TIME Sports

How the Baseball Hall of Fame Was Founded

Baseball Game at Doubleday Field. ca. 1940, Cooperstown, New York, USA, Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, N.Y., Cavalcade of Baseball, June 12, 1939-2 On this field in 1839 was played the first game of Baseball, invented by Major General Abner Doubleday of Ci
UniversalImagesGroup / Getty Images Baseball Game at Doubleday Field. 1939, Cooperstown, N.Y.

The building was meant to mark baseball's 100th birthday

On Wednesday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce the inductees for the 2016 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The new additions will join a list that has been growing since Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson made up the first class, in 1936.

But it was not until 1939 that the Hall of Fame would acquire its physical location, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Abner Doubleday’s supposed—but already-dubious—invention of the sport in Cooperstown, N.Y., as TIME explained in the lead-up to that centennial year:

It was not until 1907, 14 years after General Doubleday’s death, that a research committee definitely established Cooperstown as the birthplace of baseball. Civic-proud Cooperstownians, whose pastoral background had already been immortalized as the home town and nameplace of James Fenimore Cooper, bought the original baseball field, spent $25,000 to transform it into a modern ball park and public playground, named it Doubleday field. Three years ago [in 1935], in anticipation of the 100th birthday of the game, baseball bigwigs and benefactors joined hands to make Cooperstown a bigger, better shrine. To preserve its treasures, baseball sentimentalists decided to build an imposing three-story colonial brick museum. To immortalize its heroes, baseball administrators voted to establish therein a Baseball Hall of Fame —to take the form of bronze plaques placed around the first floor exhibition hall…

There are two ways to become an Immortal: 1) election by a 75% vote of the members of the Baseball Writers Association, who have been given the task of choosing players whose careers ended some time between 1900 and the year of election; 2) selection by a committee of oldsters, who choose 19th Century heroes.

The “oldsters” aren’t around anymore, but the 75% rule is still in effect for inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

So, as TIME’s Richard Corliss put it many decades later, “the Hall of Fame, like the Miss America Pageant or the Mount Rushmore sculptures, was essentially a Chamber of Commerce inspiration to lure tourists.”

“But,” he continued, “when the Hall opened in 1939, it became a secular shrine, the Lourdes of baseball. It still is.”

Read the full story from 1938, here in the TIME Vault: Immortals

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