Please help us. A die-hard baseball fan and I have a dispute to settle, and we know only you (and the elves) can help. How many players have played major-league baseball since the beginning of time? I say it has been around 20,000 to 30,000; my friend says it is well over 100,000.
-- Bo, San Diego
Anyone with a weakness for baseball bets should definitely have a speed-dial connection to the Society for American Baseball Research. How many teams blew World Series games when a left-fielder lost a fly ball in the sun? How many home runs have been hit on an 0-2 count against pitchers chewing tobacco? What was Don Newcomb's shoe size? Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but there's not much they don't know. Your question was as easy as an intentional walk. SABR defines the beginning of time as 1871, with the founding of the National Association. Your friend's enthusiasm for the game may have gotten the best of him (her?); to date 15,213 people have played major-league baseball. The operative words here are "major" and "league." But even if you count all the people involved in some form of pay-for-play baseball (the minors, Negro Leagues, etc.), your guess is still a lot closer to the mark.
The figure doesn't include any women, though a few thousand have played some form of professional ball, going as far back as 1875. One had a minor-league pitcher's contract in the 1930s until someone decided that gals weren't "constitutionally suited" to the game. Since 1952 major- and minor-league men's baseball teams have been banned from signing up women.