How the Baseball Hall of Fame Works

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.