End of the Ironman

Manny Machado led the majors in 2015 with 153 complete games played. That’s the lowest leading total in an expansion era full-length season, and the 11th straight year that a player has led the majors with fewer than 160 complete games played. Except for Richie Ashburn‘s 152 total in 1956, Machado’s 153 mark also fails to beat the majors-leading total in every full-length pre-expansion season since the 154 game schedule was adopted in 1904.

More on the decline of the ironman after the jump.

The ultimate in ironman seasons is to play every inning of every game of the season. There have been 105 such seasons since 1914 (plus at least 26 more for 1901-13), led by Cal Ripken’s four consecutive campaigns from 1983 to 1986. Since Ripken, only three players have turned in such a campaign, including one (Travis Fryman) in the abbreviated 1995 season. Even before Ripken, the frequency of such seasons had been declining in the expansion era, as indicated below.

  • 1914-1960 – 93 seasons (~2 per year)
  • 1961-2015 – 12 seasons (~one every 5 years)

Before 1914, these seasons were even more frequent. The 26 known every-inning seasons (those by players playing the same position for all of those innings) for 1901 to 1913 average out neatly at two per year compared to 79 such single-position seasons (~1.7 per season) from 1914 to 1960.

Here’s a table showing the number of every-inning players in each season since 1901 (but only single-position every-inning seasons for 1901-13). There was at least one such player (usually more than one) every season for 30 years (1920-49), but only 18 such seasons in total since then.

Every Inning Seasons since 1901

Ripken’s four every-inning seasons are the most for any player, and are three more than the total for “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig whose lone every-inning season was matched by none other than Wally Pipp. Following Ripken with three seasons are Candy Lachance (1902-04) and Mickey Vernon whose every-inning campaigns were well-spaced, in 1942, 1947 and 1953. Twelve players have a pair of every-inning seasons, including six doing so in consecutive seasons, the last (other than Ripken) by Tommy Holmes in 1944-45.

Kid Gleason no longer was in 1905 when the 38 year-old became the oldest player to record an every-inning season while patrolling second base for the Phillies. The youngest are a pair of 21 year-olds: Joe Nealon for the 1906 Pirates; and Stuffy McInnis for the 1912 Athletics.

Jimmy Esmond and George Perring both signed on with the Federal League where each played every inning in that circuit’s final year, which also turned out to be the final season in both their careers. Tony Lupien for the 1948 White Sox is the only other player to play every inning in his final season, while Joe Nealon, Al Simmons (1924 A’s), Earl Averill (1929 Indians), Buddy Hassett (1936 Dodgers) and Billy Johnson (1943 Yankees) all did so in their debut campaigns.

The 131 known every-inning seasons since 1901 break down this way, by position.

The breakdown by franchise looks like this:

  • 14 – Orioles/Browns
  • 13 – Red Sox
  • 11 – Tigers
  • 10 – Cardinals
  • 9 – Yankees, Phillies, Pirates
  • 8 – Cubs
  • 7 – Athletics
  • 6 – Braves, Indians, Twins/Senators
  • 5 – Dodgers, Giants, Reds
  • 4 – White Sox
  • 1 – Brewers, Marlins, two FL teams

Sixteen teams have had two every-inning players in their lineup, including in back-to-back seasons by the 1932-33 Pirates. Quiz: which three of those teams had a pair of future HOFers playing every inning?

The Orioles 4-year run with Ripken matched the Boston Americans’ streak in 1902-05, with LaChance, Freddy Parent and Buck Freeman doing the honors. Next with three straight seasons are the Yankees (1941-43) and Braves (1943-45). Those three seasons by the Yankees made for 5 teams in 6 years with an every-inning player, for a total of 6 such seasons, all by different players (Red Rolfe in 1939, Joe Gordon in 1940, Joe DiMaiggio in 1942, Billy Johnson in 1943, and Nick Etten and Snuffy Stirnweiss in 1944). Dom DiMaggio matched Joe with an every inning season for the 1948 Red Sox, the only brother combo to turn this trick.

Click here for a complete list of every-inning seasons since 1914, and single-position every-inning seasons since 1901.

To close, here are the superlatives for the known every-inning seasons since 1901.

[table id=275 /]


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15 Comments on "End of the Ironman"

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David P

Great idea for a post Doug! Tony Lupien is someone I had never heard of before but he has a really interesting story. I was going to summarize it but the whole SABR bio is worth reading:



Thanks for the link.

I love reading about mostly forgotten players who went on to have notable or interesting lives after their major league career ended.

Richard Chester

Yes it was an interesting bio, he was more than just an obscure player. I do believe that for the 1946 season the team player limit was raised to 30 to accommodate returning WWII veterans. You have to read that bio to know what I as talking about.

Dr. Doom
Offhand, if I had been asked about the last time a player did this, I would’ve named Richie Sexson from the 2003 Brewers. It was a pretty big story near the end of the year for a VERY bad team. I also would’ve assumed that Sexson’s 45 HR that year were the record, and that if they weren’t it was some Lou Gehrig season. To my surprise, it was an Ernie Banks year! Offhand, I remember another Brewers 1B who nearly pulled the every-inning trick, and much more recently. In 2009, Prince Fielder was giving chase to play every inning… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin

B-R lists yearly leaders for Games Played, but not _complete_ Games Played. Can you look up complete games played using the B-R P-I?

Using the P-I Game Finder – Select “Find Players With Most Matching Games in a Season” – Under “Starter or Reserve”, select “Started” – Under “Finished Game”, select “Yes” – Click “Get Report” For seasons before 1914, players who played every inning at one position can be found using P-I Season Finder to identify teams with only one player at a position – Select “Find Teams with Players Matching Criteria (season)” – Under “Defensive Position” select “Played Any One of Marked Positions” and choose one position ONLY – Under “For Above Pos.”, select “At Least” and then enter 1 in… Read more »
Ken S.

Thanks for listing the PI procedures Doug. Very interesting topic!

Richard Chester

Doug: When I did my analysis I used the second method for all years. For the first method you have to also know how many games the player’s team played in that season. How did you match them?

Richard Chester

Doug: You mentioned that Eddie Murray’s season counted games in which he was a DH. Should games as a DH count for playing in every inning?


I understand that a little time off throughout the course of the season is a good idea but I’m puzzled in this era of 12 & 13 man pitching staffs & the DH how teams can even do this. I know some teams use a DH by rotation approach but I would think that would make playing a full season even easier.

Are pinch hitting levels going up?

I think the main issue is that players used to be encouraged to play through injuries, and it was seen as heroic and manly. Nowadays, the preference is to remove and have medical check-ups and rest for any minor issue, as in the long run they feel that will be better for the player and the team. I also think teams understand better now than before that an injured regular might not play better than an uninjured but lesser replacement, and the loss is likely to be small enough that you’d rather the regular recover and get back to 100%… Read more »

No takers on the quiz question, so here is the answer. Teams with two HOFers playing every inning are:
– 1946 Cardinals – Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter
– 1965 Cubs – Billy Williams, Ron Santo
– 1984 Orioles – Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray