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 Ty Cobb’s .367 career average may be safe, but his stolen base records have been superseded so many times that little seems certain.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.

History of the Baseball Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame is living proof that baseball is more wedded to statistics than any other sport. Fans speak in alphabetized codes about ERA and RBI and devour box scores with great intensity.

The seeds of the game’s statistical foundation were planted by pioneer baseball writer Henry Chadwick long before the National League began play in 1876. Chadwick, who spent most of his 45-year journalism career with the Brooklyn Eagle, devised a system of scorekeeping, created the first box score, and refined the game through changes he instituted as chairman of an early rules committee.

National Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit
©Jenn Rizzuto
Relics all kinds can be found in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Chadwick, the only writer among the more than 200 baseball immortals whose plaques hang in the Hall of Fame gallery, was indirectly responsible for the placement of the baseball shrine in the tiny lakeside hamlet of Coopers­town, New York. As editor of Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide, Chadwick wrote in 1903 that baseball was a direct descendant of the British game of rounders, which he had played as a youth in England.

Albert G. Spalding, the former pitcher and manager who owned the publication, printed a rebuttal that said baseball had actually developed from the colonial American game of One Old Cat.

Spalding not only called for the appointment of a special commission to settle the dispute but also handpicked its seven members. His choices were hardly impartial: commission chairman A.G. Mills had told a New York banquet audience six years earlier that “patriotism and research” had established baseball as uniquely American and not descended from the English rounders.

Honored guests at that banquet were players who had participated in baseball’s first world tour -- organized and led by Al Spalding. During tour stops in England, Australia, and New Zealand, American players had been subjected to razzing from spectators who charged them with stealing the idea for the game.

Spalding, still seething from the teasing and also searching for ways to publicize his growing sporting-goods business, viewed the commission as a way to kill two birds with one stone. The panel based its findings almost entirely on a letter Spalding obtained from former Cooperstown resident Abner Graves, then a Denver mining engineer. In his letter, Graves said he witnessed Abner Doubleday interrupt a game of marbles behind a tailor shop to draw a diamond diagram in the dirt and explain and name the game.

That was all the commission needed. Its final report, published on December 30, 1907, after three years of gathering evidence, stated, “The first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York in 1839. Baseball is of American origin and has no connection with rounders or any other foreign game.”

Chadwick, among others, disagreed vehemently. In a note to Mills published in the 1908 Spalding Official Baseball Guide, he wrote, “Your decision in the case of Chadwick vs. Spalding is a masterly piece of special pleading that lets my dear old friend Albert escape a bad defeat. The whole matter was a joke between Albert and myself.” That joke has since evolved into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.

Before the century’s turn, historians agreed that baseball became separate from rounders only when its rules were amended by Alexander Cartwright’s New York Knickerbockers in 1845.

Cartwright, a New York bank teller whose rules were introduced seven years after Doubleday’s alleged “invention” of baseball, was the first man to suggest teams of nine players, regular batting orders, equidistant bases, and three outs per inning. Because the nine-inning concept was developed later, the first game under Cartwright’s rules ended when the New York Nine scored their 21st run (called an ace) in the fourth inning (called a hand), then added two more tallies to pin a 23-1 defeat on the Knickerbockers.

That game was played on June 19, 1846, at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, New Jersey -- a town many feel is the true birthplace of baseball. Even Hall of Fame officials view Coopers­town as a symbol of the game’s birth rather than its actual cradle.

Twelve years after publication of the Mills report, a group of Cooperstown residents bought the Phinney lot that Graves had identified as the birthplace of baseball. After receiving a Chamber of Commerce delegation seeking his support for a national baseball shrine, National League president John A. Heydler came to Cooperstown for the 1923 dedication of Doubleday Field. It was not until 1934, however, that the Doubleday legend received national recognition.

That was the year a tattered old baseball was discovered in a dusty trunk tucked away in a farmhouse attic in Fly Creek, a village three miles from Cooperstown. Since the trunk had belonged to Abner Graves, local historians leapt to the conclusion that the ball had been used by Abner Doubleday in the first baseball game.

Stephen C. Clark, a local resident and heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, bought the ball for $5, enclosed it in a glass case, and placed it on the fireplace mantle of the Village Club, a combination library and boys club.

