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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7934/the-wacky-world-of-civic-baseball/

The Wacky World of Civic Baseball

March 20, 2008 by

It’s civic baseball season again, that time of the year when we are reminded that everything we believe about how society works is wrong, at least in this area if not in all areas.

Let’s start with the most obvious point — obvious once you think about it. The idea that cities must provide this service is a deeply entrenched part of civic life. Hardly anyone questions the need to loot taxpayers to build large sports complexes, maintain them all year, pay referees, and generally administer this vast apparatus requiring millions in funding.

Why? The reason usually given is that sport programs are a good thing, they bring the community together, they provide an outlet for kids, and socialize them into important life activities such as … playing sports. How can anyone oppose such a wonderful and essential thing? FULL ARTICLE


JC Hewitt March 20, 2008 at 8:53 am

Fantastic article. Seattle is kicking out their basketball team right now unless the NBA and Steve Ballmer can pull a good hustle on the legislature.

Kavius March 20, 2008 at 9:03 am

This is because a main motivator of the hysteria is precisely that everyone thinks of himself as having given a great deal to the cause and thereby expects everyone to be grateful. Of course people are never grateful, at least not grateful enough, and this fact breeds resentment that plays itself out in other ways.

And this sums up the whole reason I am on this board and believe the things I do. I come from a family where you are expected to assist family members in any way you can think of (anyone with a blood tie has a claim, this can mean very extended family). The problem I have experienced with this is that the gift giving is always tied to a sense of needing to reciprocate. Unfortunately, in my case, this has meant having to give up things that are dear to me, for the good of the whole.

Except for birthday’s and christmas, I now refuse gifts from my family. I pay cash for anything they want to give me. In the last five years I have started doing this, I have noticed it has prevented me from getting entangled in several family battles (“but I have always wanted grandma’s chair, its not fair that she gave it to you”… “I bought it for a fair price, here is the receipt”… usually ends the conversation).

Jim Fedako March 20, 2008 at 9:42 am

Great article. The one “public goods” argument which is always put forward is that some children will not be able to afford sports in the absence of government. But, as you noted, sports are expensive. Of course, there are the children at the margin. Yet, even here there are ample opportunities.

In my area, civic soccer is king. There are so many teams and so many games that the leagues have a tough time finding officials, so the leagues pay children $25 to officiate soccer games (the games last an hour). Children — as young as 14 — can easily work 6 games per weekend. That’s $150 per weekend — cash. Still, there is a lack of children willing to perform this simple labor, with more than the occasional game occurring without officials.

In light of this, a local school district threatened to institute pay-to-play sports. The stated reasoning: A lack of revenue. The real reason: The district wanted to pass a new operating levy, so it was creating a threat to garner support of parents of athletes (Hey parents, your new tax bill will be less than your new pay-to-play bill).

The district cried for the kids since a few might not be able to play sports due to the proposed $500 per sport fee. The papers ran stories of children who would have to forgo football. The message: Little Billy will not be able to afford the football fee so will not be able to play. Of course, Little Billy loves football, but not enough to officiate soccer games over 3 1/2 weekends. I’m certain that the boy soon learned that a tear and sad face is easier than 20 hours of running and whistling.

And, another generation is baptized in the waters of public goods and wealth transfers.

Jim Waddell March 20, 2008 at 9:54 am

Here in Rochester, MN, the sports leagues are generally run by private non-profits. Of course there is govt involvement, since most of the fields/courts are part of public schools or public parks. But the actual administration is private. Seems to work fine. I see no shortage of kids from families with very minimal financial resources. The YMCA also offers inexpensive activities. The market seems to work just fine, even without a profit motive. Imagine!

John Delano March 20, 2008 at 10:02 am

There is a church baseball league here in NW Indiana. It has several fields on its own land.

8 March 20, 2008 at 10:08 am

In many places the sports are paid for by raffles, bake sales, car washes, and other fund raisers. Home schoolers are already setting up leagues outside of the school system.

