When the First Five Were Chosen
However, while the first five electees were technically decided on that day, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum recognizes Feb. 2, 1936 as the players’ official date of election when an Associated Press wire story was broadcast to the world via the Sunday newspapers.
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“At the Hall of Fame, we go with the date of the public release as the official date of election, not the date on which the votes were counted,” said Museum Librarian Emeritus Jim Gates. “While today’s elections are pretty straightforward, looking back we don’t always know the days that the BBWAA counted their votes. So it’s easier to track and confirm the public release of the vote based on newspaper datelines.
Indeed Cobb, who held baseball’s all-time hits record for decades and still owns the highest career batting average, received 222 of the 226 votes. Meanwhile Babe Ruth, perhaps the most famous and beloved baseball player in history, fell 11 votes short of unanimity – a total that stunned those in the counting room.
“The committee was amazed,” the Associated Press reported. “Vote counting stopped momentarily for a discussion of how anyone could leave the great Ruth off the list of immortals. The same happened when Cobb missed his first vote.”
Either way, the votes cast in 1936 – or perhaps the votes not cast – ignited a decades-long debate over whether certain candidates should be unanimous choices for the Hall of Fame – something that has never happened. But, as this look back through history shows, healthy argument and debate have made this one of the most relevant elections in America, ever since the very first ballots were cast.
Matt Kelly was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum