Major League Baseball Roster History

The History of the 25-Man Roster and 40-Man Roster

A Major League Baseball roster is a set of players able to play for their respective Major League team. There are two types of rosters, the 25-man roster, and the 40-man roster. Join Baseball Almanac as we take a comprehensive look at the history of these two rosters.

"The vines were still dead now and the crowd was small and the wind blew off the lake, but this time I did not mind the loneliness. I was not only on the roster, I was in the lineup." - Bill Bailey in in The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball (Jonathan Fraser Light, McFarland & Company, July 2005, Page 795)
25-Man Roster

by Baseball Almanac

Baseball Rosters: The 25-Man Roster, A Brief History by Baseball Almanac

Also called the active roster, the 25-man is composed of 25 players who are playing for their Major League team. They are the starting eight position players, pitchers, and reserve players on the team. Players on the active roster are also on the 40-man roster. These players are generally the only ones who dress in uniform and are the only ones who may take the field in a game at any time. Typically, only players on the 25-man roster, and players who are on the disabled list but were on the 25-man roster, travel on road trips with the Major League team.

Typically, a 25-man roster will consist of five starting pitchers, seven relief pitchers, two catchers, six infielders, and five outfielders. In the American League a full-time designated hitter is usually classified as either an infielder or an outfielder, not a DH, because most DHs do play first base, left field, or right field from time to time.

Since the 2012 season, teams have been allowed 26-man rosters for "day-night" doubleheaders—two games scheduled on the same day, but with the stadium cleared between games, and separate tickets sold for each game—as long as the doubleheaders have been scheduled with at least 48 hours notice.

The active roster has evolved over time and a few years of note include:

1881 : The roster was set at 11 players. A few years later, it was increased to 14.

1892 : Each team started the season with 15 players, but in mid-June the National League reduced the official roster size down to 13.

1901 : When the American League became official, they set their roster size to 18 to draw more players from the National League, but reduced it down to 14 in May (which was equal to the National League).

1908 : Both leagues set their roster size at 17 where it remained until the National Agreeement was modified after the 1912 season. Teams were able to have 35 players under their control and 25 players were permitted on each active roster.

1914 : Both leagues were now set at 25-man rosters. When the Federal League debuted in 1915, roster sizes were reduced to 21, but it came up after their demise. World War I, World War II, the Depression, and a few other historical events altered roster sizes, but the traditional 25 was now set.

40-Man Roster

by Baseball Almanac

Baseball Rosters: The 40-Man Roster, A Brief History by Baseball Almanac

Also called the expanded roster, the 40-man is composed of all the players in a Major League club's organization who are signed to a major-league contract. These are the players who are able to be called up to the 25-man roster at any given time.

Also on the 40-man are any players on the 15-day disabled list and minor league players who are signed to a major-league contract but are on an "optional assignment" to the minors. (Each player has three "option years" to be sent to the minors once on the 40-man before they must be placed on waivers to be sent there.)

Players who were on the 40-man but are placed on the 60-day disabled list are taken off the 40-man until the time on the DL is over. The same applies to players who are suspended. Because players on the 60-day DL are taken off the 40-man with no risk of losing the player, MLB teams often transfer injured players from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL so that they can add another player to the 40-man without having to designate a player for assignment. Designating for assignment is the removal of a player from the 40-man, whereby the team has 10 days to trade the player, release him, or send him to the minors.

Postseason Roster

by Baseball Almanac

Baseball Rosters: The Postseason Roster, A Brief History by Baseball Almanac

A postseason roster takes effect only if a team clinches a playoff berth. Players who are part of the team's final roster at the end of the regular season are eligible to participate in the postseason. Any player who has been traded from a different team, spent time in the Minor Leagues, or signed later in the season with the team (no later than August 31) are eligible to participate in the postseason. A postseason roster is allowed up to 25 active players. Other players who are not on the 25-man active roster will be placed on the secondary squad. Players who are on the disabled list or any other non-active transaction by the end of the regular season will have their transactions passed on in the postseason. Rosters for a series are set at the beginning of the series and no changes to the 25-man active roster are allowed except when a player is moved to the disabled list or any other inactive transaction. If a player is moved to the disabled list or another inactive transaction during a series, it then becomes ineligible to be returned to the 25-man active roster for the remainder of the series as well as the next series if applicable. If any player goes on any inactive transaction, any player from the secondary squad can be promoted to the 25-man active roster for the remainder of the series if applicable.

To be eligible for the postseason active roster, a player must have either been on that team's active roster or disabled list as of midnight ET on August 31 of that year and not placed on the 60 day disabled list after August 1. The one exception is for replacing players on the disabled list. Any injured player who is eligible for postseason play may be replaced by any player that was on an active or disabled list for either that team or any of its affiliated minor league teams at midnight August 31. Players who do not participate in one game in the Majors before September 1 with the team's organization of the regular season will be declared ineligible for the team's 25-man active roster of the postseason and must be placed on either the restricted list or the secondary squad.

