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Evolution of the 25-man roster

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  • Evolution of the 25-man roster

    Have you ever wondered about the evolution of the 25-man roster? I was recently thinking about it, because it seems like it's always been the way it is. I found this entry on the BR Bullpen that I thought you might find interesting:

    The 25-player roster limit has a long history behind it. It has been in place since the 1920 season, having previously been limited to 21 players, although it was also at 25 for periods before World War I. The limit was only in effect from May 15 to September 1. It was raised in both the season's first and last month in order to allow teams to try out young players against major league competition. The early tryout period ended in the early 1960s, but the September period remains in effect to this day.

    Even though the limit was at 25 players, not every team carried a full roster, and until the 1940s, it was relatively common for teams to leave a few unfilled spots and to use them to evaluate players just signed out of college. These would occasionnally be used in games, but most often would just practice with the team and sit on the bench during games until assigned to a minor league team. Similarly, coaches and batting practice pitchers would sometimes be used in games, or amateur players would be given a contract for a few days to replace an injured regular. Since team owners were not fond of paying people to sit idly on the bench, and especially to fork over travel and meal money for these while on the road, teams tended to be very conservative when it came to rosters.

    Things changed with the advent of bonus baby rules in the early 1950s. In order to discourage teams from giving large signing bonuses to amateur players, a rule was devised that these players had to be put on the team's active roster for a certain time - two years at first - and not be sent to the minor leagues until that probationary period had elapsed. This began to serve as a disincentive because teams had begun to see the value in having certain specialized players on their roster, such as pinch-hitters, defensive specialists and relief pitchers. Having to carry 2 or 3 bonus babies who were hardly ever used in games became a serious hindrance to managers.

    The normal roster limit has been 25 for most of the past decades with a few exceptions. In April 1990, because spring training had been shortened by a labor conflict, teams were allowed two additional roster spots until April 25. This precedent was repeated after the settlement of the 1994 strike, when teams were allowed three additional roster spots at the start of the 1995 season until May 15. Conversely, Major League teams decided to play with 24-man rosters during the first half of the 1978 season (i.e. until July 1) and during the entire season - except for the period of expanded rosters - from 1986 to 1989, as a cost-cutting measure in the face of escalating player salaries. The settlement of the 1990 strike made the 25-man roster a part of the basic collective bargaining agreement and it has not been touched since.


    http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/25-man_roster

  • #2
    I'm surprised they did not mention what the roster limits were pre-1920. I believe it went as low as 15 to 18 players back in the 19th Century. That explains why many players had to play multiple positions early on. Some pitchers were put in the outfield when necessary.
    "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
    "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

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    • #3
      Originally posted by TonyK View Post
      I'm surprised they did not mention what the roster limits were pre-1920.
      Yeah, that and other things make that whole piece a wreck.

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      • #4
        An interesting read, thanks for sharing.
        Your Second Base Coach
        Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey started 833 times and the Dodgers went 498-335, for a .598 winning percentage. That’s equal to a team going 97-65 over a season. On those occasions when at least one of them missed his start, the Dodgers were 306-267-1, which is a .534 clip. That works out to a team going 87-75. So having all four of them added 10 wins to the Dodgers per year.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5hCIvMule0

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        • #5
          From Cliff Blau:

          Roster Limits

          In the early years of Major League Baseball, the only limit on the number of players a team could carry was economic. No one could afford to carry more than the minimum number of players needed to get through a season. Since the first seasons included many off days and most teams used only one or two pitchers, 11 or 12 players generally sufficed. Teams could be sure of keeping a player only for the term of his contract.

          Soon the National League decided that a greater measure of control over players was needed, so it instituted a reserve rule in 1879. This allowed teams to designate five players that other NL teams could not sign. Within a few years, the size of the reserve list was increased to 11, enough to cover all or nearly all of a team's players. The size of the list was gradually increased over the next decade, but except for a 25 man limit included in the 1884 National Agreement between the NL, American Association, and the minor leagues, no rule actually limited the number of players a team could have during the season. Once again economics came into play, though, following the merger of the two major leagues in 1892. Initially, each team was allowed fifteen players. Despite the new monopoly, attendance was falling, and many of the 12 teams in the NL-AA were losing money. In June of that year, a roster limit of 13, one below the reserve limit, was instituted. This had the side effect of allowing the weaker teams to acquire the players cut loose from the stronger teams.

