The Case for Increasing the 25-Man Roster

As we count the hours until Omar Minaya overpays Jason Bay and Benji Molina (when he really should be figuring out how to trade for Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Phillips) there are plenty of reasons to keep throwing coals into the hot stove, especially now that significant snow is falling over Citi Field and environs.

Lost in the shuffle earlier this week as we debated the merits of various free-agent signings, was a story about Outlived-His-Usefulness Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announcing the formation of a “special committee for on-field matters,” (doesn’t that sound like a politically-correct euphemism for “umpires?”) which will be tasked with “examining the full range of competitive issues in baseball, including postseason scheduling, pace of games, umpiring and instant replay.” The genius who gave us that wonderful idea to decide home field advantage in the World Series through the winner of a mid-season exhibition game (which used to be compelling without contriving a reason to make it so) added that “There are no sacred cows. It is an opportunity to examine the game that we love, to try to do what we can to improve on that already great game.”

No sacred cows? Ah, excuse me Budman, but I have a really hard time believing that you would put the following two items on the agenda: getting rid of the designated hitter and shortening the season, which you’d almost have to do hand-in-hand with making the first playoff round a best-of-seven unless you want Game 7 of the World Series to preempt the showing of “It’s A Wonderful Life” next December. But these blessed bovine would be off-limits because the former would make the player’s union go ballistic and the latter would force Jeff Wilpon to reduce Omar’s budget even more.

But there is one rule change that His Seligness could champion immediately; one that the union, team managements and owners might all support. It’s something I have been on a hobby-horse about for a couple of years now.

It’s time to increase team roster sizes to 26 players.

You’re probably wondering “what difference would adding one player per team make in competition?” Have you been watching extra-inning games the past few years, especially in the National League?

I’d like to know when the 25-man roster became sacrosanct. Look, in the good old days when teams carried between eight and 10 pitchers per team (and the latter only happened when teams like the Mets started going to five-man starting rotations in the late 1960s), the 25-man roster was more than enough. Most teams had seven guys on the bench and the 25th guy on some teams was a permanent fixture on the pine. But then came one-inning closers, middle relievers, pitch counts for starters, and now most teams have a 12-man pitching staff, for a time even carrying 13. That leaves just five bench players, enough to have just one extra catcher and just two extra infielders and outfielders. And if a team decides to carry a third catcher, your starters and bench players must be incredibly versatile or your screwed. (Frankly, I don’t think most Mets fans are upset about the Alex Cora signing–as silly as that was–because they dont think Cora can help the team somewhat, but because Cora is not a great use of one out of a precious five bench roster spots.)

Teams are especially screwed in extra innings. At least in the DH American League a manager can conserve his pinch hitters in the middle innings if his starter is going well or he doesn’t have a quick hook. But if a manic Jerry Manuel pinch hits for Pelfrey in the sixth inning, finds himself in a close game, plays lefty-right up the wazoo with his bullpen in the 7th, pinch hits for Feliciano in the 8th, and the game is tied 4-4 in the 9th, by the 11th you’re calling up Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell to play the outfield or bringing in Jeff Francoeur to pitch. It’s really becoming a joke.

And remember a couple of spring trainings ago, when the Yankees were agonizing over whether to keep an aging Bernie Williams one more season? With a 26-man roster, Bernie would have played in 2008, perhaps even last year to add another ring.

To me, the 26-man roster in the age of huge pitching staffs is a no-brainer. However, baseball would have to institute one more rule to prevent abuse of the extra spot: Teams could carry no fewer than 10 pitchers (few, if any, would do that anyway) and no more than 12 (sorry, 13 pitchers would defeat the purpose of the roster increase and if a team has to carry that many pitchers they don’t deserve to compete in the bigs anyway).

I can’t imagine that the Players’ Association would have a problem with adding 30 more players to major league rosters. In fact, I’m sure an increase in roster size has been on their radar but they probably haven’t suggested it because they feel they have bigger fish to fry with the owners (like staving off a salary cap movement or getting bigger and bigger contracts for the Jason Bays of the world). The owners would probably try to negotiate some kind of give-back in return for adding more players to the payroll, but really, don’t you think that 26th guy would be a rookie or a player making close to the MLB minimum?

In fact, I’ll make it easy for the owners. I’ll find the best 30 guys from my Over-40 league to take the last roster spots and we’ll play for free.

About Stephen Hanks 29 Articles
Stephen Hanks (Tom Terrific) is a magazine editor and writer based in Brooklyn, NY, who has been the publisher and editorial director of publications ranging in subjects from sports to health to archaeology. He began his career at the late, great SPORT Magazine in 1977 and in 1983, he co-founded NEW YORK SPORTS Magazine (which ceased publication in 1985). He has written and edited coffee table books on baseball history, penned unauthorized biographies of Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky, and in 1990 authored "The Game That Changed Pro Football," an oral history of the 1969 New York Jets Super Bowl Season. Even though he grew up near Yankee Stadium, he loathes the team from the Bronx and has been a die-hard Mets fan since attending his first game at the Polo Grounds in 1963.