BBWAA, 1936: HOF Voting by Ego From Start

Back in 1936, Cy Young was unable to reach induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Cy Young, the “winningest” pitcher of all time, even through 2016, was unable to reach induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1936.


A Simple Start

Voting for inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame started in 1936, even thought the actual physical plant in Cooperstown, New York would not be ready to receive any emblematic reception of its first class until 1939. The plan was to hold these annual elections until there 10 inductees from the 20th century and 5 inductees from the 19th century baseball.

226 baseball writing members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) were named as the electoral group for selecting the qualified 10 inductees from the 20th century. A second hybrid group of 78 voters, comprised of older BBWAA members and other older qualified baseball people were drawn upon to identify the 5 first members from the 19th century by their votes.

In each of the two voting processes, a name from the two previously drafted lists of nominees had to attain 75% of the votes from their particular group of electors to qualify for induction.

In each election, also, voters could select as many as ten names as their choices from the two lists of nominees, selecting only names from the 19th or 20th century lists they were supposed to judge.

Sounds simple and straightforward, right? If you have enough historical interest in baseball to be reading this column in the digital hinterlands of The Pecan Park Eagle, you known better than to even assume in that direction.

The Older Guys

In the 19th century group voting, a number of the older judges got the instructions wrong. They thought they were supposed to use the 10 votes for the best 9 players at each position, plus one more as, we suppose, a wild card selection, or left and right handed pitching selections, or whatever. Once discovered among the ballots received, these particular ballots were returned with a request for re-submission of ballots based upon the 10 best players of the 19th century (period).

Some electors conformed. Others simply returned their original by-position lists, and still others, frankly,¬† didn’t even bother to resubmit.

Nothing like solving a complication by ratcheting up the dial on obfuscative measures. The decision was made to reduce the value of each vote among the 19th century ballot group to half value as a result of the complication. In other words, a nominee now had to receive two ballots in his name to get credit for one vote, but each candidate still had to have 75% of the “votes” to qualify for induction.

Good old human ego. This measure assured that no candidate from the 19th century would qualify for induction in 1936.

The Younger Guys Didn’t Vote for Who?

The 20th century balloting process apparently did not suffer the confusion that afflicted and tainted the 19th century group. If will please examine the following table on the 1936 20th century candidate voting, however, you will note that only five great 20th century players achieved the 75% support they each needed for induction as members of the first Hall of Fame group that would be honored with induction at the three-years-hence 1939 opening of the Hall of Fame.

The following table depicts a list of the top ten vote-getters in the 20th century group. As you will note, only five players qualified for induction on the first try. Their names are no shock to anyone: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. Pretty dad-gum impressive.

The two big shocks are: (1) that none of the Selected First Five received 100% of the votes, and (2) think of all the qualified people who didn’t make on the first ballot.

WOW! Four electors didn’t even vote for Cobb! Eleven voters each didn’t vote for Ruth or Wagner. And the great pitcher Cy Young, who won 511 ball games, more than any other hurler in the still building history of baseball into the 21st century game, only received 111 votes, only good enough for a 49.1% finger nail hold on the voters’ minds. We’ll throw in a little merciful consideration for the possibility that “Cy” may have been hurt by the fact that we was both a two-century man over the course of his career, but that variable doesn’t apply as any wild idea about why the man who finished directly behind Cy Young, Rogers Hornsby, the purportedly greatest right handed hitter in the history of the game to that time, also was ignored with only a 46.4% show of support.


1 TY COBB 222 98.2
2t BABE RUTH 215 95.1
2t HONUS WAGNER 215 95.1
6 NAP LAJOIE 146 64.6
7 TRIS SPEAKER 133 58.8
8 CY YOUNG 111 49.1


What were they thinking? We’ll never know for sure. Although it’s fairly certain in some of our minds that, if we started the Hall of Fame voting over today from scratch, that the annual dismissal of all the steroid-tainted greats by the BBWAA would swell in numbers to include people like Cobb, Ruth, and a number of others for reasons of character flaw or dark-side-of-the-soul behavior.

When the human ego “sins” against its brothers and sisters, it packs the one-two punch of ignorance and arrogance, and most usually in combination.


eagle-0rangeBill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas


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