Is Southern Gospel more stable than Major League Baseball?

One topic of discussion that never seems to die is member stability in Southern Gospel groups. Are groups more or less stable than they were ten or thirty or fifty years ago? If there’s an increase or decrease, is it because of economic factors, stylistic changes to the genre, or different tendencies of the generation currently in their twenties? These are just a few aspects of the discussion, aspects that have been covered in countless posts across our corner of the internet.

The other day, an outside-the-box approach to examining this question occurred to me: Are Southern Gospel lineups more stable than Major League Baseball lineups?

A comparison of regional groups with minor-league teams might be quite interesting. But to limit the scope of the research necessary for this post to a manageable size, this post compares lineup stability of Southern Gospel’s twenty-five leading groups with lineup stability in the thirty Major League Baseball teams.

Southern Gospel Lineup Stability

For the purposes of this list, we only included regularly touring multi-voice groups, eliminating soloists (e.g. Jason Crabb) and vocal configurations not on regular tour (e.g. Canton Junction or the Jubilee series). Pianists were counted for lineup consistency purposes in groups where the pianist is marketed as a group member (e.g. yes for Triumphant Quartet and no for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, though the latter’s pianist happens to have been as stable as the former’s).

Groups were included in this comparison if they have achieved one or more of the following:

  • #1 Singing News Hit (October 2012-July 2013)
  • 2013 Singing News Fan Awards Top 5 nomination (in these categories: Favorite Male/Female Singer, Favorite Bass/Baritone/Lead/Tenor/Alto/Soprano/Musician of the Year, Favorite Artist/Traditional Quartet/Mixed Group/Trio)
  • 2013 NQC Music Awards Top 5 nomination (in these categories: Bass/Baritone/Lead/Tenor/Alto/Soprano/Musician of the Year, Male/Mixed Group of the Year)
  • 2013 AGM (AbsolutelyGospel) Award Winner (in these categories: Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Male/Female Vocalist of the Year, Male/Female/Mixed Groups of the Year, Traditional/Progressive/Country Song of the Year, Traditional/Progressive/Country Album of the Year)
  • 2012 Dove Award Nominee (in these categories: Southern Gospel Recorded Song/Album of the Year)

This criteria resulted in twenty-five groups. How stable have they been?

  • 16/25 (64%) had no vocal or pianist changes: Booth Brothers, Browders, Collingsworth Family, Gaither Vocal Band, Greater Vision, Hoppers, Isaacs, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Karen Peck and New River, Kingdom Heirs, McKameys, Old Paths, Sisters, Tribute Quartet, Triumphant Quartet, Whisnants
  • 1/25 (4%) had a change we’ll count as 0.5 of a lineup change: The Talleys moved from a four-vocalist to a three-vocalist configuration, though the three remaining were unchanged
  • 6/25 (24%) had one vocal or pianist change: Brian Free & Assurance, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, Gold City, Perrys (though one position is temporarily vacant during Tracy Stuffle’s stroke recovery, and one position is being filled by a fill-in at some dates), Legacy Five (the announcement of Fouch’s hire was last August 20th, so they missed being in the completely-stable list by a couple of days), Mark Trammell Quartet (Nick Trammell’s move to the group was slightly over a year ago, leaving the tenor change as the only one in the last twelve months)
  • 1/25 (4%) had a change we’ll count as 1.5 of a vocal or pianist change: The Bowling Family had one vocalist leave and two join.
  • 1/25 (4%) had two vocal or pianist changes: Inspirations
  • 0/25 had three vocal or pianist changes
  • 0/25 had four vocal or pianist changes
  • 0/25 had five vocal or pianist changes

Major League Baseball Lineup Stability

Through the course of a season, injuries frequently impact lineups and require fill-ins. For the purposes of this comparison, we compared each team’s opening day 2013 lineup with its opening day 2012 lineup (courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/opening.shtml).

Also, there are nine people on a baseball field, and only three to five on most Southern Gospel stages. So the comparison was limited to the positions of first, second, and third base, shortstop, and catcher.

  • One team (3.33%) had no infield changes: Washington Nationals
  • Five teams (16.67%) had one infield change: New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, Los Angels Angels of Anaheim
  • Ten teams (33.33%) had two infield changes: Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers
  • Seven teams  (23.33%) had three infield changes: Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angels Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros
  • Five teams (16.67%) had four infield changes: Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins
  • Two teams (6.67%) had five infield changes: Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics

Conclusion

Two-thirds of Southern Gospel’s leading artists kept a completely stable lineup over the last year. By comparison, all except one of the thirty Major League Baseball teams had at least one year-to-year lineup change. 