After the addition of other baseball memorabilia, the exhibit became so popular that sentiment for a national museum soared. Clark took the idea to new National League president Ford Frick, who not only embraced the concept but suggested the inclusion of a Hall of Fame for the game’s heroes.

The Depression-weary baseball establishment -- desperate for a gimmick that might start the turnstiles spinning again -- began making elaborate plans for the game’s 100th birthday. Those plans, announced in March 1936, would tie the Centennial with the museum, Hall of Fame, and Doubleday Field in a nationwide party, sponsored in part by a $100,000 grant from the major leagues.

Coopers­town announced 27 “days,” including the first official Induction Day, a Minor League Day, and even an Alexander Cartwright Day for those who refused to accept the Doubleday legend.

Clark spent $44,000 of his own money -- about half the original construction cost -- to help convert the village gym into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and served 21 years as its first president. Filling the hall was left to baseball.

There were two elections in 1936: one by 226 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and another by a special 78-member veterans committee. Because no guidelines were set regarding eligibility, several active players received strong support. The only five able to muster the required 75 percent of the vote, however, were all retired: Ty Cobb (222), Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner (215 each), Christy Mathewson (205), and Walter Johnson (189).

The first election, plus three subsequent annual tallies, gave the Hall 26 members by the time it was ready to open on June 12, 1939. All 11 living members appeared for the induction ceremonies, along with a number of future Hall of Famers.

As Carl Hubbell stepped off the train, the great left-hander -- his arm permanently twisted from years of throwing the screwball -- took one look at the elm-lined streets and said, “So this is where all the grief started!” Maybe so or maybe not. But the immortals gathered for the first induction agreed that baseball could not have found a better spot for its shrine.

Some of the treasures the shrine holds include the shoes of Shoeless Joe (he picked up the nickname as a youngster who couldn’t afford proper foot attire). The baseball museum also has Christy Mathewson’s piano (with baseball bats as supporting legs), Babe Ruth’s bowling ball, Moe Berg’s medal for wartime spy service, a 17-foot bat carved as a gift for Ted Williams, a whisk broom used by umpire Jocko Conlan, and a crown given to “King Carl” Hubbell.

The library has long been regarded as baseball heaven by writers, researchers, and historians. Even before the latest expansion work started, it housed five million newspaper documents, 200,000 player data cards, 125,000 photographs, 100,000 autographs, 15,000 baseball books, 2,000 pamphlets, and 400 videotapes, plus radio tapes, movie reels, sheet music, team files, team publications (including yearbooks and media guides), baseball magazines, and various documents of the game dating back to 1840.

Its archives also include box scores of every game in baseball history and complete collections of The Sporting News, Sporting Life, and Sports Illustrated.

The collection honors not only the relative handful of Hall of Fame players but also the game itself. It traces the game’s history from pre-Civil War sandlot days through the development of domed ballparks, divisional play, and free agency. Many baseball historians consider only the “modern era” of the game, beginning with the 1901 advent of the American League. But not the national baseball museum.

Although much of 19th-century baseball was played under rules and conditions that seem completely foreign to followers of today’s game, Cooperstown remembers its heritage. Cooperstown also remembers -- and enshrines -- all of the game's greats. Go to the next page to learn how a person is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

How a Person Is Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Odds against election into the Baseball Hall of Fame are overwhelming: about 70-to-1 for the typical major-leaguer. Entering in the first year of eligibility is even tougher: Only one out of about seven Hall of Famers entered on their first try.

To qualify for the ballot, a player must have played at least 10 years in the major leagues and be retired for five -- requirements that are sometimes waived for special cases, such as the untimely death of Roberto Clemente in 1972. Addie Joss had 160 victories and a career earned run average of 1.88 but was one game short of 10-year status when tubercular meningitis killed him just before the opening of the 1911 season. He was finally admitted by the Veterans Committee in 1978.

Hall of Fame pitcher Addie Joss
The stringent rules for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame
have been bent for some players, such as Addie Joss.

The history of Hall of Fame elections is filled with policy changes. After holding annual elections from 1936 to ’39, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) opted to vote only at three-year intervals. They returned to annual elections in 1946, then decided on every-other-year intervals 10 years later. Annual elections returned again in 1966. The five-year-wait rule began in 1954, superseding the one-year wait that had been in effect from 1946 to 1953.

