The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, located at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, New York, United States, is a semi-official museum operated by private interests that serves as the central point for the study of the history of baseball in North America, the display of baseball-related artifacts and exhibits, and the honoring of persons who have excelled in playing, managing, and serving the sport. In articles and discussions on baseball, the phrase "Hall of Fame" refers most often to the list of these honorees, rather than the physical museum. The Hall's motto is "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations".
The Hall of Fame was dedicated on June 12, 1939 by the Clark Foundation, a private organization based in Cooperstown that traces its money to the original Singer Sewing Machine Company. The Foundation sought to bring tourists to Cooperstown, which had been doubly damaged by the Great Depression, which decimated the local tourist trade, and Prohibition, which was devastating to the local hops industry. A legend that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown was instrumental in the early marketing of the Hall, though in fact the story is completely false.
The major leagues, seeing the marketing opportunity, soon began cooperating with the Hall of Fame in marketing it and acquiring artifacts for display there. Today the Hall of Fame features many exhibits on the game's history. An extensive collection of memorabilia is on display to the public as well, including historic home run balls, scorecards, and bats, caps, and uniforms used by the game's greatest players. The Hall of Fame also includes an art collection and a substantial research library with online search capabilities. The town of Cooperstown also includes Doubleday Field, where the "Hall of Fame Game" featuring two major league teams is held every year on the same weekend as the annual induction ceremony.
Among baseball fans, "Hall of Fame" means not only the museum and facility in Cooperstown, but also the pantheon of players, managers, umpires and builders who have been named to enshrinement there. The first five men elected were superstars Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, named in 1936. As of January 2005, 260 men had been elected or appointed to the Hall of Fame, including 212 players, 17 managers (many of whom also played), 8 umpires, and 23 builders, executives, and organizers. 26 men have also been awarded the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting, while 56 have received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing.
Players are currently inducted into the Hall of Fame through election by either the Baseball Writers Association of America (or BBWAA), or the Veterans Committee, which is now composed of living Hall of Famers and recipients of the two major awards. Five years after retirement, any player with 10 years of major league experience, who passes a screening committee (which removes from consideration players of clearly lesser qualification) is eligible to be elected by BBWAA members with 10 years' membership or more. From a final ballot typically including 25-40 candidates, each writer may vote for up to 10 players; until the late 1950s, voters were advised to cast votes for the maximum 10 candidates. Any player named on 75% or more of all ballots cast is elected. A player who is named on fewer than 5% of ballots is dropped from future elections. In some instances, the screening committee had restored their names to later ballots, but in the mid-1990s, dropped players were made permanently ineligible for Hall of Fame consideration, even by the Veterans Committee. A 2001 change in the election procedures restored the eligibility of these dropped players; while their names will not appear on future BBWAA ballots, they may be considered by the Veterans Committee.
Under special circumstances, certain players may be deemed eligible for induction even though they have not met all requirements. This has resulted in only two inductions, when Lou Gehrig was specially elected shortly after his retirement in 1939, and when Addie Joss was elected in 1978 despite only playing in nine seasons. Additionally, if an otherwise eligible player dies before their fifth year of retirement, then that player may be placed on the ballot at the first election at least six months after their death. Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972, is the only current Hall of Fame member for whom the 5-year minimum was waived.
If a player fails to be elected by the BBWAA within 20 years of their retirement from active play, he may be selected by the Veterans Committee, which now votes every two years. The Veterans Committee also votes every fourth year on candidates from among managers, umpires, executives or builders. Negro Leagues players may again be considered at some point; the Hall is currently conducting a study on African American players between the late 19th century and the integration of the major leagues in 1947.
Predictably, the selection process catalyzes endless debate among baseball fans over the merits of various candidates. Even players already elected remain for years the subjects of discussions as to whether their elections were deserved or in error.
The most lasting controversy in Hall of Fame elections is the role and composition of the Veterans Committee. Few, if any, of the BBWAA selections have been particularly controversial. Prior to its recent restructuring, the Veterans Committee had, at times, seemed to pass over the most worthy players in order to enshrine contemporaries and teammates of the committee members. This tendency was most pronounced during the tenure of Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry, from 1967 to 1976. During this time, 8 players were elected whose Hall of Fame credentials were (at best) tenuous, but who had played with Frisch or Terry with the New York Giants or St Louis Cardinals.
The revamped Veterans Committee has held two elections to date—in 2003 for both players and non-players, and 2005 for players only. No individual was elected either time; some are already starting to doubt whether the new Veterans Committee will ever elect a player. 
A further controversy erupted in 1982, when it emerged that some historic items bequeathed to the Hall had been sold on the collectibles market. It subsequently transpired that these had been lent to the Baseball Commissioner's Office, from where they had been taken and sold to offset personal financial problems by Joe Reichler , an assistant to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Under pressure from the New York Attorney General, the Commissioner's Office made reparations, but damage had been done to the Hall of Fame's reputation.
An ongoing controversy facing the Hall of Fame is that of the status of Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. Jackson and Rose were both permanently banned from baseball for actions related to gambling on their own teams - Jackson was determined to have conspired to lose the 1919 World Series on purpose, and Rose voluntarily accepted a permanent spot on the ineligible list in return for Major League Baseball's promise to make no official finding in relation to alleged betting on the Cincinnati Reds when he was their manager in the 1980s. (Baseball's Rule 21, prominently posted in every clubhouse lockerroom, mandates permanent banishment from the sport for having a gambling interest of any sort on a game in which a player or manager is directly involved.) While Jackson and Rose had outstanding playing careers that would usually merit Hall of Fame induction, the Hall of Fame disallows election of anyone on the permanent suspension list. (Many others have been permanently suspended, but none have Hall of Fame qualifications on the level of Jackson or Rose. A select few, such as Hal Chase and Eddie Cicotte, would be reasonable candidates had they not been barred.) Baseball fans are deeply split on the issue of whether these two should be exonerated, remain banned, or (in the case of Rose, who is still living) be inducted with the caveat that he cannot reenter the game in any other way.