Southern Gospel’s twenty-five leading groups had nine and two-halves vocal or pianist changes. These twenty-five both started and ended the year with 102 combined vocalists, thanks to the Talleys going from four to three and the Bowlings going from three to four. So ten changes out of 102 positions is a 9.8% turnover rate.

Major League Baseball’s thirty teams had seventy-six year-to-year Opening Day lineup changes at their one hundred and fifty infield defensive positions. This equals a 50.67% turnover rate.

Surprisingly, Major League Baseball players are five times less stable than Southern Gospel singers.

On the surface, there could hardly be more differences between Southern Gospel and Major League Baseball. One is an artistic endeavor, the other athletic. The stars of one are numbered among the most recognized faces in the world, while the stars of the other can often walk through Wal-Mart uninterrupted. And then, of course, the stars of one are among the highest-paid individuals in any profession, while the stars of the other are doing good to make a low-middle-class salary. In fact, the salary disparity is such that one would inaccurately guess that Southern Gospel would be the far less stable of the two.

Yet there are also significant similarities, one of the most significant of which is that the stars of both spend major percentages of the year on the road. 

Is this an apples-to-oranges comparison? Or does it have merit in putting Southern Gospel’s overall lineup stability in perspective? You decide.


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51 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. I am probably a bigger baseball fan than I am a Southern Gospel fan (at least I read the MLB websites first!), and feel this is probably the most apples-to-oranges comparison imaginable. I’m surprised you wasted time on it. One major variable: an ball players career lasts only a few years before his physical abilities deteriorate while a singer can last decades longer. And, although it did happen to Rodney Griffin, rarely are singers forced to miss due to injury. The pool of people wanting one of the positions is easily hundreds of times larger in MLB, which contributes to turnover as new talent pushes out old. I could go on and on.

    • But the factors of team/group loyalty and jumping ship to an apparently stronger team/group are the same.

    • I have to agree a little bit with JIMT. Was it a fun exercise, yes!. Does it prove anything, no!

      For one thing higher pay = higher standards. Untalented people last longer in SG than they do in professional sports.

      Another is that there are lots of talented players waiting in the wings. If a tenor had a few off nights and a group had a major tenor prospect singing with their backup quartet just waiting for his chance, we might see even more changes.

      Perhaps the biggest factor is the fact all changes are blamed on God. Almost no one in professional sports says they switched teams because God led them to switch. It was all about I want $$$ and I want to be a star. If SG artists would be more honest and say something like, “I’m here today to announce that I’m leaving to go sing with the Gaither Vocal Band because I can make a lot more money and build my personal branding opportunities”, I think a lot more people would have less problems with change.

      So, anyway, there are lots of problems with the comparison. Based on my Probability and Statistics background, a good statistician would probably say there is no correlation at all and the analysis proves nothing about the relative stability of SG or MLB. Was it a fun read? Sure! Next time compare the 25 biggest secular music performers and I think we can have better conversation.

      • Sometimes apples to oranges conversations have some merit if the discussion is contained within the overall category of fruit. 🙂

        If my overall point is job stability of men in their early-to-mid-twenties – and it is – then it would have some merit. It would be similarly insightful, I think, if I could survey local businesses in a region to see how many staffers in their twenties have been there more than a year. But that information isn’t readily available online.

      • I agree with you but I would also add that many SG groups are made up of “families” who would tend to stay together.

    • I agree with you totally. I was thinking the same thing when I read your post. Thanks, you said it for both of us.

  2. How is EH & SSQ’s piano player as stable as Jeff Stice? Jeff has been there since the beginning.

    • We’re specifically talking about changes over the last twelve months here. 🙂

  3. Well, you posed a question, and answered it. I believe you answered it accurately! I don’t think it’s a waste of time…I think it’s interesting and fun!

  4. I say this tounge in cheek and actually as a compliment…….you are a complete and total nerd!! Lol…….crazy and I love it! My head hurts from reading that! Insane but great job!!!!!!!

    • Thanks! 🙂

    • I resemble that remark!

  5. JSR – “For one thing higher pay = higher standards. Untalented people last longer in SG than they do in professional sports.”

    I could not agree MORE with that statement.

    Good article, Daniel. Your points have merit.

