With the announcement of the 2015 Hall of Fame class today, let’s take a closer look at the rich tradition that is the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sometimes referred to as strictly Cooperstown, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum located in Cooperstown, New York, was the next stop on my family’s summer baseball adventure. With the motto “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations,” the Hall of Fame is an educational institution housing artifacts and exhibits related to the sport of baseball. Serving to honor the game and the individuals who impacted the game, the Hall of Fame with the history it preserves, should be a priority for any baseball enthusiast, or casual fan. This was my second trip to the Hall of Fame and although special with 2014 being the 75th anniversary of the museum, I still only managed to scratch the surface of the abundance of information, stories, facts, and overall history the museum has to offer.
The First Pitch
The beginning of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum can be traced back to the 1908 report published by the “Mills Commission,” a committee tasked with determining the origins of baseball. The report stated that baseball was invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York. This would eventually be found false, but the report proved to be fuel for the creation of the Hall of Fame.
In 1935, Stephen C. Clark, a Cooperstown resident, purchased an old baseball that had been discovered in a farmhouse attic near Cooperstown. Clark bought the ball, soon to be known as the “Doubleday Ball,” for $5 and placed it with other memorabilia on display in the town’s Village Club. This exhibit became a big hit, prompting Clark to approach the president of the National League, Ford Frick, with the prospect of a National Baseball Museum. Frick fully embraced the idea and even suggested a Hall of Fame for the greats of the game to be included with the museum. Now the idea had funding, support, and legitimacy allowing plans for the museum to move along.
The inaugural induction class of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson,Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner was announced in 1936, after being voted on by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The five charter members each received over 75% of the votes cast, which holds today as the standard for induction. The Hall of Fame now consists of 310 elected members.
The National Baseball Museum opened in 1938 and was officially dedicated June 12, 1939. By the time of the dedication in 1939, twenty-five men had already been elected to the Hall of Fame.
At first glance, or after hearing analysts discuss the Hall of Fame voting procedure and the changes made throughout the years, it may seem rather overwhelming. It also is hotly debated as just today after the 2015 induction class announcement, analysts on ESPN expressed their frustration with the current ballot and how they felt they were forced to leave worthy candidates off, because there were simply not enough slots.
Currently, votes are cast annually by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) with at least 10 consecutive years on a baseball beat. Each qualified member of the BBWAA can vote for up to 10 players from the ballot. The ballot consists of pre-selected players who played for at least 10 seasons and have been retired for at least 5. Players receiving 75% of the cast votes will be elected to the Hall of Fame, while players receiving fewer than 5% will be removed from future ballots. Previously, if a player had appeared on the ballot 15 times without being elected, they would also be removed from the ballot, but in 2014 the rules were amended to only allow 10 years of consideration.
In addition to the BBWAA selection, there are also Eras Committees that review players no longer considered eligible by the BBWAA, along with managers, umpires, and executives, who made an impact on the game in one of three eras. The eras include, Golden, Pre-Integration, and Expansion. The voting for each era is staggered, so only one will occur per year. The ballot consists of 12 individuals and the electors may vote for as many as 5 candidates. Those receiving at least 75% will be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame class of 2015 announced today consists of Randy Johnson 97.3%, Pedro Martinez 91.1%, John Smoltz 82.9%, and Craig Biggio 82.7%. This is the first time since 1955 that the BBWAA elected 4 players to the Hall of Fame in the same year. The 4 inductees will be honored as part of the Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend July 24-27 in Cooperstown, New York, with the actual induction occurring July 26.
Let’s Take a Tour
Now that we have learned about the history of the Hall of Fame and the voting process, let’s look at what the Hall of Fame actually is. Since the Hall of Fame suggests visitors start on the second floor, that’s where we will begin our tour.
- Cooperstown Room- take a look at the history of the Hall of Fame and Cooperstown as the supposed “birthplace” of baseball
- The Baseball Experience- watch a multimedia presentation in the Grandstand Theater to start the journey through baseball’s history
- Taking the Field: The 19th Century- learn about baseball’s early years
20th Century Baseball Timeline – dive deeper into baseball’s history learning about players, teams, and moments playing a large role in the game as we know it today. Includes special exhibits for important stories:
- Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend- chronicles George Herman Ruth’s life from his childhood, through his professional years, to his post-career
- Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball- one of my favorite exhibits paying homage to the role women have played in baseball
- Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience- immerse yourself in the rich history of African Americans in baseball
- ¡Viva Baseball!- delve into the stories of baseball in the Caribbean Basin countries
- Today’s Game- relive memories and achievements of the last several years through lockers for each of the 30 teams containing artifacts
- Diamond Mines- discover the story of baseball scouts with this online exhibit
- Sacred Ground- another one of my favorites, looking at baseball stadiums of the past and present
Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream- follow Aaron’s life from his childhood through his baseball career and into his post-baseball life
- One for the Books- explore the records held in professional baseball and the stories accompanying the record setting moments
Autumn Glory: Postseason Celebration- view artifacts from the most recent World Series and see the rings from each championship team. For any females not interested in baseball, I’m sure the ring section will peak their interest. When I visited, the Boston Red Sox had their three most recent World Series trophies on display in this section
- Picturing America’s Pastime (temporary exhibit)- engross yourself in over 250,000 photographs from the museum’s photo archives
- The New Face of Baseball- Osvaldo Salas’ American Baseball Photographs (temporary exhibit)- examine American baseball photographs by photojournalist Osvaldo Salas featuring the decade following integration
The First Floor
- Learning Center- used for educational programs and special events
- Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award- view the names of winners of this award and a statue of Negro League legend O’Neil
- Art of Baseball- examine artwork inspired by baseball. This exhibit can be appreciated by anyone no matter their degree of interest in baseball
Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery- view the bronze plaques of the 310 Hall of Famers
- Baseball at the Movies- explore baseball as seen in movies by looking at baseball movie memorabilia
- Scribes and Mikemen- honors the great journalists and broadcasters of baseball
- Bullpen Theater- public programs and other activities held in this space
- Sandlot Kids’ Clubhouse- activities for young baseball fans
- Giamatti Research Center- the Hall of Fame will aid you in learning more about baseball
Now that you have had a brief summary of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, I hope that you’ll be planning your trip soon, so you can truly appreciate the magnificent home of baseball.