A six-member screening committee prepares the annual ballot, and selected players remain eligible for 15 years -- unless they receive less than five percent of the vote. That system keeps the ballot from becoming unwieldy and makes it easier for voters to choose up to 10 candidates per year. Many writers, however, select only a few top choices and leave the remainder of their ballots blank. Electors must have covered major-league baseball for at least 10 years.

Various special committees have also been given the power to enshrine baseball personalities. They were the Centennial Commission of 1937 and ’38, Old Timers Committee of 1939 to 1949, Negro Leagues Committee of 1971 to 1977, and current Veterans Committee, created in 1953. The Veterans Committee considers players retired at least 23 years who received at least 100 votes from the BBWAA, and can enshrine managers, umpires, or executives but is permitted to name only one nonplayer per year.

It usually chooses no more than two or three candidates annually but has named as many as seven in a single voting session (1971). To be elected by the committee, a manager, umpire, or executive must be retired five years or be six months past his 65th birthday (a rule passed for Casey Stengel in 1966).

Hitting 500 homers, collecting 3,000 hits, or winning 300 games does not produce an automatic ticket to Cooperstown. In fact, there is no statistical guideline. Voting baseball writers are instructed to judge each candidate on ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the team or teams on which he played -- as well as to baseball in general.

Indeed, only the true elite are inducted into the Hall of Fame. For the complete list, go to the next page.

List of Baseball Hall of Fame Members

Here is the complete list of people who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

Hank Aaron
Joe DiMaggioMike KellyJackie Robinson
Grover Alexander
Larry DobyHarmon KillebrewWilbert Robinson
Walter Alston
Bobby Doerr Ralph Kiner Bullet Joe Rogan
Sparky Anderson Don Drysdale Chuck Klein Edd Roush
Cap Anson
Hugh Duffy Bill Klem Red Ruffing
Luis Aparicio
Leo Durocher Sandy Koufax Amos Rusie
Luke Appling
Dennis Eckersley Nap Lajoie Babe Ruth
Richie Ashburn Billy Evans Kenesaw Mountain Landis Nolan Ryan
Earl Averill Johnny Evers Tommy Lasorda Ryne Sandberg
Home Run Baker Buck EwingTony Lazzeri Louis Santop
Dave Bancroft Red Faber Bob LemonRay Schalk
Ernie Banks Bob Feller Buck Leonard Mike Schmidt
Al Barlick Rick Ferrell Fred Lindstrom Red Schoendienst
Ed Barrow Rollie Fingers Pop Lloyd Tom Seaver
Jake Beckley Carlton Fisk Ernie Lombardi Frank Selee
Cool Papa Bell Elmer Flick Al Lopez Joe Sewell
Johnny Bench Whitey Ford Ted Lyons Al Simmons
Chief Bender Bill Foster Connie Mack George Sisler
Yogi Berra
Rube Foster Biz MackeyEnos Slaughter
Wade Boggs Nellie Fox Larry MacPhailHilton Smith
Jim Bottomley Jimmie Foxx Lee MacPhail Ozzie Smith
Lou Boudreau Ford Frick Effa Manley Duke Snider
Roger Bresnahan Frankie Frisch Mickey Mantle Warren Spahn
George Brett Pud Galvin Heinie ManushAl Spalding
Lou Brock Lou Gehrig Rabbit Maranville Tris Speaker
Dan Brouthers Charlie Gehringer Juan Marichal Willie Stargell
Ray Brown Bob Gibson Rube Marquard Turkey Stearnes
Three Finger Brown Josh Gibson Eddie Mathews Casey Stengel
Willard Brown Warren Giles Christy MathewsonBruce Sutter
Morgan Bulkeley Lefty Gomez Willie Mays Mule Suttles
Jim Bunning Goose Goslin Bill Mazeroski Don Sutton
Jesse Burkett Frank Grant
Joe McCarthy Ben Taylor
Roy Campanella Hank Greenberg Tommy McCarthy Bill Terry
Rod Carew Clark Griffith Willie McCoveySam Thompson
Max Carey Burleigh Grimes Joe McGinnity Joe Tinker
Steve Carlton Lefty GroveBill McGowan Cristobal Torriente
Gary Carter Tony GwynnJohn McGraw Pie Traynor
Alexander Joy Cartwright Chick Hafey Bill McKechnieDazzy Vance
Orlando Cepeda Jesse Haines Bid McPhee Arky Vaughan
Henry Chadwick Billy Hamilton Joe MedwickBill Veeck
Frank Chance Ned Hanlon Jose Mendez Rube Waddell
Happy Chandler William Harridge Johnny MizeHonus Wagner
Oscar Charleston Bucky Harris Paul Molitor Bobby Wallace
Jack Chesbro Gabby Hartnett Joe MorganEd Walsh
Nestor Chylak Harry Heilmann Eddie Murray Lloyd Waner
Fred Clarke Billy Herman Stan Musial Paul Waner
John Clarkson Pete Hill Hal Newhouser Monte Ward
Roberto Clemente Harry Hooper Kid Nichols Earl Weaver
Ty Cobb Rogers Hornsby Phil Niekro George Weiss
Mickey Cochrane Waite Hoyt Jim O'Rourke Mickey Welch
Eddie Collins Cal Hubbard Mel Ott Willie Wells
Jimmy Collins Carl Hubbell Satchel Paige Zach Wheat
Earle Combs Miller HugginsJim PalmerSol White
Charles Comiskey William Hulbert Herb PennockHoyt Wilhelm
Jocko Conlan Catfish Hunter Tony Perez J.L. Wilkinson
Tom Connolly Monte Irvin Gaylord PerryBilly Williams
Roger Connor Reggie Jackson Eddie Plank Smokey Joe Williams
Andy Cooper Travis Jackson Alex PompezTed Williams
Stan Coveleski Ferguson Jenkins Cum Posey Vic Willis
Sam Crawford Hughie Jennings Kirby Puckett Hack Wilson
Joe Cronin Ban Johnson Old Hoss Radbourn Jud Wilson
Candy Cummings Judy Johnson Pee Wee Reese Dave Winfield
Kiki Cuyler Walter Johnson Sam Rice George Wright
Ray Dandridge Addie Joss Branch Rickey Harry Wright
George DavisAl Kaline Cal RipkenEarly Wynn
Leon Day Tim KeefeEppa Rixey Carl Yastrzemski
Dizzy Dean Willie Keeler Phil RizzutoTom Yawkey
Ed Delahanty George Kell Robin Roberts Cy Young
Bill Dickey Joe Kelley Brooks Robinson Ross Youngs
Martin DihigoGeorge Kelly Frank RobinsonRobin Yount