I wouldn’t compare wristwatches or Manga comics to sports, because many children learn more skills on the playing field than they do in the classroom these days. Maybe a computer or Playstation 3 is a far comparison.

In the end, I understand the consistency of the argument and agree with it, but on the scale of things, this is a local issue and doesn’t cost that much money. I just went over this in my town’s budget and it is less than 0.1 percent of spending. On my list of government spending complaints, this is at the bottom.

jeffrey March 20, 2008 at 10:14 am

I agree that this issue is not that important in the scheme of things. But it also illustrates the folly of even these non-lethal forms of government intervention. In this case, the civic sports teams create de facto monopolies and crowd out what would otherwise be a wide variety of great private solutions. So it is not the case that even these innocent forms of government are all benefit and no cost.

David Spellman March 20, 2008 at 10:19 am


I agree with you that it is a small fraction of the budget and sports can teach some wonderful lessons. But using tax money to subsidize sports teaches parents and children a more important lesson–that it is okay to make other people pay your way if you have sufficient power. It doesn’t matter when the amount is large or small, the act of forcing other people to give you money is the problem.

R L Nathan, Jr March 20, 2008 at 10:21 am

When I was a kid, the only thing that the city contributed was a worthless piece of land. The ball park was built with contributions in terms of time from parents and materials from local business. Businesses advertised on the out field fence and the backs of our uniforms.

Umpires and coaches volunteered their time for the most part. If there was any payment made, it most likely came from concession profits.

Even though only a few people voluntarily contributed to this effort, everyone in the community benefited. Moreover, no taxes were used to build and maintain the park, though that has probably changed over the past 40 years.

George March 20, 2008 at 10:56 am

Having played and coached baseball over a 4 decade span I have observed that baseball like everything else is political.

The coaches son always gets the most playing time, the coaches son always bats high in the batting order regardless of batting average, the coaches son gets deferred to by players that no better even if he is a “dork”. A coach whose son stinks recruits assistant coaches of fathers of players that are better, thus stacking the team.

The coaching slots zare filled before season opens thus excluding new dads (coaches) from participating.

I personally know of 1 team where the player with the highest batting average by more 100 points batted dead last becuase he had the least political clout.

The coaches son, if a pitcher gets to load the bases, before the relief pitcher is brought in who is then terrified and walks in a run and receives trhe blame for it.

This IS America today. Kind of like the old Russian “jinn”

Dennis March 20, 2008 at 11:07 am

“I agree with you that it is a small fraction of the budget and sports can teach some wonderful lessons. But using tax money to subsidize sports teaches parents and children a more important lesson–that it is okay to make other people pay your way if you have sufficient power. It doesn’t matter when the amount is large or small, the act of forcing other people to give you money is the problem.”

Excellently stated, Mr. Spellman, especially the last sentence.

W Baker March 20, 2008 at 11:56 am

Jeff mentions Upward Basketball. I live in an area where these church leagues dominate in numbers – probably 5 or 6 teams to one municipal one. The local Parks and Rec. teams can barely field enough players. The private church gyms, as one might expect, are magnificent, clean and always well appointed.

The only problem is that the Upward Leagues play terrible basketball. Atrocious fundamentals, little to no concept of the rules, etc. I’ve seen decent little athletes go into that program, and their abilities are actually retarded. Plus that League socializes the game. Everyone plays equal time – whether they like it or not – no backcourt press, generous allowances of travelling, etc. I’ve seen a 10 year-old kid pick the ball up and run 15 steps without a whistle! The practices are less than instructive and mainly consist of proselytizing for this or that church.

Our Parks and Rec. team played the winners of the Upward Leagues at the end of the season and it wasn’t even funny after the first minute or so. All the games were called at half-time because the scoring difference was more than 50 points… (Btw, I’m not a coach. But the coaches son did play every minute. We only had five boys on the team!)

jeffrey March 20, 2008 at 1:13 pm

W Baker, this is exactly right. These evangelical groups confuse bad sportsmanship with the very existence of intense rivalry. So we are left with choosing between a cruel world of city sports, where ethics are absent, and a cushy world of private sports where it is all about a flawed view of right and wrong that ends up ripping out the very gears of the game. Amazing.

john March 20, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Great article. One redeeming feature of civic sports leagues is that they are at least local, which means that problems are more easily and quickly resolved. Thank goodness No Child Left Behind didn’t address youth sports as well.

