June 12–1939 The Greatest Date in Hall of Fame History
As I get ready to attend my fourteenth induction ceremony on July 30,2017, I decided to write about the opening of the Hall of Fame . Despite all the controversy surrounding Abner Doubleday and “The Doubleday Myth,” Major League Baseball (MLB) did a lot beforehand to honor the centennial of the founding of baseball in Cooperstown in 1839 by forming a “Cavalcade of Baseball,” several months before to let everybody know about the opening of The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on June 12, 1939. MLB gave itself a two day holiday to commemorate the celebration on June 11th and June 12th. Congress also made reference to June 12th , as a Centennial Special Train came up to Cooperstown from Grand Central Station in New York City on June 12th.
It was a beautiful, cloudless day as 15,000 people lined up all along Main Street to see the special stage that was set up in front of the entrance to the Hall of Fame in order to see the 11 living Hall of Famers, who had been chosen by the Baseball Writers (BBWAA) and the Old Timers Committee during the 1936 through 1939 elections. Prior to each of the Hall of Famers speaking , the United States Post Office had been opened early Monday (June 12) morning, so that Jim Farley, the Postmaster General and postal employees could sell special-issued postcards with special three cent stamps with the Cooperstown Postmark on each one. They sold 450,000 copies to start an annual tradition that takes place each year on induction day.
However, the one problem the Hall of Fame had as the living Hall of Famers spoke, was that the one inductee who had garnered the most votes from the BBWAA was missing! Ty Cobb got there after the ceremony had started so that he wasn’t a part of the iconic group picture that was taken of the other 10 living members. Cobb originally said that one of his kids had gotten sick on his automobile trip from his home in California as the reason why he was late. Years later he told the real reason why he wasn’t there and that was because he didn’t want to be photographed with Commissioner Landis, who Cobb felt hadn’t cleared his name sufficiently following an alleged game throwing plot in 1926.
After the ceremony there was a three-block parade down Main Street from the Hall of Fame to Doubleday Field where there was an all-star game to be played by two players from eack of the sixteen major league teams from the National and American Leagues. Although nine future Hall of Famers played in the game, many of the best players weren’t there. The highlight for most of the 10,000 fans at Doubleday Field was when Babe Ruth was sent up to pinch hit. Unfortunately, he popped up in foul territory to the catcher and as he made the catch, many fans yelled, “Drop it, Drop it.”
Dan Daniel, a long time baseball writer for “The New York World Telegram” wrote after the game that in the future MLB should assign two major league teams to play each other in an exhibition game at Doubleday Field. Daniel’s idea came to pass, as the first game was played the next year in 1940. This tradition continued every year until 2008 when major league scheduling made it impossible to do anymore. Today some six Hall of Famers are chosen each year to come to Doubleday Field on Memorial Day Weekend where they are split up evenly to coach former major leaguers in what is now known as The Hall of Fame Classic Weekend.
Finally, as I’ve done in the past I will share with you one of the best fan experiences that ever took place during this first induction weekend. (and I hope you have a nice memory of the Hall of Fame to share with us so I can have it for my book’s sequel.) This was when Frank McCuskey went above and beyond to attend this historical event. He had just graduated from high school in Minneapolis and he decided to hitch hike approximately 1,200 miles to Cooperstown, which he did as he arrived on Saturday night (June 10.) Fortunately, he found a nice couple, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Coleman, who had him stay with them at their home at 14 Delaware Street Saturday and Sunday as he attended the festivities on June 12th.