How the Baseball Hall of Fame Works

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is the oldest and most revered of all the sports Halls of Fame. Enshrinement is the highest honor a major-league player can receive.

Though Baseball Magazine used the term “Hall of Fame” as early as 1908 to describe a list of pitchers who had thrown no-hit games, its meaning changed when baseball decided to honor its premier performers. Today, the term embraces all three branches of the sport’s shrine: the gallery where the plaques of the Hall of Fame players hang, as well as the adjacent museum and library.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY
© Cliff Oram
The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.,
honors baseball's legendary performers.

Wandering the halls of the Hall of Fame triggers constant questions as wide-eyed youngsters ogle the artifacts and engage their elders in lively debate. Who was the best player of all time? What baseball records will never be broken?

In the last 30 years alone, players have reached new plateaus in career hits, home runs, and stolen bases, plus homers and steals in a single season. Experts once considered all of those records unobtainable. Is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in the same category? How about Cy Young’s 511 victories or Connie Mack’s 53 years as a major-league manager? Ty Cobb’s .367 career average may be safe, but his stolen base records have been superseded so many times that little seems certain.

The one certainty is that the best of the best will continue to be honored by the Hall of Fame. To learn about the history of baseball's shrine, go to the next page.