    • Thank you! And yes, pay is definitely a factor. On the flip side, having a higher salary should induce someone to stick with a job. (At least, that’s the converse of the argument made that SG’s perceived instability is connected to economic factors.)

      • I see what you’re saying, but my feeling go more to the point of – – –
        If we’re doing it for God, let’s do it as perfect as we can!

        Too often, we’re satisfied to give God the left-overs instead of the 1st fruits. If you will look at those who have excelled to the top in SG in this generation, you’ll find that they perfected their craft to the best of their abilities.

        Booth Brothers
        Greater Vision
        Gaither Vocal Band
        CollingsworthFamily
        Cathedral Quartet
        Triumphant Quartet

        And many others could be added to the list. I think there are so many groups that would excel in Ministry if they would simply give God a better ‘offering.’

        Also, too many ‘Fans’ have come to accept low quality in music and have the mind set that “since they’re doin’ it for the Lord, we must accept it.”

        Having said all of that – – – I’m still a HUGE fan of SG music . . . especially those that:
        1. Sing vocally correct.
        2. Sing songs that are Biblically correct.
        3. Continually perfect their singing skills.

  6. I also was very happy to see you using Baseball Reference…it’s one of the few internet sites I visit more than this one. 🙂 As far as I’m concerned, it’s the greatest website in the history of the internet.

    • It came up in a Google search for 2013 opening day MLB lineups; I must confess that, to my knowledge, I had never previously been on the site, or even known about it, prior to this!

      • It pretty much has everything you could ever want to know, from a statistical standpoint, about a sport whose fans have a unique affinity for the numbers. It’s one of the internet’s crowning achievements! 🙂

      • Neat!

  7. A lot of our (Pirates) changes are injury induced, in fact at the midway point of the season (not All-Star break) we had 1 pitcher from our opening day rotation still on the active roster. I believe we used 9 or 10 different starting pitchers, probably 11 or 12 by now so I know from experience SG music is way more stable than MLB rosters.

    • You play for the Pirates?

      • Sorry about that forgot my name might be misleading. I meant “our” as my hometown team. I wouldn’t mind being AJ Burnett though.

      • Oh I knew you didn’t play for the Pirates. I was just making fun of the fact that you said “we” instead of “they”. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine to hear people say “we” when it comes to their favorite sports team. 😉

  8. I would also like to add, the MLB teams have aggressive scouts that are constantly looking for “fresh talent” so to speak. The stats kept on the players can cause a great player to become a has-been seeminly overnight. I don’t think the SG groups are as hard-nosed with their talent as the ball teams. The groups are not in competition to win as the baseball temas are (or at least they’re not going to admit it). I think it’t comparing apple-oranges.

    • I knew from the start that a lot of the details were different. I think my point is, perhaps: Yes, it’s apples to oranges, but they’re both fruit: Southern Gospel’s turnover rates are high by some fields’ standards but incredibly stable by others’.

  9. This probably is an apples to oranges kind of comparison, but what if we looked at our regular jobs? I’ve been with my current company for 11 years, and we’ve had about 30 employees go, one way or another. There are two of us left, and we’re actually profitable. Even if you work for a large corporation, you can tell turnover in your own department.

    The biggest thing with SG vs MLB or any other organization is the interaction we have with the artists. Many fans are on a first name basis, where as the average sports fan doesn’t know any of the team members, much less ever talk to them.

    New talent doesn’t always push out old in baseball either. Some people get contracts based on name value alone: Hank Aaron with the Brewers, WIllie Mays with the Mets, Babe Ruth with the Braves, I could go on. Rarely does a singer hang around when they can’t do it anymore, at least not that I’ve ever seen with a major group.

  10. We have been discussing salaries, promotions etc. I am just curious, what would the range of salary earnings be for a member of a top tier quartet.

    • I understand the salaries are usually in the 50k to 60k. Of course the Gaithers salaries are much higher. I would love to be enlightened though

    • Depends on how tightly you define top tier. There are members of nationally known groups that are making essentially minimum wage, but many of those groups would probably not fall within a top tier of the top 10 or 15 groups. So, depending on how tightly you cast the net, probably minimum wage to 50k or 60k tops.

  11. As someone who has family connections to both baseball (my son is an area scout for the Cubs and played professionally for 13 years0 and gospel music (relatives Booths, Toneys, et al.) I feel it is a stretch to compare the two. Agents, multi-year contracts, signing bonuses, waiver options, as well as disabled list are just a few areas that are different.
    On a separate note, a comparison of the life-style of minor league players (at lower levels) to gospel singers is enlightening. Both have paltry salaries, they eat at a lot of fast-food places and they travel on buses with a lot of smelly people.

