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Complete History of the Baseball Hall of Fame

May 11, 2018 8 min read

Baseball Hall of Fame

If you're anything like most sports memorabilia fans of Major League Baseball, you know the Baseball Hall of Fame is the promised land for fans and players alike.

Players, managers, and coaches strive to leave their mark on baseball history, which may grant them the opportunity to be immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not to mention that, fans gravitate toward Cooperstown, NY as a premier vacation destination.

However, when did the Baseball Hall of Fame come into existence? Who established the beloved past-times holy land?

Take a jog with us as we round the bases on the rich history baseball fans from around the world come to experience.

What Exactly is the Baseball Hall of Fame?



 Mickey Mantle Hall of Fame Sports Memorabilia



Being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is the oldest and most respected institution in American sports, is the biggest achievement that a MLB player can hope for in his career.

The term "Hall of Fame" was first mentioned in the early 1900s in Baseball Magazine as a way to list the pitchers that had thrown at least one no-hit game, but the meaning changed when the sport decided to honor its top performers.

Today, the Baseball Hall of Fame is made up of a gallery of plaques, an attached baseball museum, and even a library full of baseball literature.

Making your way through the Hall of Fame gives you answers to some of the most interesting and entertaining questions about America's pastime.

Which player had the most hits in their career? Who has stolen the most bases since baseball got its start? What are the records that remain unbroken?

Making a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame and viewing all of the accumulated sports memorabilia, is exciting for children and adults alike.  Whether they've been a fan for decades, or just attended their first game last week, there is something for everyone at Cooperstown.

Let's take a look at how this amazing institution got its start.

The Founding of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball has always been more enamored with statistics than any other sport. Go to any baseball event and you'll hear alphabetical codes being thrown around. Fans speak in a language that includes ERA, RBI, WHIP, and WAR.  Since the advent of “Moneyball,” there are even more stats and acronyms that get thrown around, it is almost impossible to keep up with.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is living proof of that love of statistical talk, which got its start with legendary baseball writer, Henry Chadwick.

Chadwick spent 45 years working as a journalist with the Brooklyn Eagle, during which time he came up with a scorekeeping system and made some game-defining changes as the chairman of an early baseball rules committee.

He is the only writer among more than 200 baseball legends to be honored by having a plaque hanging on the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Chadwick was indirectly responsible for the choice of its location in the small town of Cooperstown, New York.

Arguing for the Patriotic Beginnings of Baseball


Chadwick also edited Spalding's Official Baseball Guide in 1903. He used that publication to share with the world the fact that baseball was directly descended from the British game of rounders, which he had played while growing up in England.

The owner of the publication, Albert G. Spalding, was a former pitcher and team manager, and he attempted to disprove Chadwick's claim by immediately printing a rebuttal that insisted that baseball was actually developed from One Old Cat, a game that was played by colonial Americans.

A special commission was also called by Spalding to settle the dispute, with seven members that he handpicked for his purposes. Everyone on the commission was determined to establish baseball as a unique to America and separate from any possible British origins.

Still feeling slighted from being the punchline of a bad joke, and always looking to grow his sporting-goods business, Spalding believed the commission was a way he could kill two birds with one stone. His panel relied solely on a letter they had obtained from a former Cooperstown townsfolk Abner Graves, who at the time was a mining engineer in Denver. In the letter, Graves declared himself a witness to Abner Doubleday interrupting a game of marbles that took place behind a shop in town. Then sketching what resembled a diamond shape in the dirt behind a local shop and explaining the rules of his game, which he dubbed baseball.

The commission needed no further evidence to validate Spalding's scheme, on December 30th, 1907 their final report credited Abner Doubleday with the creation of baseball in Cooperstown, New York 1839. They reasoned that according to the best evidence found over a 3-year span, baseball had no relation to any game from foreign lands and was, therefore, American.

This infuriated Chadwick and others. A note that was published in the 1908 Spalding Official Baseball Guide stated "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." In what may be the world's greatest punchline, the game grew into a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

However, before the end of the century historians finally settled the dispute between Spalding and Cartwright. They determined that baseball had only distinguished itself from rounders after its rules were modified by Cartwright's New York Knickerbockers in 1845. Babe Ruth Sports Memorabilia

Cartwright's rules were introduced seven years after the Doubleday debacle, while he was a bank teller in New York. His efforts still stand today since he was the first to suggest that each team have nine players, three outs per inning, batting orders, and the distance between bases be equal apart.

Each game containing nine-innings came after Cartwright's Knickerbockers gave up twenty-one runs in four innings in an embarrassing loss to the New York Nine.

That game was played on June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, New Jersey where many believe is the true birthplace of baseball, at the Elysian Fields. Cooperstown has been noted by Hall of Fame Officials as the catalyst of the game's popularity rather than its origin.

Twelve years after the 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.

Reggie Jackson Signed Baseball MemorabiliaThat 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 leaped 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 with baseball memorabilia was left to baseball. Chipper Jones Baseball Memorabilia

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 several 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 baseball memorabilia treasures the shrine holds include the shoes of Shoeless Joe Jackson (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 sports memorabilia documents of the game dating back to 1840. Cal Ripken Jr Signed Sports Memorabilia

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.

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Are you interested in more sports memorabilia now that you've learned the fascinating history of the Baseball Hall of Fame?

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