It is full of instances that teach lessons, set standards and serve as warnings that anything is possible.
Winston Churchill realized it. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is one of his famous quotes.
Wonder if Churchill was a sports fan?
In this time and place, Churchill’s words should be tapping professional sports on the shoulder. Everything seems rosy right now, but — danger! — a breakdown may be dead ahead.
If current trends don’t change, there might be a jock-ified version of the Great Depression on the horizon.
Before someone says I should be fitted for a tinfoil hat, the signs are there … and it would be tough to argue that such an event isn’t well needed.
Professional sports (and in some cases college sports, too) are living large. Let’s use baseball for this discussion, though it could be switched out for almost any of the mainstream games.
For those who don’t know, the Great Depression occurred in 1929 after the country enjoyed a long run of high living. Questionable decisions and the pulling of the financial rug out from under the country sent America’s economy crashing down.
It triggered a long period of drastic decline, which include a lack of production, severe unemployment and deflation. It caused a huge change in culture and society.
Baseball is living the high life, maybe ignoring similar signs.
The sport is in trouble as attendance dwindles. The game’s older fans are dying off, without an influx of younger ones filling the void. Voila, empty seats.
And yet, because of the magic of television and product marketing, baseball’s ownership and hierarchy are still throwing around major cash.
In the last two weeks, nearly $900 million was promised to three of baseball’s top players for what amounts to 31 years — 5,022 combined games if they play every one of them — of “work.”
Arguments go back and forth on if anyone deserves that much money, but it’s being paid.
In all this, there are three groups being held hostage.
There are the players, who believe they should be paid more.
There are the owners, who are asked to pay higher salaries, but want to protect what they have.
And the biggest group of all are the fans, who foot a lot of the bill through buying tickets, watching games on television and purchasing the marketed merchandise.
But remember, there are fewer fans. The three monetary outlets will soon wane, too, thanks to too much saturation meeting a lack of attention spans.
There were many reasons for the Great Depression, but here are a couple that might sitting on baseball’s doorstep.
• The Roaring 20s — It’s the name of the decade leading up to the main event. The economy and production were at an all-time high. A chosen few were getting richer, while the majority lived below standards. Middle-class members cut expenses. Too much supply suffered from less demand and profits fell.
The new Roaring 20s started at the turn of this century, and baseball was at an all-time high, riding some significant events (Cal Ripken’s streak, the Great Home Run Chase of 1998) to polish its image after a mid-1990s strike.
New media contracts and social media are in play trying to keep fans interested. But it’s become too expensive to attend games. There’s a huge supply, but a lesser demand.
• Stock market crash — The day, Black Thursday, came when the world stood still. Banks and investors thought they were invincible. Then the financial world went into a freefall and everyone panicked, trying to save their money. The bottom dropped out.
In baseball, the players and owners act like large pools of money will always be there, yet there is posturing in a “Just in case” mode. As interest in the game goes down, there might be smaller TV contracts to go with smaller crowds. And, oh yeah, a possible players strike looms in 2021.
• The Dust Bowl — Economic problems worsened because of a huge drought that jolted farming jobs and production. It ruined many and left little faith in the future.
Baseball’s Dust Bowl is free agency. The process’ new version is a tug of war over jobs, players panicking over how their talents are evaluated, and the movement toward cost-effective rookies and away from expensive veterans.
There is faith in the future of negotiations. This kind of drought will cause new kinds of economic problems.
So, think this is a reach?
If every sport was forced to the brink of economic harm, wouldn’t it be forced to take huge steps backward to reinvent itself?
It took a large dose of reality and a lot of pain for the country to bounce back from that era.
The Great Depression ushered in a lower cost of living, more leisure time and changes in technology, entertainment and social behavior.
In sports … in baseball, specifically … would that be a bad thing?
Right now, it seems like money is no object, yet it is the driving force behind everything.
The powers that be in the game have tunnel vision, ignoring the idea that their market could easily implode.
History — albeit in a different time and genre — could happen again.
In the climate of today’s sports fans, will the games be able to recover from such a turn of events?
Yep, like Churchill implied, learn from history and don’t repeat it. But in some cases, it can’t be helped.
So, for baseball and all the other professional sports, there’s another famous quote to think about.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein.