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The Baseball Hall of Fame

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To the pioneers who were the moving spirits of the game in its infancy and to the players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame, we pay just tribute. But I should like to dedicate this museum to all America.
- Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Baseball's first commissioner, 12 July, 1939.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (HOF) is situated at 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, New York, USA.

From its official dedication in 1939 the HOF has expanded greatly over the years. The Museum hosts a priceless collection of over 35,000 items of baseball memorabilia and now has a travelling exhibition touring America's most renowned museums. The Library contains over 2.6 million items; books/magazines etc, its photo collection numbers over 500,000 images and it totals more than 10,000 hours of radio, video and film footage.

History of the Hall of Fame

Cooperstown was chosen as the site of the HOF from the conclusions reached by the Spalding (or Mills) Commission appointed in 1905 to determine the origins of Baseball. Following a three year study, their final report included the statement that 'the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839.1'

In 1935 Stephen C Clark, a Cooperstown resident conceived the idea of displaying such baseball objects as could be obtained in a room in the Village Club. This small one-room exhibition attracted considerable interest and led to a campaign for the founding of a National Baseball Museum.

To mark Baseball’s supposed upcoming 100th anniversary four years later, plans were laid for celebrations in Cooperstown. Ford Frick, president of the National League, proposed that a Hall of Fame be formed to honour the game’s immortals, as part of the celebrations. The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) was enlisted to select the playing greats who were to be honoured. The first election was completed by January of 1936 and five players were elected.

  • Tyrus Raymond 'Ty' Cobb. The most prolific hitter in baseball history.
  • George Herman 'Babe' Ruth. Baseball's greatest home run hitter.
  • Johannes Peter 'Honus' Wagner. Star shortstop and batting champion.
  • Christy Mathewson. The winningest pitcher in National League history.
  • Walter Johnson. Considered to be one of the hardest throwers ever to take the mound.
Now known as the 'First Five', these players hold a unique place in HOF history. Their five plaques face visitors as they first enter the Hall and the logo for the Hall of Fame features five white stars on a blue field, to mark their position as standards of excellence for future inductees to aim at.

The HOF was officially dedicated on 12 June, 1939. The game's four ranking executives of the period - Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Baseball’s first Commissioner, Frick, William Harridge, President of the American League and William G. Bramham, President of the National Association - participated in the ribbon-cutting. Of the 25 stars who had been elected to the Hall of Fame up to that point, eleven were still living; and all of them were at Cooperstown to attend the centennial celebration.

Membership of the Hall of Fame

As of July 2003 there are 256 members in the HOF. Included are 191 former major league players, 23 executives or pioneers, 18 Negro leaguers, 16 managers, and eight umpires.

Achieving HOF membership can be done by either of two methods at present, the BBWAA elections and the Veterans Committee elections. Previously the now-defunct Committee on Negro Leagues selected nine members between 1971-77 and there is a study of African-American Baseball, 1860-1960, under way to decide how to proceed with respect to Negro leagues candidates.

The BBWAA elections deal with players who have been retired from active play in Major League Baseball for at least five years but not more than twenty years, the Veterans Committee elections cover players from earlier times and also managers, umpires and executives. In each case a Screening Committee will present a list of eligible candidates and the respective members will vote on them. Any candidate receiving votes on 75% of the ballots cast in his election shall be elected to membership.

Hall of Fame Day

The HOF is open all year round, and during peak periods it is not unusual for the daily visitor count to exceed the population of Cooperstown. Annual attendance at the HOF regularly reaches 350,000 and has twice climbed over 400,000.

The biggest day of the year, is of course, Hall of Fame Day when the newly-elected members are inducted. Many already-inducted Hall of Famers as well as league and club officials take part in the ceremony, witnessed live by thousands of baseball fans from all over the world as well as many more on TV.

The following day two major league teams - usually one representing each league - clash in the annual Hall of Fame Game at Doubleday Field. The ball field, just a block from the museum, is located on the former Elihu Phinney cow pasture where baseball was once believed to have been first played more than 150 years ago by Doubleday and his friends. The Village Board of Trustees transformed the former pasture into a ballpark of major league specifications in 1939, and it now seats approximately 10,000 fans.

The Future of the Hall of Fame

The HOF exists to commemorate the greatest heroes of baseball, those whose example should inspire future generations to aspire to similar feats. For that purpose a priority is the educational programmes extending their reach into classrooms across America through its distance-learning projects.

The Museum and Library are both continually expanding to enable them to properly represent all aspects of the game and provide a treasure trove of information and materials for the benefit of fans and researchers.

The HOF also offers over 300 events each year in a selection of entertaining and educational programs designed for both families and scholars of the sport. Talks featuring staff and visiting experts highlighting the game’s rich history, discussions with Hall of Fame members, films, concerts and plays - all helping to preserve the game's rich history.

From humble beginnings in one room of the Cooperstown Village Club, the Hall of Fame has grown into a national treasure, where people come to seek inspiration and be reminded that Baseball is truly 'America's national pastime'.

1This conclusion has since been largely discredited.

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