Players who are part of the team's final roster regardless of spending a majority of time in the Minors, being acquired in trades or waivers, serving the rest of the season on any inactive transactions such as the disabled list, or signing later for the team in the regular season will be eligible to receive a championship ring when the team wins the World Series.

A Brief History of the 25-Man, 40-Man & Postseason Rosters - Research by Baseball Almanac


On September 1, the Major League team's roster expands from the 25-man active roster to the entire 40-man roster. At this point, any player on the 40-man roster can play for the Major League team. September call-ups are players from the minors who are playing in September to get Major League experience and, especially for teams in contention, to provide reinforcements down the stretch.
A phantom ballplayer is a player who spent time on an active Major League roster (25-Man or 40-Man), but never actually appeared in a big-league game. By Major League Baseball rules, since they didn't appear in a game in some fashion (baserunning, plate appearance, or a trip to the mound), they are not considered former Major Leauge players, instead they are known as phantom players:

Phantom Baseball Players

The Sporting Life of February 24, 1906, reported that pitcher Jimmy Whalen sent in a contract to the New York Highlanders, although it is unclear if Whelan ever made the team's active roster once the season was underway. Regardless, he never appeared in a major league game, though he won over 250 games in the minors.

Pitcher Bill Stewart was on the roster of the 1919 Chicago White Sox , but never played. It's unclear, however, if he was ever on the team's active roster, as he had been injured the previous winter.

First baseman Jeff Jones was briefly on the Philadelphia A's roster in 1920, but never played. As with several other players of this era, it is not definitively established if Jones was ever actually on the A's active roster during the season.

Outfielder Lou Almada made the major league roster of the New York Giants out of spring training in 1927, but was hurt just as the season began, and never reached the majors again. In 1933, his brother Mel Almada became the first Mexican to play in the majors.

Minor league pitching legend Jake Levy was reported in at least one contemporary account to have signed with the New York Giants in September 1927, without ever getting into a game. Peter and Joachim Horvitz' The Big Book of Jewish Baseball, meanwhile, list Levy's stint on the Giants bench as having occurred in 1932. However, whether Levy actually spent any time at all on a Giants' active roster is a matter of some dispute.

Al Olsen is an unusual example of a verifiable real-life person who never played a major league game, but was included in official major league records for many years. Olsen, a career minor league pitcher, was credited as appearing in one game on May 16, 1943, as a pinch hitter (walking, and then stealing a base) for the Boston Red Sox. But research by the Society for American Baseball Research in the 1980s showed that while Olsen had been with the Red Sox during 1943 spring training, he was released and picked up by San Diego of the Pacific Coast League before the 1943 season began. Olsen pitched on May 15 for San Diego, and given wartime travel restrictions, could not have arrived in Boston for the game the following day. Olsen himself says "It wasn't me. I was a left-handed pitcher. I couldn't hit my hat. Besides, I never played a game in the major leagues." The pinch-hitting appearance probably, but not definitely, belongs to Leon Culberson ; it also could have been Johnny Lazor , who wore uniform number 14, the same number Olsen wore in spring training.

In September 1951, outfielder Bill Sharman spent time on the roster of the Brooklyn Dodgers without getting into a game. Sharman also remains the only player to be ejected from an MLB game without ever actually playing in one, when umpire Frank Dascoli tossed out the entire Dodgers bench for arguing with a call at home plate on September 27, 1951 . Sharman is far more notable as a professional basketball player and coach than as a baseball player; he is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Pitcher Ed Nottle spent a few days on the 1963 Chicago White Sox active roster. He pitched in a mid-season exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs, and then was returned to the minors.

Infielder Ike Futch was called up briefly by the Houston Astros in 1966, but did not play in a game due to a knee injury.

Outfielder Ed Kurpiel was called up by the St. Louis Cardinals in September 1974, but did not appear in a game.

In September 1977, no fewer than three ballplayers who never played in a major league game served a couple of weeks' time on major league rosters, all of them pitchers: Tom McGough of the Cleveland Indians, Pat Cristelli of the California Angels, and Ed Ricks of the New York Yankees.

Catcher Harry Saferight made it to the Major Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the last few weeks of September, 1979, but failed to appear in a game. He was the on-deck batter on three different occasions, but all three times the Pirates batter ahead of him made the third out of the inning.

Jamie Werly, the 1981 Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher, was listed on the 1982 New York Yankees opening day roster, but never appeared in a Major League game. Arm soreness prevented him from pitching early in the season, and he was sent down to Triple-A by mid-April.

The 1983 Kansas City Royals briefly employed two never-needed catchers to back-up regular backstop John Wathan at different times. Duane Dewey was on the roster for two weeks, May 16 to June 1; later, Russ Stephans spent time on the roster from June 29 to July 5.

