Baseball's Classical Music Problem

With the grass getting greener and the snow finally melting (only in Ohio), it is actually starting to feel like baseball season, and with it, the usual excitements follow--the sound of bats and leather, hearing your hometown radio announcer call the game, and all the strike-outs and walk-off home runs throughout the 162 game season.

While this is an exciting time of year for many, baseball if facing a popularity problem. In a recent Gallup Poll, baseball is at its lowest popularity ever, with only 9% of Americans calling it their favorite sport. The future does not look much more promising either, with only 6% of 18-34 year olds saying it’s their favorite sport (lower than both basketball and soccer with 11% respectively).

To stave off this decline, baseball has undergone many proposals and implementations over the past few years all in the name of solving “pace-of-game issues.” For three years, a pitch clock has been “tested out” in the Minor Leagues, and was almost added to the majors this year but disagreements between players and the administration prevented it. The 2018 season will also see a fixed limit of visits to the mound,  shorter commercial breaks, and a stricter enforcement of time limits on batters and pitchers alike. All in all, these minor emendations will save watchers about 5-10 minutes of their life, and leave fans asking “why?”

Seeing these changes, I instantly thought of the world of classical music and the many “reforms” suggested for it. “Make the concerts shorter,” “play popular music,” “let the musicians dress down,” etc. Behind all these suggestions are the well-meant intentions of many who want to see classical music grow in popularity. But many of these well-meant intentions come from people who fail to recognize the nature of the thing they wish to reform. Both baseball and classical music have similar natures. They are both steeped in tradition, they are both “slow,” and now, both are unpopular.

These reforms come with a danger though; namely, the more something changes, the less recognizable it becomes. This may seem obvious but think about this--baseball will never be a fast-paced sport. Radical changes to the rules and structure of the game would have to be implemented, and if they were, it would look and feel like a different sport altogether. Classical music faces this same problem with the “crossover” genre. Many have advocated that for classical music to survive, it must add other forms and genres of music to its repertoire. In principle, this is laudable, in practice it leads to mediocre violinists jumping around on stage, playing over an EDM track. No ordinary person would recognize that as classical music.

So what are fans and administrators to do to keep these noble endeavors alive and well? It seems there are only two real options: change, or stay the same. We already see the folly of change, yet remaining static comes with a stigma. “Backward thinking,” “old,” “stubborn:” these are the words used to describe those who wish to stay the same in 2018--rather change than be accused of that! Remaining the same or even rolling back change does not need to be any of those negative terms, but could actually be positive. Instead of remaining stalwart, be authentic by embracing the nature of the thing you seek to preserve! Baseball is leisurely, keep it slow. Classical music is extra-ordinary, keep it as such.

This cannot be the only option though. Like the royalists during and after the French Revolution, retrenching only lasts so long before change finds you. What was missing then as it does now, are evangelists and apostles. It is left up to fans to make converts. Learn about your art, make it your own and a part of you. Take time to reveal paradise to a friend by taking them out to a ballgame and sharing with them the joys of baseball. Similarly, open up the ears of others by introducing them to classical music--how it works, what it means, and the lives of the composers. These noble institutions can only survive if passed on to the next generation. Only by remaining authentic and making converts will baseball and classical music become healthy again and live on far into this century.