The Cubs have been busy this past week, making final roster cuts that pared their Spring Training roster (originally 58 players in February) down to a 25-man roster on Opening Day. The 25-man Opening Day roster limit and clubs having to cut players the last week of Spring Training to get down to the limit is one of the ìRights of Spring Training,î in some cases the ìlast riteî (so to speak) for a player. But the 25-man Opening Day roster is actually a fairly recent invention.
While the idea that clubs can activate their entire 40-man roster for the last month of the season--giving young players a ìcup of coffeeî or ìfull trialî after the minor leagues close on or about Labor Day--goes back about 100 years, the idea that clubs must operate with only 25 players from Opening Day through August 31st does not.
A SABR researcher named Clifford Blau has actually compiled a history of roster limits
, and it is interesting to note the changes over the years on his chart.
1968 was the first season in MLB history
where clubs had to cut their 40-man roster down to 25 on Opening Day. During the previous 11 seasons (1957-1967), MLB clubs had to cut their 40-man rosters to 28
by Opening Day, and then to 25
by the 31st day of season. If you look back at the Opening Day rosters from that 11-year period, you would note that at least two of the three ìextraî players carried during the first month of the season were usually pitchers (and that was before the days of starting pitchers having their workoads limited by arbitrary pitch counts!).
Most clubs circa 1957-67 normally carried nine or ten pitchers May through August, but they would often carry as many as 12 pitchers during the month of April. It was recognized even then that pitchers needed more time than position players to get ready for the start of the season, and having an extra couple of arms available during the first month was understood to be advisable. By May, all starting pitchers were expected to be ready to handle a full work-load (pitch a complete game, if possible), and the three extra guys (including usually a couple of pitchers) were optioned or outrighted to the minors, traded, or released.
Prior to 1957, the roster limit remained at 40
until the 31st day of the season. That doesnít mean all clubs would actually carry 40 players during the month of April, just like clubs today do not activate their entire 40-man roster on September 1st just because they have the right to do so. When the roster limit remained at 40 until the 31st day of the season, clubs would (in reality) carry maybe five extra players, with the other ten usually being young players who werenít ready to play in the big leagues, and so they would be optioned to the minors to get a chance to play every day.
The type of player who would be kept around during the first month back when the 40-man roster cut-down date was the 31st day of the season would be veterans at the end of their careers trying to remain in the big leagues for a little while longer, "4-A" minor league players (that is, guys who had ìmasteredî AAA but who were having difficulty making the transition to MLB), and Rule 5 Draft picks, ìbonus players,î and players who were out of minor league options (in other words, players who could not be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers).
In the 1920ís, 30ís, and 40ís, the 40-man roster (or 48
-man roster with a 30
-man roster limit during the ìheartî of the season in 1945 and 1946 as player returned from WWII) ìcut-downî date was even later than the 31st day of the season, in some cases as late as May 15th, or even June 15th in some years!
And prior to 1977, clubs had no 25-man ìminimumî roster requirement as they do now. Clubs having financial problems could play with 22 or 23 players if they wanted to do that, and some did. Beginning in 1977, the CBA required clubs to maintain a 24-man minimum
active roster during the regular season, and this was expanded to a 25-man minimum
(as it stands now) in 1991.
So there is nothing ìwritten in stoneî when it comes to MLB clubs having to cut their 40-man rosters down to 25 players by Opening Day, or even maintaining a 25-man roster during the regular season. The current roster limits and a cut-down to 25 players on Opening Day are fairly recent inventions and are totally arbitrary, and could easily be changed in future CBAs (the current one expires on December 19th).
2006 CHICAGO CUBS OPENING DAY ROSTER
* Disabled List
(11 + 3 on 15-day DL) :
* Wade Miller
(15-day DL as of 3/31)
* Mark Prior
(15-day DL as of 03/24)
* Kerry Wood
(15-day DL as of 03/24)
Jerry Hairston, Jr
OPTIONED TO AAA IOWA
OPTIONED TO AA WEST TENN