The inaugural Hall of Fame election of 1936 considered players labeled as “moderns,” or candidates whose careers began after 1900. A total of 226 ballots were cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, with 170 votes needed for election. Ballots needed to be postmarked by Jan. 25, 1936, and started trickling in via the U.S. mail.
By Wednesday, Jan. 29, all of the votes had been received, and an official Baseball Writers’ Association of America tally sheet from the Hall of Fame Library Archive lists the final total from that day. The selection committee chose, in 1936, the baseball greats Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.
Three years later, the Hall of Fame building officially opened on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown as all of baseball paused to honor what was called “Baseball’s Centennial”, the 100th year anniversary of Doubleday’s mythical first day of baseball in Cooperstown, and as the first four Hall of Fame classes were inducted.
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.
When the world learned about the election of the first class, people were elated. There was, however, also a hint of bewilderment upon further examination of the vote totals, sparking a discussion that has been a hallmark of virtually every Hall of Fame election held over the next 80 years and counting.