“They started something here and the kids are keeping the ball rolling. I hope some of you kids will be in the Hall of Fame. I’m very glad that in my day I was able to earn my place. And I hope youngsters today have the same opportunity to experience such feeling.”
Those were the words of baseball legend Babe Ruth as he gave his acceptance speech upon his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on June 12, 1939. At the time, future hall of famer Yogi Berra was 11, Duke Snider and Robin Roberts were 12, Ernie Banks, 8, and Henry Aaron, only 4.
Hall of Fame records show about 15,000 people came to Main Street to watch the first ceremony, which was held across the street from the post office on the museum’s original front steps.
The stage was set up in front of the Hall of Fame on Main Street at what is now the office entrance to the building.The ceremony included members from the 1936-39 induction classes.
Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson has said the weekend celebration has evolved from four hours of events in 1939 to a “four-day baseball extravaganza today.” The Induction itself has changed locations twice over the decades as more and more fans have chosen to be in Cooperstown to honor their heroes, according to Idelson.
Festivities were moved to Cooper Park in 1968. In 1992, they were moved to the grounds of the Clark Sports Center to accommodate larger crowds.
According to its website, The Hall of Fame is composed of 300 elected members, including those elected by the Pre-Integration Era Committee in December. Included are 208 former major league players, 28 executives, 35 Negro Leaguers, 19 managers and 10 umpires. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has elected 112 candidates to the Hall while the Committees on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players (in all of its forms) has chosen 162 candidates (96 major leaguers, 28 executives, 19 managers, nine Negro Leaguers and 10 umpires). The defunct “Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues” selected nine men between 1971 and 1977 and the Special Committee on Negro Leagues in 2006, elected 17 Negro Leaguers.
There are 64 living members. The oldest is Bobby Doerr, 94, and the youngest is Roberto Alomar, 44. By position, there are: 72 pitchers, 17 catchers, 21 first basemen, 20 second basemen, 15 third basemen, 24 shortstops, 21 left fielders, 23 center fielders, 24 right fielders, 20 managers, 10 umpires and 33 executives.
According to Idelson, when visitors make plans to come to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend they do so partially because of the new inductees. There is also that sense of time travel, he said.
“There are many visitors who return every year because they enjoy the tradition and seeing all their baseball cards come back to life, which is what happens every summer in Cooperstown,” he said.
It is the largest single gathering of hall of famers in one place at one time, Idelson said.
Last year before coming to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend, Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro said it is an honor to be a part of such an elite group. He said most of the hall of famers who get to return to the big stage during the induction ceremony didn’t think they would ever get that opportunity, and now that they do, are still in awe.
The Hall of Fame president said, “It is such a small elite group, and it is unlike any other fraternity. It is uncanny how many want to come back every year.”
It is not easy to become a hall of famer. One must either be voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America or through committees that focus on three eras.
Since 1936, the BWAA has held the exclusive voting privilege to consider recently retired players for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It takes 75 percent of the votes on the ballot to get in.
Since, the process has evolved to reflect updated rules, most notably changes to the eligibility criteria and qualifications for earning election.The electorate has remained with the BBWAA since the beginning.
Recently retired players are the lone category considered exclusively by the BBWAA. Various forms of the veterans committee have considered others for 75 years.
In 2010, changes were made so that there would be a three-year cycle of consideration for managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players as opposed to the previous consideration by classification by committees on baseball veterans. The three eras are Expansion (1973 to present), Golden (1947 to 1972) and Pre-Integration (origins through 1946). The Veterans Committee has been a part of the Hall of Fame voting process since its first class, with the first electees coming in 1937. In all of its forms, the Veterans Committee elected 159 individuals into the Hall of Fame.
This year, A 16-member Pre-Integration Era Committee voted three men into Hall — most notably Jacob Ruppert, Yankees’ owner from 1915 until his death in 1939. Umpire Hank O’Day and 19th century catcher/third baseman Deacon White also earned election.
Of the 77 election years (1936-2012) there have been 68 election years and nine years when no elections were held (1940, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1965).
The BBWAA ballot featured 37 players this year, which included 24 new candidates. The chances of getting into the Hall of Fame is slim, but being a first-time electee is even more unique.
Idelson said it is very hard to get elected into the baseball shrine on the first attempt. For example, he said, even a high-caliber player like Joe DiMaggio does not get elected right away. DiMaggio was first added to the ballot in 1953. He was not elected until 1955 when he received 88.84 percent of the vote.
Forty-four players have been elected in their first year of eligibility (11 pitchers, seven right-fielders, six left-fielders, four center-fielders, five shortstops, three second-basemen, four third-basemen, two first-basemen, one designated hitter and one catcher; position based on where electee played the majority of his big league games). In seven of the last 12 elections, at least one player has been elected in his first year of eligibility. Other than the inaugural Hall of Fame election, 1999 is the only year where as many as three first-year candidates were elected at once. It should be noted that Lou Gehrig (who received votes in 1936 while active and then was elected by acclamation in 1939) and Roberto Clemente (by special election in 1973) were each elected through a non-traditional process and are not counted in the 44.
Nobody has been elected into the Hall of Fame as a unanimous choice. Roberto Alomar is the 26th and most recent player to earn at least 90 percent of the BBWAA vote in any one election. He is the first non-first-ballot player to crack the 90 percent level.
There are 48 Hall of Famers who spent their entire career with one team. Barry Larkin, elected last year, is the most recent. The last pair of teammates who played only for the same franchise to be elected into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA in the same year was Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle in 1974. It is possible it could happen again — this year’s ballot features Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio who spent their big league careers with the Astros and Don Mattingly and Bernie Williams who spent their career with the Yankees. The last time two players who spent their entire career with the same Major League team were selected regardless of election method came in 1984 when lifelong Dodgers Don Drysdale (BBWAA) and Pee Wee Reese (Veterans Committee) were elected. The last teammates of any duration who were elected into the Hall of Fame in the same year were 1991 Dodger teammates Gary Carter and Eddie Murray. They were enshrined in 2003.
Editors note: This article was written before the 2013 BBWAA results were released. Facts and numbers do not include those results.