Dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

According to the “romantic” version of the origins of the game of baseball, in 1839 Abner Doubleday, then a West Point cadet, set up the first baseball diamond in Cooperstown, New York, and thereby invented the game. As that event’s one hundredth anniversary approached, baseball promoters attempted to increase interest in the sport by establishing a baseball hall of fame and museum, which was formally dedicated in 1939.

Summary of Event

Baseball’s origins have always been controversial, but the prevailing belief is that it evolved from the British game of rounders. Henry Chadwick, the New York sportswriter noted for establishing both the first box score and the rules of the game in the mid-nineteenth century, was among the most noted advocates of this theory. However, in the early 1900’s, Albert Goodwill Spalding, former player and founder of one of the early sporting businesses, argued that baseball was a purely American sport. His notoriety, combined with the forcefulness of his argument, resulted in the creation of a commission to determine baseball’s origin. In 1905, a commission of seven men under the direction of A. G. Mills, former league president and officer in the Civil War, spent three years on the study. [kw]Dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame (June 12, 1939) [kw]Baseball Hall of Fame, Dedication of the (June 12, 1939) [kw]Hall of Fame, Dedication of the Baseball (June 12, 1939) Sports;baseball Baseball;hall of fame National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Mills Commission [g]United States;June 12, 1939: Dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame[10020] [c]Sports;June 12, 1939: Dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame[10020] [c]Organizations and institutions;June 12, 1939: Dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame[10020] Doubleday, Abner Mills, A. G. Graves, Abner Spalding, Albert Goodwill Frick, Ford Christopher Landis, Kenesaw Mountain Chadwick, Henry

Using primarily the testimony of Abner Graves, a retired Denver mining engineer and a former resident of Cooperstown, New York, the commission concluded that baseball had originated in Cooperstown. Graves testified that he had been present when, in 1839, a schoolmate named Abner Doubleday laid out the game on a local field. The commission reported its findings on December 30, 1907, concluding that Doubleday had invented baseball in Cooperstown in 1839. The discovery of an aged baseball hidden in an old trunk in a nearby town in 1934 lent credence to the earlier report. The “Doubleday ball” was implied to have been one of the first baseballs used by Doubleday.

The Mills Commission’s report was immediately controversial, particularly in view of the evidence that games similar to baseball had been played much earlier than 1839. It was also noteworthy that Graves would have been only five years old at the time he allegedly observed Doubleday, and that the two could not have been schoolmates. At the least, however, the Mills Commission set in motion events that resulted in excitement and public awareness of the game.

In 1935, with the one hundredth anniversary of the game approaching, baseball’s most powerful leaders began to discuss a way to commemorate the game. Ford Christopher Frick, president of the National League, proposed to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that a hall of fame be established to honor the game’s outstanding participants.

Cooperstown was the logical choice for the hall’s site. In 1932, the significance of the Mills report led the people of Cooperstown to purchase the alleged site on which Doubleday played, and they built a grandstand and fence in the area. The field was dedicated in 1935. Since the town now owned the Doubleday ball, the town’s trustees convinced Frick that land adjacent to the field should be the site of the new hall of fame and museum. At the time, the Doubleday ball was stored at the National Baseball Museum, Inc., which was directed by Alexander Cleland and was little more than an upstairs room in the local Village Club. In addition to the ball, the museum contained a number of trophies and artifacts donated by various notable figures.

In 1936, organized baseball donated $100,000 to begin building a larger and more suitable headquarters for the hall and the library that would accompany it. A Cooperstown architect, Frank Whiting, Whiting, Frank was selected to design the building. The chosen site, adjacent to Doubleday Field, was the former Leo Block building on Main Street, right in the middle of downtown. Plans were completed by July, 1937.

The first election, held in 1936, utilized members of the Baseball Writers Association of America Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), a professional association of baseball journalists, as voters. A total of 226 votes were cast, and 75 percent approval was required for an individual’s election to the hall. The outcome of the voting, which was announced January 29, 1936, resulted in the induction of five retired players: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson (who had died in 1925). Plaques commemorating all of these players were hung in the hall. Subsequent elections prior to the hall’s dedication created a Veterans Committee, which in 1937 consisted of Commissioner Landis, the two league presidents, and three others. The committee members elected five “builders of baseball” to the hall: George Wright, Morgan Bulkeley, Ban Johnson, John McGraw, and Connie Mack. Although the original idea was that election would be determined by baseball writers, complaints that the game’s early pioneers and players were being overlooked resulted in a semipermanent Veterans Committee.

The new hall’s dedication was not the only event held to commemorate the anniversary of baseball in 1939. Ball games around the country were played according to 1839 rules, although ballplayers dressed in contemporary uniforms. In Cooperstown alone, twenty-seven baseball days were staged, and players from various colleges and organizations played on Doubleday Field.

The hall’s official dedication took place on June 12, 1939. Landis, Frick, American League president Will Harridge, Harridge, Will and the National Association (for minor-league teams) president William Branham cut a ribbon that officially opened the building to the public. Of the twenty-five inductees, the eleven who were still living all attended the ceremony, and all but Ty Cobb posed for what became a famous photograph (Cobb arrived too late to be included in the picture). In commemoration of the event, a postage stamp was also issued; it depicted a painting of children playing baseball. In addition to the induction ceremonies, retired players were divided into teams and played an exhibition game for fans, many of whom had never had the opportunity to see those players in their prime. The Hall of Fame game became an annual ritual, with major-league teams playing an exhibition game each year on the day of induction.

Significance

In reality, baseball did not originate with Doubleday, and the rules were not first established in Cooperstown. If any single person could be labeled the “father of baseball,” it would be Henry Chadwick. As a writer and promoter of the sport, Chadwick established many of the early rules by which the game was played. For his contributions, Chadwick himself was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938.

Nevertheless, Cooperstown became the ultimate destination for baseball fans. The Hall of Fame founders certainly achieved their two primary goals: placing Cooperstown on the map and honoring those who elevated baseball to the status of the “national pastime.” The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was not only the first such sporting commemorative site, but it also remains the most well known. Most major sports now have their own halls of fame, but few of the locations of these halls are as familiar to sports fans as Cooperstown.

The size and goals of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum have evolved over the decades, as the histories of women’s baseball, the Negro Leagues, and esoteric memorabilia have been recognized. Arguments have persisted concerning who should be inducted and, sometimes, who should not have been. Each year, fans await the list of new inductees that is announced in early winter, and thousands attend the induction ceremonies to honor their heroes. Sports;baseball Baseball;hall of fame National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Mills Commission

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">James, Bill. Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Noted for his use of statistics in analysis of baseball strategy, the author compares the pros and cons of hall members as well as recounts the history of the museum.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levine, Peter. A. G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Spalding was one of the founders of modern baseball. Establishment of the Mills Commission was due in large part to his arguments for the American origin of the game.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Ken. Baseball’s Hall of Fame. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1977. One of the first books written on the subject of the early history of the hall. Somewhat dated, but still provides insight into the history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vail, James. The Road to Cooperstown. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. The author discusses the mechanisms for induction into the hall, as well as a comparison of those who have been selected.

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