The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, located at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, New York, is a museum operated by private interests serving as the central point for the study of the history of baseball in the United States and beyond, the display of baseball-related artifacts and exhibits, and the honoring of persons who have excelled in playing, managing, and serving the sport. The Hall's motto is "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations".
The word Cooperstown is often used as shorthand (or a metonym) for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, just as the expression "Hall of Fame" is understood to mean the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jeff Idelson is the acting president since March 25, 2008, when Dale Petroskey was forced to resign for "fail[ing] to exercise proper fiduciary responsibility" while making "judgments that were not in the best interest of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum."
The Hall of Fame was dedicated on June 12 1939 by Lee Ferrick Andrews, grandson of Edward Clark, who was a founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Stephen C. Clark was owner of a local hotel and sought to bring tourists to Cooperstown, which had been suffered economically when the Great Depression significantly reduced the local tourist trade and the Prohibition devastated the local hops industry. The erroneous claim that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown was instrumental in the early marketing of the Hall.
Major League Baseball, seeing the marketing opportunity, soon began cooperating with the Hall of Fame in promotion and the acquisition of artifacts for display.
Recent improvements to the museum include an $8 million library and research facility that opened in 1994, and other renovations which were completed in spring 2005.
In 2002, Baseball As America was launched, a traveling exhibit that toured ten American museums over six years. The Hall of Fame has also sponsored educational programming on the Internet to bring the Hall of Fame to schoolchildren who might not see it. In January 2006, the Hall of Fame also announced a partnership with Citgo to launch a traveling exhibit about Latin America's contributions to baseball. It is also an annual presence at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, as it receives space at the Fest.
Among baseball fans, "Hall of Fame" means not only the museum and facility in Cooperstown, but the pantheon of players, managers
, executives, and pioneers who have been enshrined in the Hall. The first five men elected were superstars Ty Cobb
, Babe Ruth
, Honus Wagner
, Christy Mathewson
and Walter Johnson
, named in 1936. As of January 2008, 286 individuals had been elected to the Hall of Fame, including 228 players, 19 managers (many of whom also played), 8 umpires, and 31 builders, executives, and organizers. In addition to honoring Hall of Fame inductees, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has presented 30 men with the Ford C. Frick Award
for excellence in broadcasting,
and 57 with the J. G. Taylor Spink Award
for excellence in baseball writing.
While Frick and Spink Award honorees are not members of the Hall of Fame, they are recognized in an exhibit in the Hall of Fame's library.
Players are currently inducted into the Hall of Fame through election by either the Baseball Writers Association of America (or BBWAA), or the Veterans Committee, which is now composed of living Hall of Famers; additional special committees, some including recipients of the two major awards, are also regularly formed to make selections. Five years after retirement, any player with 10 years of major league experience who passes a screening committee (which removes from consideration players of clearly lesser qualification) is eligible to be elected by BBWAA members with 10 years' membership or more. From a final ballot typically including 25–40 candidates, each writer may vote for up to 10 players; until the late 1950s, voters were advised to cast votes for the maximum 10 candidates. Any player named on 75% or more of all ballots cast is elected. A player who is named on fewer than 5% of ballots is dropped from future elections. In some instances, the screening committee had restored their names to later ballots, but in the mid-1990s, dropped players were made permanently ineligible for Hall of Fame consideration, even by the Veterans Committee. A 2001 change in the election procedures restored the eligibility of these dropped players; while their names will not appear on future BBWAA ballots, they may be considered by the Veterans Committee.
Under special circumstances, certain players may be deemed eligible for induction even though they have not met all requirements. This resulted in the induction of Addie Joss, who was elected in 1978 despite only playing in nine seasons due to his death from meningitis. Additionally, if an otherwise eligible player dies before his fifth year of retirement, then that player may be placed on the ballot at the first election at least six months after his death. Roberto Clemente's induction in 1973 set the precedent when the writers chose to put him up for consideration after his death on New Year's Eve, 1972.
