First BBWAA election in 1936 produced historic ballot

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

The ballot was loaded with the most impressive array of talent ever considered by Hall of Fame voters.

After all, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had 60 years of history to consider – six decades that produced players still considered the best ever at their positions.

Still, the writers’ standards were incredibly high. And when the first Hall of Fame class was announced on Feb. 2, 1936, only five of a possible 10 modern-era players were elected.

Two-hundred twenty-six writers cast ballots, and the voters could select up to 10 names from players who starred from 1900 forward. Ty Cobb received 222 votes, the most of any candidate, earning election with 98.23 percent of the vote.

Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner received 215 votes apiece (95.13 percent), while Christy Mathewson got 205 votes (90.70 percent). Walter Johnson received 189 votes (83.62 percent) – 20 more than the 169 necessary to reach the 75-percent mark needed for induction.

Newspaper reports of the day indicated that Henry Edwards, the secretary of the BBWAA in charge of the vote tabulation committee, was “amazed” when – after Ruth and Cobb each received unanimous support on the first 100 ballots – Ruth was left off one ballot. Moments later, a ballot lacking Cobb’s name was found – also provoking an astonished response.

Both Ruth and Cobb, however, cleared the 75-percent mark with ease.

Ty Cobb, pictured above at the first Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1939, was one of the first five Hall of Famers elected. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Legendary second baseman Napoleon Lajoie came the closest to election without making it, finishing sixth with 146 votes (64.60 percent). Tris Speaker was seventh (133 votes, 58.84 percent), followed by Cy Young (111 votes, 49.11 percent), Rogers Hornsby (105 votes, 46.46 percent) and Mickey Cochrane (80 votes, 35.40 percent).

Only Hornsby and Cochrane were active players at the time of the vote, and only Cochrane was still a regular.

Lajoie, Speaker and Young were all elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, with Hornsby joining them in 1942. Cochrane was elected in 1947.

The living members of the Hall of Fame Classes of 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 pose together during the first Hall of Fame Induction in 1939. On the top row, from left: Honus Wagner, Pete Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, and Walter Johnson. Front row, from left: Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, and Cy Young. Ty Cobb, Class of 1936, wasn't present for the photo. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

For Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Mathewson and Johnson, enshrinement came on June 12, 1939, when the Hall of Fame opened its doors for the first time.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series