In a year dotted with headline grabbing news events set across the globe, 1936 also proved to be an important one for the village of Cooperstown. For it was then, in those embryonic early stages, that the greats of the baseball world would first begin the process of eternal enshrinement.
It was 75 years ago that the calendar saw Franklin D. Roosevelt win a second term as president of the United States, the death of England’s King George V and the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind.” But the national pastime also saw its share of big events, ranging from the big league debuts of legends Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller to the Yankees winning their first of four consecutive World Series.
But it was also in Cooperstown, where today hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world make the trek every year to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, that the results of country-wide election would first be released and forever stamp it as home to the game’s elite.
While a National Baseball Museum had been in place in Cooperstown since April 1935, plans for a Hall of Fame were first announced on August 15 of the same year. Unsure if the honorees would be recognized with busts, statues, plaques or pictures, the first election was to result in a Big Ten — five stars from the 19th century and five from 1900 onward. Membership in this exclusive fraternity was to be determined by a nationwide vote among sportswriters and editors, with final decisions resting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Later that year, on Dec. 23, 1935, a list of candidates was produced by Henry P. Edwards, secretary of both the American League’s Service Bureau and BBWAA. By this point, 10 players from the 20th century and five from pre-1900 were expected to be elected. The list of modern players were sent to each member of the BBWAA, while the stars prior to 1900 were to be selected by a committee of veteran baseball men best qualified to choose them.
“No player will be awarded a place in the Hall of Fame unless he polls at least 75 percent of the votes,” Edwards said.
The players from 1900 through 1935, 33 in total, included pitchers Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Cy Young, Ed Walsh, Rube Waddell, Walter Johnson, Mordecai Brown, Rube Marquard, Chief Bender and Lefty Grove; catchers Roger Bresnahan, Mickey Cochrane and Lou Criger; first basemen George Sisler, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx; second basemen Napoleon Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Johnny Evers and Frankie Frisch; shortstop Honus Wagner; third basemen Jimmy Collins, William Bradley and Pie Traynor; and outfielders Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Willie Keeler, Ed Delahanty, Ross Youngs, Ed Roush and Al Simmons.
Edwards also explained that the list was not a mandatory one, and that a number of young stars of the day, including Dizzy Dean, Gabby Hartnett, Hank Greenberg, Lefty Gomez and Paul Waner, were left off on the theory that they would get their chance at a later date.
The 26 diamond stars from the 19th century named by Edwards included pitchers Candy Cummings, Lee Richmond, Mat Kilroy, A.G. Spalding, John Clarkson, Charles Radbourne and Amos Rusie; catchers Buck Ewing, Charley Bennett, Wilbert Robinson, Silver Flint and Mike Kelly; first basemen Cap Anson and Charles Comiskey; second basemen Ross Barnes and Fred Dunlap; third basemen Jerry Denny and John Montgomery Ward; outfielders Fred Clarke, Hugh Duffy and Jesse Burkett; and shortstops George Wright, Herman Long, Bobby Wallace, Hughie Jennings and John McGraw.
While the press and the public seemed content with the list of 19th century players, the omissions for players from the previous 36 years caused such an uproar that by January 1936 Edwards had amended his original 33-man ballot to also include the names of Johnny Kling, Ray Schalk, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Sullivan Sr., Dazzy Vance, Lefty Grove, Bill Terry and Charlie Gehringer.
“The ballot did not say the voter had to vote for the players I listed,” Edwards said. “I simply set down a bunch of the best names without any intention to lock out anybody. I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb.”
It was also discovered around this time that some members of the BBWAA thought that they were being asked to list an all-star team instead of the 10 greatest players without regard to position. Those ballots sent in with what looked to be an all-star team were returned by Edwards along with a new ballot and a letter making it clear that the voter can nominate 10 players from any combination of positions.
The vote for players who came before the turn of century was announced on Jan. 31, 1936, with none of the nominees receiving the required 75 percent of the total vote. The top vote getters were Ewing, Anson, Keeler and Young.
News of the Hall of Fame’s first electees was released on Feb. 2, 1936, with only Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Mathewson and Johnson receiving the required 75 percent of the BBWAA’s vote from the 20th century ballot.
Of the 226 votes cast, Cobb received 222, Ruth and Wagner received 215 each, Mathewson 205 and Johnson 189. Seventy-five percent of the total votes, or 169, were needed for election. In total, 51 players were named.
“I deeply appreciate the honor,” said Cobb, interrupting a round of golf in San Francisco to hear the news. “I am overwhelmed. I am glad they (the writers who elected him) feel that way about me. I want to thank them all.”