The five-year waiting period was established in 1954 after an evolutionary process. In 1936 all players were eligible, including active ones. From the 1937 election until the 1945 election, there was no waiting period, so any retired player was eligible, but writers were discouraged from voting for current major leaguers. Since there was no formal rule preventing a writer from casting a ballot for an active player, the scribes did not always comply with the informal guideline; Joe DiMaggio received a vote in 1945, for example. From the 1946 election until the 1954 election, an official one-year waiting period was in effect. (DiMaggio, for example, retired after the 1951 season and was first eligible in the 1953 election.) The modern rule establishing a wait of five years was passed in 1954, although an exception was made for Joe DiMaggio because of his high level of previous support, thus permitting him to be elected within four years of his retirement. Contrary to popular belief, no formal exception was made for Lou Gehrig, other than to hold a special one-man election for him. There was no waiting period at that time and Gehrig met all other qualifications, so he would have been eligible for the next regular election after he retired during the 1939 season, but the BBWAA decided to hold a special election at the 1939 Winter Meetings in Cincinnati, specifically to elect Gehrig (most likely because it was known that he was terminally ill, making it uncertain that he would live long enough to see another election). Nobody else was on that ballot, and the numerical results have never been made public. Since no elections were held in 1940 or 1941, the special election permitted Gehrig to enter the Hall while still alive.
If a player fails to be elected by the BBWAA within 20 years of his retirement from active play, he may be selected by the Veterans Committee, which now votes every odd-numbered year. However, only players whose careers began in 1943 or later will be eligible for election by the main Veterans Committee, in accordance with changes to the voting process for that body instituted in July 2007. These changes also established three separate committees to select other figures:
- One committee votes on managers and umpires for induction in every even-numbered year. The first vote by this committee was conducted in 2007 for induction in 2008.
- One committee votes on executives and builders for induction in every even-numbered year. This committee also conducted its first vote in 2007 for induction in 2008.
- One committee will vote every five years on players whose careers began in 1942 or earlier. It will conduct its first vote as part of the election process for induction in 2009.
Players of the Negro Leagues have also been considered at various times, beginning in 1971. In 2005 the Hall completed a study on African American players between the late 19th century and the integration of the major leagues in 1947, and conducted a special election for such players in February 2006; seventeen figures from the Negro Leagues were chosen in that election, in addition to the eighteen previously selected.
Predictably, the selection process catalyzes endless debate among baseball fans over the merits of various candidates. Even players already elected remain for years the subjects of discussions as to whether their elections were deserved or in error. For example, Bill James' book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? goes into detail about who he believes does and does not belong in the Hall of Fame.
According to the Hall of Fame, approximately 350,000 visitors enter the museum each year, and the running total has surpassed 14 million. These visitors see only a fraction of its 35,000 artifacts, 2.6 million library items (such as newspaper clippings and photos) and 130,000 baseball cards. A quick rundown of what there is to see at the museum follows.
- Baseball at the Movies houses baseball movie memorabilia while a screen shows footage from those movies.
- The Bullpen Theater is the site of daily programming at the museum (trivia games, book discussions, etc.) and is decorated with pictures of famous relief pitchers.
- The Halper Gallery contains rotating exhibits.
- Induction Row contains artifacts pertinent to the most recent inductees and photos of past Hall of Fame Weekends.
- The Perez-Steele Art Gallery features art of all media related to baseball.
- The Plaque Gallery, the most recognizable site at the museum, contains induction plaques of all members.
- The Sandlot Kids Clubhouse has various interactive displays for young children.
- Scribes and Mikemen honors Spink and Frick winners with a headshot display and has artifacts related to baseball writing and broadcasting.
- The Grandstand Theater features a 12 minute multimedia film. The 200 seat theater, complete with replica stadium seats, is decorated to resemble old Comiskey Park.
