Hall of Fame: The Museum (1939)

Probably the most famous of the major sports’ Hall of Fames.

When the Mills Commission decided on Abner Doubleday as the inventor of baseball, Cooperstown became a holy place for baseball, but it wasn’t until 1934, when the “Doubleday Ball” was discovered in an attic, that Cooperstown cemented itself as the spot for baseball. Stephen C. Clark bought the ball for $5, and he sought to have it and other baseball artifacts displayed. He chose a one-room spot in the Village Club, and after the public showed particular enthusiasm, Clark and partner Alexander Cleland sought and received the support for a museum from the National and American League.

Ford Frick, then President of the National League, wanted the Hall of Fame to enshrine great players and people in baseball. The first election occurred in 1936, but the Hall of Fame Museum did not open until June 12, 1939. Memorabilia began pouring in as soon as word got out about the museum, and it hasn’t stopped.

Expansions in 1950 and 1980 have enlarged the museum as baseball history has continued to grow. The museum has also been updated. In 1994, the Library was renovated (the Library was added in 1968), and renovations transformed the museum in the early 2000’s, making for larger hallways and easier flow.

Let’s go back to 1939. Baseball wanted a way to celebrate its 100th year (remember, Doubleday “discovered” baseball in 1939, and Doubleday was a key advertising strategy for the museum), and the opening of the Hall of Fame seemed the perfect opportunity. The four major executives — Frick, Kenesaw Landis (baseball’s commissioner), Willam Harridge (President of the American League), and William Branham (President of the National Association) — were all involved in the ribbon-cutting. Of the 25 people elected to the Hall of Fame already, only 11 were still alive, but all of them came. Later in the year, Lou Gehrig would also be elected to the Hall of Fame in order for him to be alive for his induction (the official results of that ballot have never officially been released).

As for the voting procedures at the time, they were still evolving. At the time, there was no waiting period or restriction against electing active players (although it was frowned upon), and there was an election every year. The annual elections, however, stopped in 1939 at the opening of the museum, and they were to only take place every three years (1940, 1941, and 1943 do not have classes). That rule didn’t last long as public outcry caused them to go back to electing every year in 1944. In 1946, the Hall instituted a one-year retirement requirement to be elected, and in 1954, the modern rule of waiting five years after one’s retirement began (an exception was made for Joe DiMaggio).

I have never been to the Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, but I hope to go sometime soon. Actually, I am applying for an internship there for this summer, but we’ll see how that goes.

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