          As the sport's economic picture improved, reserve limits were increased, with a new roster limit of 18 being set in 1899. With renewed competition from the American League, a lower limit was made in 1901, but after the two leagues made peace, a new prosperity allowed larger rosters. In 1910, a new scheme was instituted, with teams being allowed to keep as many as 40 players under control during the offseason and the early and late parts of the season. Prior to 1921, this total did not include players on optional assignments. During the heart of the season, though, teams had to reduce their active rosters to 25 players. Adjustments were made from time to time in these limits, depending on competition from the Federal League and economic conditions. Beginning in 1957, teams were required to reduce their active rosters to 28 players by opening day, with the final reduction to 25 players coming 30 days later. Starting 1968, the 25 man limit was in effect from opening day, although teams were allowed to carry 40 players after August 31.

          The other significant changes in roster limits came in response to special circumstances. During and following World War II, in order to accomodate players returning from military service, rosters were expanded by 20% for two years. This allowed teams to obey the law requiring them to give servicemen their pre-war jobs back. A similar rule was passed for Korean War veterans. The other major change came following the failure of the bonus rule to limit large expenditures. A first year player draft was instituted, and to allow teams to take advantage of it, an additional reserve list spot was created just for drafted first year players. This rule was in effect from 1962 to 1965.

          In 1977, for the first time, a minimum limit was established as part of the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners. All Major League teams had to maintain at least 24 players on their active rosters. (From 1986-1990, they acted as though the maximum was also 24.) This persisted until 1991, when the minimum became 25, and was reinstituted in 1993.

          A detailed listing of roster limits throughout major league history follows.
          In-season
          Year(s) # Dates Off-season
          1879-1882 5 Reserve limit
          1883 11 Reserve limit
          1884 25 25
          1885-1886 12 Reserve limit
          1887-1891 14 Reserve limit
          1892 15
          6/1892 13 14
          1893-1898 14
          1899-1900 18 Reserve limit
          1901 NL 16 Cutdown date 6/15
          AL 15 O/D + 28 days N/A
          1902-1909 NL N/A
          1902-1903 AL 15 6/1 N/A
          1904 AL 16 N/A Cutdown date 6/1
          1905 AL 17 N/A Cutdown date 6/15
          1906-1909 AL N/A
          1910 25 5/15-8/20 40
          1911-1913 25 5/15-8/20 35
          1914 N/A N/A
          1915-1916 NL 21 5/1-8/31 35
          AL 25 5/15-8/15 35
          1917-1919 NL 22 5/15-8/31 35
          1917 AL 25 5/1-8/31 35
          1918 AL N/A N/A
          1919-1920 25 5/15-8/31 35
          1921-1922 25 5/15-8/31 40
          1923-1931 25 6/15-8/31 40
          1932 23 6/15-8/31 40
          1933-1938 23 5/15-8/31 40
          1939-1941 25 31st day-8/31 40
          1942 25 5/25-8/31 40
          1943 25 31st day-8/31 40
          1944 25 6/15-8/31 40
          1945 30 6/15-8/31 48
          1946 30 6/15-8/31 48
          1947-1956 25 31st day-8/31 40
          1957-1961 28 O/D+30 days 40
          25 31st day-8/31
          1962-1965 same as 41 including 1 drafted first year player
          1966-1967 1957-1961 40
          1968-1989 25 O/D-8/31 40
          1990 27 O/D-5/1 40 Due to lockout during spring training
          25 5/1-8/31
          1991- 25 O/D-8/31 40
          Sources-Baseball Blue Book, 1910-1986; The Sporting News, The Sporting Life, New York Times, Reach
          Guide, Spalding Guide, 1900 National League Constitution, 1990 Basic Agreement

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