Robert Prechter characterized baseball as a bull market sport. Attendance figures indicate baseball is more popular during major bull markets. Attendance during the Depression plummeted 40 percent from 1930 to 1933 and did not return to pre-Depression levels until after World War II. During the five years of the frenetic bull market that culminated in 2000, attendance increased over 40 percent. In the subsequent bear market, seven percent fewer fans showed up in 2002 and 2003 than in 2001.
Bloomberg News reported in May, 2002 that Major League Baseball’s campaign to build new ballparks with spacious concourses, playgrounds, and up-scale concessions had suddenly stopped packing in the fans. But as the stock market began climbing again, so did attendance, rising to an all-time high of 79.5 million at the market’s peak in 2007, up 18 percent from 2003 after four straight seasons of record attendance.
Attendance figures, however, are an imperfect measure of social mood because they are affected by extraneous changes such as the addition of new expansion teams and new stadiums (which, however, also reflect increased optimism), baseball strikes that curtail seasons, and teams moving to different cities. A qualitative indicator of mood is the level of fan enthusiasm and the party atmosphere of crowds at league playoffs and the World Series. In the bullish 1990s, for example, during game three of the 1991 National League playoffs, baseball analyst Don Sutton commented on the fan’s enthusiasm: “In 28 years of being around baseball, it has been the most remarkable phenomenon I’ve seen in baseball.”
In the same year Bob Prechter wrote in The Elliott Wave Theorist, “The ‘tomahawk chop,’ the ‘Indian war chant,’ and ‘homer hankies’ were continually displayed in unison by tens of thousands people at a time. 40 year-olds acted like 20 year-olds. People showed up hours early at the ballpark to soak up the supercharged atmosphere of the crowd. These upbeat social rituals directly involved hundreds of thousands of people. Millions were involved indirectly via television…As one observer said on TV prior to a game, ‘It’s the Woodstock of sports.’”
The 1991 World Series attracted a high 24.0 share of TV viewers. The teams were greeted by throngs totaling nearly a million people at post-series hometown parades. The emotion surrounding the 1992 World Series games was similarly huge. Hollywood idolized baseball in the bullish 1980s and ‘90s in movies such as Field of Dreams, The Natural, Bull Durham, The Babe, A League of Their Own, Angels in the Outfield, and For Love of the Game. In 1994 Ken Burns produced his epic-length Baseball, a documentary celebration of the game.
A quantitative index that is independent of the state of the economy is home run totals. The home run is the baseball play that is the clearest expression of elevated social mood. With a single stroke, the batter powers the ball out of the field of play and sends it soaring over the fence, beyond the reach of the outfielders.
During the three severe Depression years of 1931-33, the major league home run total was also depressed, down an average 22 percent from the 1930 record high of 1,565. The 1930 number was not matched again for an entire decade. In the five years leading up to another historic hypermarket peak in 2000, the number of homers rose commensurately, increasing 40 percent from 1995, and an incredible 85 percent from 1989.
In the bull market era of 1961, Roger Maris set a single season record of 61 home runs. That surpassed the previous record of 60 by Babe Ruth in 1927 during the Roaring 20s bull market. In 1998, the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa and St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire both surpassed Roger Maris’ record in a titanic contest for that season’s home run crown. McGwire won with 70. Each of these players achieved their records following several years of a strong bull market.
The major league home run total of 5,693 in 2000 is the all-time high, achieved in the same year as the broad stock market’s all-time inflation adjusted high. A charged atmosphere of upbeat social mood seems to energize batters to swing for the fences and investors to make risky investments. Homers declined in each of the two bear market years following 2000, then started rising until 2006 as the market climbed. As the market moved down again in 2007 so did home runs, falling from 5,386 in 2006 to 4,957 in 2007, and to 4,878 in 2008.
As the market rose in 2009, home runs increased. As the stock market declined from the beginning of the year through the end of the baseball season in both 2010 and 2011, home runs dropped from the previous year (although the market did rise following the end of the baseball season in those two years). Home runs picked up again in the 2012 season as the market rose.
As in the worlds of politics and business, major scandals in sports are more likely to be uncovered and pursued by investigators and the media during bearish markets. People are more tolerant of rule-breaking and tend to look the other way when the prevailing mood is cheerful. Fewer individuals want to complain and be party-poopers when everyone’s enjoying the party. In the years of rising markets leading up to the recent financial crisis, lax oversight and slackening of business accounting standards were rampant. Just as corporations bent the rules to pump up their financial statements, professional baseball players used performance-enhancing drugs to “juice up” their performance.
The steroid scandal was a major league black eye for baseball, touching some of the sport’s marquee players. Public revelations and outrage heated up after the 2000-2002 bear market. Alex Rodriguez, who signed the two richest contracts in baseball history--over a quarter billion dollars each--admitted using banned substances from 2001 to 2003. Barry Bonds admitted that he used steroids (“unknowingly”) during the 2002 season—he was indicted in 2008 for lying to a grand jury four years earlier about the matter. Jose Conseco’s 2005 book not only detailed his own steroid use but also implicated Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi—who admitted his usage to a grand jury—and other players. In 2005 Baltimore’s Rafael Palmeiro became the best known player to receive a 10-day suspension, the first year of penalties for first infractions.
Seven-time Cy Young award pitcher Roger Clemens was also named as a steroid user by the Mitchell Report, a major investigation that Major League Baseball was forced to conduct after numerous allegations of steroid use. Following the 2007-2009 bear market, prosecutors charged Clemens with perjury for denying drug use in congressional hearings. In 2012, following a three-year market rise, a federal jury found him not guilty. And in the 2008 bear market, the FBI launched an investigation of cheating by NBA referees. Sports heroes and authority figures can quickly become tainted when social mood turns south.