I especially liked the second-to-last paragraph, which is a pithy, Austrian response to what is considered Gary Becker’s contribution to economic science–specifically the application of neoclassical profit-and-loss calculation to non-market activity. Clearly, much profit is lost by those participating in these programs, and yet they continue to commit to them. Jeff’s explanation, which doesn’t even involve the invention of mythical Z-goods for his analysis to make sense, is more logical than Becker’s. Shocking!

jason4liberty March 20, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Is “lost” an appropriate word to use in this sense? I like spending time with my family. When I do so, I choose to forgo monetarily beneficial activity to make myself happy. There isn’t a profit motive for personal enjoyment and fulfillment, the motivation is the other way around. I seek profit to enable personal enjoyment and fulfillment. If I engage in activity (sports, painting, napping, reading blogs on LVMI) for my enjoyment and fulfillment I haven’t lost profits – I have recognized them.

Mauro Cella March 21, 2008 at 2:40 am

It’s only the tip of iceberg. In a few months the World Chauvinistic Championship will kick on in China. Hundreds of nation-states will be at each other’s throat to prove they are the best in the world at sailing or at least better than their “hated” neighboors at basketball. Think of Borat’s Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan rivalry on a large scale.
This of course would be all good and well if the citizens/taxpayers/serfs of the world wouldn’t be stripped of yet more cash to finance this colossal scam. Corporate sponsorship is like the sugra sprinkling on a cake: more for show than anything else.
Each nation-state will be sending hundreds if not thousands of athletes, complete with hundreds of coaches, physicians and other less mentionable and useful characters a whole world away. These persons will need to fed, housed, trained, kept in top shape… and most of the material won’t be sourced locally but will be airlifted.
Again there would be no problem at all if all of this was paid by private funds.
Civic baseball is small fries when compared to professional sports in some other countries. For example Italy mantains a vast number of professional athletes: they are nominally enlisted as policemen or soldiers but they hardly ever touch a uniform (except during award cerimonies, of course). They are basically paid for the “privilege of keeping national honour up”.
I want a government job too…

simik March 21, 2008 at 2:42 am

So we are left with choosing between a cruel world of city sports, where ethics are absent, and a cushy world of private sports where it is all about a flawed view of right and wrong that ends up ripping out the very gears of the game.

That’s False Dichotomy

jeffrey March 21, 2008 at 5:57 am

Simik, of course there is a third choice, which was the point of my article. the two options described in what you quoted are my assessment of what happens when there are only two choices.

Aaron P March 21, 2008 at 11:37 pm

I’m irked @ my city’s supposed “public” fields. In the last 5 years they have all become fenced in and gated with padlocks and signs proclaiming the need for city permits to utilize the facility. Please, tell me what is the need for secured FIELDS? My friends and I (18+) have also been thrown out of parks by officers because the city has mandated they are off-limits past 10PM. We’re playing basketball, frisbee, and football. I guess the city rather us go home and do drugs. This is getting to the point of ridiculousness. I encourage privatization and I would personally be willing to pay a fee for use as I do the gym!

Nick March 22, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Wow, Jeffry Tucker you are one Miserable dude. Remind me not to invite you over to the post tournament BBQ at my place.

Maybe civic baseball exists because government does a better and more efficient job providing it than the private sector. No one is prevented from purchasing land and starting a Little League, yet the number of private leagues is quite small, as you bitterly lament.

