9 things you didn’t know about the Baseball Hall of Fame
By Dan Holmes September 20, 2012
1. Charlie Hustle is there
He’s in the Museum, in fact Pete’s name and likeness can be seen all over the place. Rose is featured in the “timeline” exhibit in the sections about the Big Red Machine and the 1980 World Champion Phillies. It’s correct that Rose has been ruled ineligible by Major League Baseball, meaning his name can’t be on the Hall of Fame ballot, but that doesn’t mean Charlie Hustle can’t be shown in the Museum. In fact, it would be very hard to tell the history of baseball without including the all-time hit king.
2. Go ahead and ask anything – and we mean anything
Tucked away in the back of the Hall of Fame is the National Baseball Library. Inside the library is a reference desk manned by a staff ready to answer any baseball question you may have. Want to know who the only man was to ever pinch-hit for Hank Aaron? How about the name of the last player to get a hit at The Polo grounds in New York? What was so interesting about Stan Musial’s 3,630 hits? How many stitches are on a baseball? If you can think it up, the folks at the reference desk can look it up. They answer more than 60,000 questions each year, and that’s why the library at the Hall of Fame is where all great baseball debates go to die.
3. School is in session
The Hall of Fame is a Museum and Educational institution. They have a handful of staff members who are devoted entirely to educational programs. Every year, thousands of students visit the Museum to learn about baseball and/or American history. Electronic field trips have connected the Museum with millions of students all over the world, helping teachers use baseball to teach many subjects, like art, math, science, geography, and character education. It’s pretty cool to learn about the struggle for equality by talking about Jackie Robinson, or about physics by seeing how a curveball curves.
4. It’s difficult to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
Of all the Hall of Fames in sports, the Baseball Hall of Fame is the most exclusive. When looking at players who have been elected by the baseball writers, only 112 have earned the honor. That’s 112 out of more than 17,000 players who have put on a major league uniform. That means less than 1% (actually about 0.6%) of the players who reach the majors have been elected through the standard balloting process since 1936. It can be very difficult to get in: Joe DiMaggio didn’t make it until his third time on the ballot! That stinginess pays off – baseball fans know who’s in the Hall of Fame and they debate the merits of their favorites who aren’t in. No one really knows or cares who’s in the Hall of Fame for basketball or football.
5. The story is evolving
While the Hall of Fame strives to be the repository for baseball history, it recognizes that times change and mistakes are made. For example, when the family of Roberto Clemente explained to the Hall that his plaque presented his name incorrectly (the surname goes second in most Latin cultures), the change was made. The plaque that hangs in the gallery now reads “Roberto Clemente Walker”. Similarly, legendary pitcher Bob Feller requested that his plaque properly reflect that he had missed three years while serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Previously his plaque had read “1936-1956”. It now reads “1936-1941, 1945-1956”. The Hall of Fame wants to get things right, and for the most part they do whatever they have to do to make sure they tell the story of baseball accurately. Even if that means correcting the record.
6. Ladies are welcome!
Baseball has been an important part of the fabric of America for more than 140 years, at least. It’s not just a man’s game, it’s a game for all Americans and all fans throughout the world. The Museum recognizes the important contributions women have made to the game through the popular exhibit “Diamond Dreams”. Also, the Hall of Fame has one female member – Effa Manley. Manley was a part owner of the Newark Eagles in the Negro National League with her husband, and ran the club after his death.
7. The Hall of Fame doesn’t elect the Hall of Famers
Some people probably know this already, but there are still a surprising number of people who don’t realize that the Hall of Fame itself does not elect the Hall of Fame members. That responsibility lies with the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America). Gripe to them if you think Mark McGwire should be elected to the Hall of Fame. The Hall does have influence over the process in which veteran players and others are considered for the Hall, but they really try to stay out of the “who’s in, who’s out” debate. In fact, the debate is good for the Hall of Fame for the most part. You should also be aware that Major League Baseball determines which players are banned from the game, and thus ineligible for the Hall of Fame. So, if you think Joe Jackson should be in the Hall (read this to see why he shouldn’t), then complain to MLB.
8. You can see Babe Ruth’s bowling ball (and other strange stuff)
Yes, you can view jerseys worn by Willie Mays and Ty Cobb, and bats swung by Ted Williams and Hank Aaron, as well as balls thrown by Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax, but the Museum also holds several peculiar and delightful artifacts that will amaze and surprise you. Did you know Babe Ruth liked bowling? His bowling ball is on display. The Museum also has locks of hair, false teeth, a piano, shotguns, pieces of scoreboards and ballparks, X-rays of baseball bats, and much more – all of them with some connection to baseball.
9. It’s a little town with a big baseball problem
Okay, so this one isn’t about the Hall of Fame itself, but it’s good to know. Cooperstown is a small village (only about 3,000 year-round residents), but it’s pretty much baseball wall-to-wall. A stroll down Main Street is like walking through baseball heaven for fans of the National Pastime. There are several shops that carry baseball memorabilia, baseball cards, and apparel. Many of the restaurants are baseball-themed, and if you sit down next to the right local at the pub around the corner, you’re bound to hear a story about the legendary ballplayers who visit Cooperstown each summer.
Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.