Cooperstown Lodgings

If you choose to include an overnight stay during your trip to Cooperstown, Mobil Travel Guide recommends the following conveniently located lodgings:

Cooperstown and nearby Oneda have several charming lodging options.
Courtesy of The Inn at Cooperstown
Cooperstown and nearby Oneota offer several charming
lodging options, like The Inn at Cooperstown, pictured here.



  • Cooperstown All Star Village, 4158 Hwy 23, Oneonta NY, 13820. Phone number: (607) 432-7483. Mobil Rating: 3 Stars.
  • Holiday Inn, Hwy 23 Southside, Oneonta NY, 13820. Phone number: (607) 433-2250. Mobil Rating: 2 Stars.

Restaurants in Cooperstown

A day at the National Baseball Hall of Fame is sure to make you hungry. Here are Mobil Travel Guide-rated restaurants that are located in and near Cooperstown:

Stop by one of these restaurants for a delicious meal.
Courtesy of Christopher's
After spending a day at the National Baseball Hall of Fame,
stop by a restaurant such as Christopher's for a delicious meal.


  • Pepper Mill, Hwy 28, Cooperstown, NY 13326. Phone number: (607) 547-8550. Mobil Rating: 2 Stars.


  • Sabatini's Little Italy, Hwy 28 Southside, Oneonta, NY 13820. Phone number: (607) 432-3000. Mobil Rating: 2 Stars.
  • Christopher's, Hwy 23, Oneonta, NY 13820. Phone number: (607) 432-2444. Mobil Rating: 1 Star.
  • Farmhouse, Hwy 7, Oneonta, NY 13820. Phone number: (607) 432-7374. Mobil Rating: 2 Stars.