- The Game is the major feature of the second floor. It is where the most artifacts are displayed. The Game is set up in a timeline format, starting with baseball's beginnings and culminating with the game we know today. There are several offshoots of this meandering timeline:
- The Today's Game exhibit is built like a baseball clubhouse, with 30 glass-enclosed locker stalls, one for each Major League franchise. In each stall there is a jersey and other items from the designated big league team, along with a brief team history. A center display case holds objects donated to the Hall of Fame from the past year or two. Fans can also look into a room designed to look like a manager's office. Outside is a display case with rotating artifacts. Currently the space is devoted to the World Baseball Classic.
- Autumn Glory is devoted to post-season baseball and has, among other artifacts, replicas of World Series rings.
- An Education Gallery hosts school groups and, in the summer, presentations about artifacts from the museum's collection. In the gallery foyer is a TV that continually plays baseball bloopers and the popular Abbott and Costello routine "Who's on First?" and a display case with rotating exhibits.
- The Records Room has charts showing active and all-time leaders in various baseball statistical categories. The statistics charts are posted on the walls, leaving the center space for other purposes:
- BBWAA awards: Replicas of various awards distributed by the BBWAA at the end of each season, along with a list of past winners.
- A case dedicated to Ichiro Suzuki setting the major league record for base hits in a single season, with 262 in 2004.
- A case full of World Series Rings from prior years from the 1900s to present.
- An inductee database touch-screen computer with statistics for every inductee.
- Programs from every World Series.
- Sacred Ground is the newest museum section, opened after the 2003–05 renovation. It is devoted entirely to ballparks and everything about them, especially the fan experience and the business of a ballpark. The centerpiece is a computer tour of Boston's old South End Grounds. Currently the Hall is working on adding Comiskey Park and Ebbets Field to the computer tour.
The most lasting controversy in Hall of Fame elections has been the actions and composition of the Veterans Committee
established in 1953. While few of the BBWAA selections have been particularly controversial, prior to its 2001 restructuring the Veterans Committee had, at times, seemed to pass over the most worthy candidates in order to enshrine contemporaries and teammates of the committee members.
In 2001, the Veterans Committee was reformed to comprise the living Hall of Fame members and other honorees. The revamped Committee held three elections—in 2003 and 2007 for both players and non-players, and in 2005 for players only. No individual was elected in that time, sparking criticism among some observers who expressed doubt whether the new Veterans Committee would ever elect a player. The Committee members – most of whom were Hall members – were accused of being reluctant to elect new candidates in the hope of heightening the value of their own selection. After no one was selected for the third consecutive election in 2007, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt noted, "The same thing happens every year. The current members want to preserve the prestige as much as possible, and are unwilling to open the doors." In 2007, the committee and its selection processes were again reorganized; the main committee now includes all living members of the Hall, and will vote on a reduced number of candidates from among players whose careers began in 1943 or later. Separate committees, including sportswriters and broadcasters, will select umpires, managers and executives, as well as players from earlier eras.
In the first election to be held under the 2007 revisions, two managers and three executives were elected in December 2007 as part of the 2008 election process. The next Veterans Committee elections will be held in 2009, with both the main committee and the panel for pre-World War II players voting. The main committee will vote in odd-numbered years, while the pre-WWII panel will vote every five years.
Sale of historic items
A further controversy erupted in 1972, when it emerged that some historic items given to the Hall had been sold on the collectibles market. It subsequently transpired that these had been lent to the Baseball Commissioner
's Office, from where they had been taken and sold to offset personal financial problems by an assistant to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn
, possibly without verifying their ownership. Under pressure from the New York Attorney General, the Commissioner's Office made reparations, but damage had been done to the Hall of Fame's reputation.