WES March 24, 2008 at 9:25 am

Your piece on Civic Baseball tickled me and brought back some memories . . . unhappy when the events occurred, but some fond nostalgia now.
A little personal vignette: When I was a kid (circa, 1960-62), My hometown of Newark, NJ sponsored a “Little League” (ages 9-11) and a “Pony League” (ages 12-14) for boy’s baseball (boys only, in those days). Impressive uniforms, bats, balls, umps . . . the whole enchillada. The city even sponsored a parade on Memorial Day to kick off the season . . .
The fields where the Little League played their games were too far from my house, so I didn’t try out for the team when I first became age-eligible In those days, of course, no one in their right mind would dare ask their parents for busfare or to drive them to a practice or a ball game for two (2) reasons: (1) busfare for baseball would be considered “frivoulous” and not in the budget; and (2) most in my neighborhood didn’t own a car then. So for a couple of years, I played some unsupervised “pick-up” baseball with some of the older kids in my neighborhood on some still-undeveloped lots. In the evenings and weekends, my dad would play catch with me and give me pointers.
In my last year of Little League eligibility, my folks bought me a second-hand bicycle for Christmas. Finally, I could go try out for the Little League! On Tryout Day, I took my bike and off I went.
The filed was full of ADULTS all wearing baseball uniforms and carrying clipboards, busily taking notes as the new kids were being skill-evaluated. I remember thinking that the kids all looked small and the field looked small as well . . . I was always the biggest kid in my class, and at age 11, I must have looked like a giant to some of those 9-year olds.
Anyway, my dad had taught me to switch-hit, so when I came up to bat, I took a couple of cuts from both sides of the plate. The pitcher was an adult, and he threw what looked to me like slow-motion lobs . . . I hit all of them out of the park, from both sides of the plate. I remember noticing the adults all pointing at me and whispering among each other when I was at the plate . . . and the other kids just stood around and stared at me.
One supervisor asked to see my birth certificate. I showed it to him and it was in order and timely. He asked some of the other kids about me, and they confirmed that I was in the proper grade class at school. He just shook his head.
Then I tried out for catcher, the position I had been stuck with by my older friends in the sandlot. (I liked that position anyway because you were always in the game, and in any event, I was the only kid who owned catcher’s gear.) Again, an adult pitched a few balls, including a few in the dirt, which I handled easily. All was going swimmingly until they had me peg a throw to second . . . some little lad who had already played in the league for the previous two years was supposed to catch the throw . . . but when he saw the bullet coming, he moved out of the way. Ole! Again, all the adults whispering and shaking their heads and pointing at me. I went home thereafter, not knowing my fate, but certain I had performed far better than anyone else in that tryout.
That evening, I received a telephone call from the league supervisor. He told me that although I was qualified by age, I was simply too big and strong to play in the Little League with the other kids my age. He told me to call the Pony League and ask if I could play with the older kids. I was disappointed because I wanted to play with some of my classmates, but figured in the Pony League, I would play at the level I was used to playing at.
Not to happen. I called the Pony League, asking if I could try out. I told them the story of my Little League tryout. The supervisor dismissed my request, citing minimum age rules for participation. Catch-22. Yeesh.
I told my mom and dad about what happened. They laughed and said, “well, you’ll just have to keep playing with those older guys in the neighborhood sandlot group”. You see, my parents felt it was beneath them to make a stink about such a trivial matter as Little League baseball. They had five other children to feed and clothe and educate (parochial schools). Imagine the ruckus and brouhaha that such a ruling would engender now . . . crazed, indignant and outraged parents would be all over those league officials like flies on cow flop.
I played and excelled at baseball and football in private high prep school, and was offered college scholarships for both sports, electing football (a decision my aching bones and joints now remind me was likely the wrong one). Few of the kids my age that I knew played in the Little League played well enough to make their high school teams, let alone well enough to achieve athletic scholarships. And some of these kids, to the best of my recollection, were pretty fair players.
I didn’t think so at the time I was rejected by the Little League, but age and experience now tells me that these other kids were likely DISADVANTAGED by playing in the city-sponsored, adult-supervised leagues. They all had these RULES . . . other than the generally-accepted rules governing baseball in general, we had only a couple of rules: (1) you had to be accepted by the others as skillful enough to be chosen to play; and (2) you couldn’t sock the kid who was chosen (by a flip of the coin) to play ump for the game for a bad call or you would be banned from the game. We brought out own bases, maintained the fields we played on, had our own equipment, and chipped in for new baseballs, when necessary. We learned and loved the game and learned to respect and share with each other. I even learned how to umpire.
The Little League kids, on the other hand, were always griping about something . . . the field was lousy; the equipment was lousy; stinky players were required to play and lost the game for them; the ump was a jerk and played favorites; the adults were always interfering in their fun and telling them what to do, etc., etc. Sometimes, the adults even argued with each other, and the parent spectators got into the act as well . . . even a few fistfights, something that never happened at our games . . . ever.
You can tell where this is going. I and all the others who played among ourselves, using our own resources and solving our own problems and disputes were far happier in the game and became better people and competitors than the “supervised” kids. Go figure.
Our anarchic liberty allowed spontaneous order to flourish. The bureacracy of the government game rejected me, so I was allowed to make my own way . . . and was far better for it.
Fast forward to the present: whenever I pass an empty baseball field, I always feel a little bit sad. Seems the towns do not allow “pick-up” baseball teams anymore, for “insurance” reasons. The “crowd-out” scenario. So the fields remain unused until a government-sanctioned league takes the field. I sometimes stop to watch an inning or two. The kids don’t seem happy, and their adult supervisors seem tense and irritable . . . always a little on edge. They don’t look happy to be there. Not my idea of a good time.

