“The amazement in this corner is not the ballots that these leaders received but the gap where X failed to mark the spot,” wrote columnist John Kieran in the Feb. 4, 1936 edition of The New York Times. “It remains a mystery that any observer of modern diamond activities could list his version of the ten outstanding baseball figures and have Ty Cobb nowhere at all in the group. Four voters accomplished that amazing feat.”
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 baseball 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 baseball 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.
To mark the occasion, Time Magazine wrote: “The world will little note nor long remember what (Doubleday) did at Gettysburg, but it can never forget what he did at Cooperstown.”
In the years since, The Doubleday Myth has been refuted. Doubleday himself was at West Point in 1839. Yet The Myth has become strong enough that the facts alone do not deter the spirit of Cooperstown.
In 1937, Cy Young – elected to the Hall of Fame that year in the second year of voting – generously donated several artifacts, including the 1908 ball from his 500th win and the 1911 uniform he wore with the Boston Braves. Young’s donations generated new offers from other players as well as fans.