    • Now that is an interesting thought. I wish I (a) had thought of it and (b) had found data to make a comparison at that level instead.

      • I love that you tackled this. But I’d have to agree with Dean. As far as travel, lifestyle, & salary, minor league ballplayers are a better comparison. You talked about different lineups from Opening Day. Not that you can’t get injured traveling or hurting your voice, because many great singers have come off the road due to vocal strain. But baseball is more physically demanding, and sometimes managers give a player a night off to rest. There are 162 games in a season, not counting a full month (or longer, especially for pitchers and catchers) of spring training, and then a certain amount of teams could play potentially 20 more games in the playoffs. That’s a lot of physical duress, and a reason for giving nights off and guys hitting the Disabled List.
        That aside, it has seemed before that groups essentially traded vocalists with other groups. That would be another great study. Wonder if anyone has any knowledge over on CSI.

      • I know that there are injuries through a season, and days off, which is why opening day 2012 vs. opening day 2013 seemed like a much better comparison than “no changes at all in one year’s time.”

        Now that it’s mentioned, I’d certainly agree that minor leagues are a much closer comparison when lifestyle and salary are the main focal points. If I could think of a way to make a similar statistical analysis (that didn’t take immense amounts of time and research), I probably would.

  12. Daniel – I thought this was a fun and intriguing post. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks! The ensuing discussion ended up being enough fun to make it worth the research – certainly more fun than I thought it would be when the first comment arrived!

  13. I have never heard of a gospel group trading vocalists, however….Brian Free didn’t offer Ed O’Neal a pianist and a bass vocalist to be named later for a baritone.

    • Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and Dailey & Vincent switched banjo players about a year ago.

      I seem to think that Randy Crawford was involved in a baritone switch either on his way into or out of Brian Free & Assurance.

  14. When Southern Gospel Groups start making MLB money then you might have a real discussion…kinda like comparing a Yugo to a Ferrari, not a truely fair comparison…jus my opinion

    • And yet, despite the financial disparity, SG singers are ~5x more stable!

    • Is this the same Harold Reed who was with the Kingsmen a few years ago? You were the first Southern Gospel group I saw at an event in Nashville about 2 weeks before the flood in 2010. I have since become a huge supporter of Southern Gospel music, which isn’t heard much here in New Jersey. I’ve gone to the NQC for several years now, gone to Gatinburg, spent New Years Eve with Legacy 5 at the Opryland Hotel, and have traveled with the Crabb Family on several cruises. I love it!

  15. So, when all is said and done, are you going to bat for Southern Gospel music, or singing the praises of baseball?

    • SG. I guess that my core point is that Southern Gospel is five times more stable than baseball, even if we pull out all the internal-within-a-year day-to-day changes that happen.

      (And that’s with SG being, far and away, the one with less financial compensation!)

      • This where I think you’re missing the point. The higher financial compensation drives the higher turnover. Poor performance and you’re out the door. Great performance and someone else may pay you a huge contract. And speaking of contracts, a player is only contract for a specified amount of time. After that, they no longer belong to anybody.

        I think the claim the SG is 5 times more stable than MLB is too much comparing apple’s and orange soda.

        It’s a fun discussion, but let’s not get too bold in our proclamations, we run the risk of giving SG a black eye for having no concept of statistical analysis.

      • No concept of statistical analysis?

        Ah, well.

      • No offense meant to your intelligence. I Apologize for being insulting. I was trying to point out that I think we’re looking at two very different data sets and no statistical inference can be made.

      • Thank you so much for the clarification! I thought there was a pretty good chance that you didn’t mean it that way, but I wasn’t quite sure.

  16. More NFL than MLB fan. But it seems that SG artists get a day off to rest but at least six days a week have to go on tour along with rehearsing and practice. MLB games they play 162 games a year for the record. And that these players make millions and millions of dollars doing what they love doing.

    So do SG artists but rather than reach the almighty dollar, it is the Almighty Lord they are reaching. There is a difference!

  17. Why can’t this just be a fun post? I feel like a lot of people are getting way too huffy and puffy over a fun post!

    • Thanks, and I agree; this was simply intended to be a fun post. 🙂

    • Who is getting all huffy and puffy, Chris? Why are you taking all of our posts so seriously? 🙂 I’m joking, I’m joking…

      Guilty as charged.