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.