Non-induction of banned players
An ongoing controversy facing the Hall of Fame is that of the status of Shoeless Joe Jackson
and Pete Rose
. Jackson and Rose were both banned from baseball for life for actions related to gambling on their own teams—Jackson was determined to have cooperated with those who conspired to lose the 1919 World Series
on purpose, and Rose voluntarily accepted a permanent spot on the ineligible list in return for MLB's promise to make no official finding in relation to alleged betting on the Cincinnati Reds
when he was their manager in the 1980s. (Baseball's Rule 21, prominently posted in every clubhouse locker room, mandates permanent banishment from the sport for having a gambling interest of any sort on a game in which a player or manager is directly involved.) While Jackson and Rose had outstanding playing careers that would usually merit Hall of Fame induction, the Hall of Fame disallows election of anyone on the permanent suspension list. (Many others have been permanently suspended, but none have Hall of Fame qualifications on the level of Jackson or Rose. A select few, such as Hal Chase
and Eddie Cicotte
, would be reasonable candidates had they not been barred.) Baseball fans are deeply split on the issue of whether these two should be exonerated or remain banned. Writer Bill James
, though he advocates Rose eventually making it into the Hall of Fame, compared the people who want to put Jackson in the Hall of Fame to "those women who show up at murder trials wanting to marry the cute murderer.
Players with multiple teams
The Hall has also recently changed its stance regarding team membership. Although all the teams for which a player played are usually listed in the text of the plaque, most are depicted wearing the cap of one specific team. The rules of the Hall indicate that the player will be depicted wearing the cap of his "primary" team. Although the Hall always had the final decision-making power regarding which cap would appear, for many years the Hall deferred to the wishes of players for whom more than one team could fit the description of "primary" team, and allowed each player in that category to choose the cap which would appear on his plaque. Some examples of honorees associated with multiple teams include the following:
- Catfish Hunter: When elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987, he could not choose between either of the teams for which he played — the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees — as he had been successful with both teams. Hunter's plaque shows him wearing a cap without a logo.
- Nolan Ryan: Born and raised in Texas, Ryan entered the Hall in 1999 wearing a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque, although he spent only five seasons with the Rangers, and had longer and more successful tenures with the Astros (nine seasons, 1980–88) and Angels (eight seasons, 1972–79). Ryan's only championship was as a member of the Mets in 1969. Ryan finished his career with the Rangers, reaching his 5000th strikeout and 300th win, and throwing the last two of his record-setting seven career no-hitters.
- Reggie Jackson: Jackson chose a New York Yankees cap over an Oakland A's cap. As a member of the Kansas City/Oakland A's, Jackson played ten seasons (1967–75, '87), winning three World Series (1972, 1973, 1974) and the 1973 AL MVP Award. While he played just five years in New York (1977-81), winning two World Series (1977-78), Jackson's crowning achievement came as a Yankee, when he hit three home runs on three consecutive pitches in the decisive Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.
- Carlton Fisk: Fisk went into the hall with a Boston Red Sox cap on his plaque in 2000 despite playing with the Chicago White Sox longer and posting more significant numbers with the White Sox. Fisk's choice of the Red Sox was likely because of Fisk being a New England native as well as his famous walk-off home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series with which he is most associated.
In 2001, the Hall of Fame decided to change the policy on cap logo selection, given rumors that some teams were offering compensation such as number retirement, money or organizational jobs in exchange for the cap designation. (For example, though Wade Boggs denied the claims, some media reports had said that his contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays required Boggs to request depiction in the Hall of Fame as a Devil Ray).
Although the decision-making process would be a mutual responsibility, the Hall, not the players, would have the final say in such matters. Newly-elected members affected by the change include the following:
- Gary Carter: Inducted in 2003, Carter was the first player to be affected by the new policy. Carter won his only championship with the 1986 New York Mets, and wanted his induction plaque to depict him wearing a Mets cap, even though he had spent twelve years (1974–84, 1992) with the Montreal Expos as opposed to five (1985–89) with the Mets. The Hall of Fame decided that his plaque would instead show Carter with an Expos cap.
- Wade Boggs: Boggs's only championship was as a member of the 1996 New York Yankees, for whom he played from 1993–97, but his best career numbers were posted during his eleven years (1982–92) wearing the Boston Red Sox uniform. Boggs would eventually be depicted wearing a Boston cap for his 2005 induction, despite his acrimonious relationship with Red Sox management.
Notes and references