Neyer: Phantom major leaguers

From SABR member Rob Neyer at The National Pastime Museum on February 29, 2016:

As I sit in a coffee shop writing these words, almost exactly two months before Opening Day 2016, the all-time list of real Major Leaguers consists of . . . actually, I’m going to throw a qualifier in here, for a couple of reasons . . . the modern list of Major Leaguers—that is, Major League players since 1901, when the American League joined the National League as an acknowledged “major” league—consists of 16,725 players.*

* I’ve included the qualifier, however arbitrary, because before 1901 there were some pretty sketchy “major” leagues, and also because before 1901 the roster rules were extraordinarily loose.

Now, that number—16,725—will obviously change a little on Opening Day, and it’ll change a lot before the end of the 2016 season, especially now that Major League teams so routinely use their Triple-A affiliates as taxi squads. It might even change before Opening Day, as intrepid researchers are constantly tracking down leads on Major Leaguers who have somehow escaped the record keepers . . . or finding supposed Major Leaguers who didn’t actually exist. However, the great majority of those changes will concern the nineteenth century; that 16,725 since 1901 is pretty damn solid, through the 2015 season anyway.

It’s a big number, expanded greatly by this era’s large number of Major League teams—there were only 16 in 1960, with nearly twice as many today—and this era’s conveyor-belt bullpens.

I would like to make the case that it should be even bigger.

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Originally published: March 2, 2016. Last Updated: March 2, 2016.