On this day in 1936, in Cooperstown, New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame announces the election of five charter members: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
The idea of a Baseball Hall of Fame began gathering steam in 1935, when members of the Clark Foundation in Cooperstown sought to revive business and tourism after the Depression. Claiming that the Army officer Abner Doubleday, a Cooperstown native, had invented baseball in 1839, they lobbied for a new museum dedicated to baseball to be built in Cooperstown. Though the Doubleday story was later discredited, the museum plans went ahead anyway.
The five charter Hall of Fame members were elected by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). The ballots revealed that five players had received at least 75 percent of the votes cast, setting a standard for admission to the Hall of Fame that still exists today. Cobb, an astoundingly productive hitter who won nine consecutive American League batting titles from 1907 to 1915, received the most votes, appearing on 222 of the 226 ballots cast. Tying for second with 215 votes were Ruth, an ace left-handed pitcher who had smashed the league’s home run records, and Wagner, a star shortstop who won eight National League batting titles and retired with more than 3,000 hits. Mathewson, who pitched more winning games than any NL pitcher in history, received 205 votes, while Johnson, one of the game’s most powerful pitchers and career record holder for most strikeouts at the time of his retirement, received 189.
Four of the “First Five” were on hand for the official induction ceremony, which took place on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown. Cobb, Johnson, Ruth and Wagner watched as they took their place in history, along with 21 others who were elected between 1937 and 1939. The only one missing was Mathewson, who had died in October 1925. Today, selections to the Baseball Hall of Fame are still made by the BBWAA, along with the Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans, established in 1953.