Late Night Maths

Consider this:

10,000 men play varsity baseball each year in American colleges.

1,000 men play professional baseball in the majors.

There is obvious great disparity in the numbers here and a proper analysis would require some maths skills far beyond Miss Mussel’s ability at this late hour.

Let’s suspend reality for a moment and imagine that MLB turns over its players in their entirity on an annual basis. If we assume that 1/4 of the players graduate each year, then it appears that colleges produce 2 1/2 times the number of players required to replenish the stock.

This figure will skyrocket when more rigourous analysis by real statisticians is done and factors like competition from high school graduates, foreign players and Iron Man Cal Ripken Jr et al. are taken into consideration.

Miss Mussel’s current state of semi-lucidity means that she is able to make wild estimates without feeling the need to back them up with hard facts. The freedom is dizzying but at this present moment, it would seem that an estimate of 100 times overproduction is not out of order. That would leave a generous 25 college players per year hitting the big time, a mere one percent of the original 2,500.

As always, there are direct parallels to the art music world. Miss Mussel once read somewhere that Northwestern graduates 100 violinists a year and was left wondering if there is any point in producing musicians in industrial quantities?

Does a student’s choice (and their parents’ chequebook) take priority or should an institution bear some of the responsibility by restricting admittance more than it does already to increase the odds that its graduates will achieve employment in their field?*

Discouraging someone from playing college baseball on the basis that they are statistically more likely to date a millionaire or write a NY Times bestseller than proceed the major leagues seems cruel. After all, it is only a game; a temporary indulgence.

Is music any different?

Miss Mussel’s inner crusader is quite predictably shouting a hearty Y-E-S and rummaging in its chain mail for a well-worn speech about withering souls and crumbling foundations of the societal variety overlaid with apocalyptic references announcing the beginning of the end of a world worth inhabiting.

But really….is it any different?

*By “in their field” Miss Mussel means performers making a living performing and theorists managing to snag a university teaching post.


  1. Merely knowing how to play an instrument is a sufficiently life enhancing goal.
    Merely being able to compose is the goal, money may be made elsewhere.
    Charles Ives’ music cost him a fortune, and he is one of the great composers.
    I can assume that sports offer a similiar reward even though I cannot imagine what that reward might be.

  2. Miss Mussel

    Point well taken and Miss Mussel and her inner Crusader agree whole-heartedly. But if this is true, then why don’t more people just take lessons outside of university and take courses in a subject that will result in money making? Like marketing or physics.

    The root of the problem is perhaps cultural. In England, it is not uncommon for musicians to train as chemists, lawyers or engineers but still take lessons and gig. Sometimes these professionals abandon their careers and take up music full time but more often that not, the two co-exist peacefully. The strong amateur movement means that there are plenty of satisfying places to play and sing.

    This is generally not the case in North America and Miss Mussel feels that we are culturally poorer for it.

  3. I definitly agree that the English approach is the proper one.
    Treating the Arts as commerce is destructive.
    I think that part of the problem is that education is also being treated as a commodity and is being advertised far beyond it’s true purpose.
    “The business of America is business” it seems.
    I’m sure you’ve read Norman Lebrecht’s “Covent Garden”.
    It contains many insights into this sort of amateur/proffessional conflict.

  4. Hey Miss Mussel,

    Nice, provocative post on an important subject (Nissim the composer thinks about how he’s going to make money writing music quite a lot…) I’m also a bit of a baseball fan, and I think you’ve missed a few things that both strengthen and weaken your case.

    The biggest – and most important – difference between college baseball and conservatory is that you don’t go to college to learn to play baseball. You go to college to learn period. You don’t get a degree in “baseball performance.” In fact, many many young baseball players don’t go to college – they go straight to the minor leagues. (more on the minors below) Plus, most college baseball players know they’re never going to play baseball professionally, much less in the majors. I’ll bet of those 10,000 college players, 8000 of them know already that they’ll never even play in the minors, much less The Show. However, you do go to college to learn to play an instrument/sing/compose/etc. And you don’t learn an awful lot of other stuff. Those humanities courses at conservatories, as I’ve heard, are a bit of a joke – but they ought to be, since you’re basically learning a vocation at conservatory. Just like pastry cooks and mechanics don’t really need to understand John Stuart Mill or the Iliad in order to do their job, neither do musicians. [this is somewhat false – musicians do need to understand the human condition, and therefore literature, philosophy, history, the other arts. But since musical production is so physical, sort of like being an athlete, you have to do the intense, advanced training when you’re still young. I think the idea must be that you can always go back and learn how to think critically later. Personally, I’m very glad that I decided at 17 to go to a liberal arts school instead of conservatory.]

    So from that perspective, conservatory is actually substantially worse for future musicians than college is for baseball players – college athletes (except the ones at high-profile basketball and football programs – still a relatively small number) are also learning how to form logical arguments, how to write well, how to do research, etc – skills that will help them get through life in general.

    However, let me get back to the minors. True, there are only about 750 major league baseball players at a time. But there are thousands and thousands of other professional baseball players wandering around the minors (not to mention leagues in Japan and Latin America) trying real hard to make it to The Show. There’s still not a great chance that you as a pretty good college player will end up even in the minors, but it does expand the possibilities. The analogy I’d make is:

    The Major Leagues are sort of like the major orchestras, which offer good pay, good work schedules, and good benefits. Every once in a while, someone turns out to be way way better than everyone else – here we have your Alex Rodriguezes and Ichiros and Yo-Yo Mas and Emerson Quartets.

    Then, everyone else is the minors. There are levels in the minors, but in general pay is middle class at best, and pretty godawful low at worst. Most minor leaguers who aren’t big-league prospects have off-season jobs to pay the rent/mortgage/grocery bill. Just like freelancers and violin teachers have to have multiple sources of income. All of the above are doing it for the love of the game/music or because it’s what they’re best at. Not to mention that musicians can become high school music teachers, which offers a way better fall-back than baseball does.

    Ultimately, most conservatory trained musicians don’t end up playing for the NY Phil, but an awful lot of them eke out a living somehow. In that way, it’s not all that different from pro ball.

    (though I’m tempted, I’m not even going to get into the commodification of American higher education or treating art as commerce. too much already!)

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