Sure glad I was a Civic-Baseball Reject . . .

brmerrick March 24, 2008 at 10:43 am

I don’t think creating activities for children does them all that much good. It goes right along with TV, public (or any kind of formal) schooling, and any other regulated activity. All it does is remind children that for every conceivable activity, there is a bell, an official, a rule book, a law, etc. The natural spontaneity of life is totally squashed. Children would be better of discussing amongst themselves what game to play, how it should be played, what can be improvised, etc. The regimented modern suburban life isn’t much of one at all.

giuseppe melli March 25, 2008 at 7:33 am


I have been a baseball player and a coach for 40 years, and I am an economist (severely corrupted by Austrian ideas, if not an “official” Austrian).

I agree with most of Tucker’s comments,

but I DEEPLY regret his sneering comments about the game itself and its educational importance.

I wouldn’t expect to read on an Austrian website a phrase like “parents lose their time training children instead of going to a Museum or sipping Chardonnay”: where did this intellocratic crap come from?

“The level of dedication to hitting a ball with a stick boggles the mind”. Oh, really?

“Hitting a ball with a stick” in the afternoon and on sundays, while learning Arithmetics and English the rest of the time, will do to any boy and girl a LOT of good.

It will teach him a lot of things he needs to know about how his mind and body work, about seeing, about reacting to external events, about making choices. And it will be fun.

The fact that parents are involved in the “fun” part of their children’s education is not “mind boggling”: it’s perfectly obvious, natural.

In a more “Austrian” vein -: it happens, it is real, it’s been happening for two centuries, it is part of the “uncomprehensible” choices that millions of people do every day. It is there because people like it. There’s a market for fun and sport, and baseball is a major provider of those commodities.

An “intellectual” sneering and patronising at a game that people love, well… sounds more like something I’d read on the “New Yorker”.

So, I completely agree about the “civic” corruption of the game,

but I’d have appreciated the paper more if it didn’t show prejudice toward the game, QUA popular game.

Keep the good work,

and best regards.

Miklos Hollender April 1, 2008 at 4:25 am


I think this might be about status. Status is one of, if not _the_ most powerful of human motivations and it’s a very special good, because the market for status is a zero-sum game. Zero-sum goods always induce crazy bidding wars. The difference is that on the free market people bid for status with money while in these civic sports they seem to bid with time, effort, gossip, social pressure etc. So there is a good with a very inelastic supply and on the unfree market the demand is inelastic too because it’s not in money – this is what causes these problems I think. Basically it’s the same thing as you said, put a different way.

Miklos Hollender April 1, 2008 at 4:34 am


what a compelling logic. Would you open a private bakery in a town where there is already a government-established bakery where customers only pay part of the price of the bread and the rest is paid from taxes?

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