According to news reports, when the first ballot in which Ruth’s name did not appear surfaced, vote counting stopped momentarily for a discussion on how any one could leave the Bambino off the list.
The day after the election results were announced, John Kieran, honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 1973, wrote in the New York Times, “Still insisting that any voter is entitled to go to the polls and mark a ballot according to his own opinions and prejudices, it remains a mystery that any observer of modern diamond activities could list his version of the 10 outstanding baseball figures and have Ty Cobb nowhere at all in the group. Four voters accomplished that amazing feat.
“Eleven voters wrote down the names of their top 10 of modern times and ignored Babe Ruth completely. Eleven voters treated Hans Wagner in the same cavalier fashion.
“Beyond these items, the returns were fairly satisfactory. The fact that only five players received enough votes to qualify them for inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame is a good thing. A Hall of Fame for any field should not be filled too hastily.”
Evolution of the Hall of Fame
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has grown into a cultural showcase that chronicles the evolution of our National Pastime. But the institution itself has evolved over the years as well.
Today it’s a must-see destination for enthusiasts of the national pastime the world over, but the Cooperstown institution’s beginnings were humble, quietly opening its doors during the spring of 1938, a year prior to the official dedication.
It all began as a small two-story building with a couple thousand square feet of space. Today it’s three floors total 127,000 square feet, split between public space (55,000 square feet), exhibit space (33,000 square feet) and a library (37,000 square feet).
In the original building’s first floor, Hall of Famers’ plaques were interspersed with artifacts, with the famed Doubleday Baseball occupying a place of honor on the fireplace mantle while a portrait of Abner Doubleday, the supposed inventor of the game, surveying the scene.
Plans for the new Cooperstown institution were first unveiled in July 1937, with Frank Whiting, a local architect, given the responsibility of designing the new structure. The two-story building had a Colonial design with walls made from James River Colonial brick integrated with stone while on top sat a slate roof. The 1,200-square-foot first floor served as plaque gallery, museum, library, ticket office, retail shop and director’s office, while the second floor stored library materials.
In 1946, the architectural firm of Harry St. Clair Zogbaum drafted plans to double the size of the facility. This addition, with a cost of $175,000, to the west side of the original structure, increased exhibit space and created a new entrance. It was dedicated on July 24, 1950.
The Plaque Gallery, a chapel-like structure built of brick and steel with Vermont black marble columns supporting a lofted ceiling, was dedicated on Aug. 4, 1958.
“In the 1950s, we really began to realize that we were two institutions under one roof - a Hall of Fame, where we honored the all-time greats, and a museum, where we told the history of baseball,” said former Baseball Hall of Fame Director Howard Talbot. “We needed to build a gallery to make that distinction and accommodate the growing number of elected members.”
Expansion and renovations completed in 1950 and 1958 enabled the museum to display more of its growing number of artifacts and accommodate the increasing number of visitors.
With students of the game needing better access to the library’s holdings that were located inside the museum, a separate library building was added in 1968.
A building to house the Baseball Hall of Fame Library was built in Cooper Park, next to the museum, and was dedicated on July 22, 1968, in conjunction with that year’s Induction Ceremony.
With its attendance continuing to increase, the Hall of Fame completed its fourth expansion in 1980. The three-year, $3 million project included the construction of a west wing attached to the 1950 addition, which mirrored the original building and added symmetry to the overall appearance from the street entrance.
In 1989, a new wing, formerly the Alfred Corning Clark Gymnasium, was added. The $7 million project, dedicated as the Fetzer-Yawkey Building, was the fifth major expansion in the past 50 years. John Fetzer, then Chairman of the Board of the Detroit Tigers, and Jean Yawkey, then Chairwoman of the corporation that owned the Boston Red Sox, each made significant contributions to the project.
In the early 1990s, the library added 22,000 square feet to the original 7,000 square-foot building. The $6 million project, designed by Remick Architects, included a research area, exhibit gallery, bookstore, theater, state-of-the-art storage and a curved hallway that connected the library to the Hall of Fame Gallery.
“After 25 years, the expansion physically connected the museum and library once again,” said former Baseball Hall of Fame Librarian Tom Heitz. “We wanted to encourage visitors to take advantage of the library’s resources.”
The most recent renovation, completed during the spring of 2005, focused on enhancing existing space rather than expansion. The $20 million project, designed by Hugh Hardy, tied all existing structures together, allowing visitors to make a smooth transition from one gallery to the next. The project also improved access to the museum for those with special needs, and furthered the institution’s artifact preservation capabilities.
This story was compiled from stories written by Bill Francis, a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum