 minutes, 3:05, 3:54, and 3:34. They seemed much longer, but not having employed a stopwatch, will go uncontested. The seven 1967 World Series games lasted 2 hours and 22 minutes; 2:24; 2:15; 2:05, 2:20, and 2:48, and 2:23. There was talk then about how to shorten games.

In Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present (2000), Jacques Barzun concluded his book looking at the close of the twentieth century from the past tense: "Reforms were much discussed; many were virtually unquestioned and statesmen talked of 're-inventing government.' All that happened was bill after bill put before the legislatures and soon or slowly allowed to die. Such a failure of will, which is to say the wish without the act, is characteristic of institutions in decadence."


Frederick Sheehan writes a blog at www.aucontrarian.com


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