Pitcher Mark Leonette was called up by the Chicago Cubs on July 3, 1987 and was sent down on July 11 without making an appearance in a game. He wore #32 while with the club.

Pitcher Joe Law spent four days on the active roster of the 1988 Oakland A's , but did not appear in a game.

Infielder Armando Moreno spent one day, August 5, 1990, on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster and did not appear in the game.

Terrel Hansen (OF/1B) was on the active roster for the 1992 New York Mets for two games, April 30 and May 1, but wasn't given a chance to play.

Outfielder Bruce Dostal spent four games on active roster of the Baltimore Orioles in June 1994. On two consecutive nights, manager Johnny Oates told Dostal he would pinch-run for Harold Baines , if Baines reached base; both times, Baines was retired.

Joel Chimelis (IF/OF) was briefly called up to the San Francisco Giants from June 4–6, 1995. A replacement player who had crossed the picket lines during the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike, Chimelis was unpopular with his Giants teammates as a result of this action (even though other replacement players had and would continue to appear in major league games). After calling a players-only meeting to which Chimelis was not invited, the Giants players threatened to revolt if Chimelis was allowed to play. The Giants management capitulated, and Chimelis was quickly returned to the minors without ever appearing in an MLB game.

Pitcher Billy Percibal was on the active roster of the Baltimore Orioles for 8 days starting September 21, 1995. However, the roster move was clearly simply a favour to Percibal — he was recovering from bone spur surgery he had undergone just two days prior, and was not about to pitch in a major league game at that time.

Pitcher Jesus Martinez, brother of major league pitchers Pedro Martinez and Ramon Martinez , spent time on the roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers in September, 1997.

Catcher Cesar King was on the active roster of the 2001 Kansas City Royals from May 19–23, 2001, but did not appear in a game.

Pitcher Jeff Urban was on the active roster of the 2003 San Francisco Giants from April 26–30, 2003 and from August 1–2 later that year, but did not appear in a game.

Catcher David Parrish, son of Tiger great Lance Parrish , was was on the active roster of the 2004 New York Yankees for three days when regular catcher Jorge Posada was hit in the face with a ball during a game, but did not appear in a game.

Luis Oliveros was on the Seattle Mariners roster from July 9-13, 2006, but never appeared in a MLB game. Kenji Johjima was unavailable for those games and the M's did not want to go without a backup catcher.

Pitcher Cory Morris was on the active roster of the Baltimore Orioles from April 9–12, 2006, but did not appear in a game.

Catcher Tim Gradoville was on the active roster of the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies 18 days in September, but did not appear in a game.

Pitcher Tim Lahey was on the active roster of the Philadelphia Phillies for the first six days of the 2008 season. Lahey spent his entire six-year minor league career pitching for the Minnesota Twins organization, but in a five-month period from December 2007 to April 2008, he was drafted from the Twins in the Rule V Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays; sold by the Rays to the Chicago Cubs; released by the Cubs; signed by the Phillies; and then returned to the Twins rather than keeping him on the major league roster (which was a condition of being a Rule V draft pick.) Lahey managed to do all this without ever throwing a pitch in regular season play.

Pitcher Luis Munoz was on the active roster of the 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates . General manager Neal Huntington said of his call-up, "I would not anticipate Luis being here for an extended period of time. It was a step short of desperation." Two days after his arrival, Munoz was removed from the Pirates roster and designated for assignment. He was eventually sent to the farm system of the Seattle Mariners.

Catcher Brian Jeroloman was on the active roster of the Toronto Blue Jays for the final 37 days of the 2011 season, but did not appear in a game.

Pitcher Jason Rice was on the active roster of the Oakland Athletics beginning on September 1, 2011 after being acquired from the Boston Red Sox organization. However, he was claimed off of waivers by Cleveland on September 6 and was assigned to AAA Columbus without making a major league appearance.

Catcher Jose Yepez was on the active roster of the 2011 Seattle Mariners from June 29-July 6, but did not appear in a game.

Pitcher Michael Antonini was on the active roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers twice, from April 24-27 2012, and May 28-29, 2013, but did not appear in a game.

Pitcher Marcus Walden was on the active roster of the Toronto Blue Jays from April 5-9, 2014, but did not appear in a game.

Pitcher Aaron Brooks was on the active roster of the Kansas City Royals from April 5-9, 2014, but did not appear in a game.

Non-Roster Players are all other professional players affiliated with Major League Baseball are signed to Minor League contracts. They can receive an invitation to spring training with their organization's Major League team without being on the 40-man roster. Two types of players generally receive a non-roster invitation: prospect players who are there to gain experience and face tougher competition as well as receive instruction from the Major League team's coaching staff; and veteran players who were not offered any major league contract by a club. The veteran player is usually signed to a "two-way" salary option—one for their time in the minors and another if they are placed on the 40-man during the season. All spring training invitees are under some sort of contract, to avoid liability if an injury were to occur to the player.
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