Why is it that Joe DiMaggio did not get into the HOF in his first year of eligibility?

Good question, but you're thinking of it in modern terms. In our era, baseball players retire and they are basically only competing against other guys from their own era. In the early 50s, there were still all-time greats in the backlog, but the voting procedure essentially the same as now - a player had to appear on 75% of the ballots to make the hall. There were so many great players eligible that it was almost impossible to get in.

In 1950, the Hall inducted nobody, even though the ballot included a few guys you may have heard of:

 1950 Ballot

Name

Votes

PCT

Mel Ott

115

68.45

Bill Terry

105

62.50

Jimmie Foxx

103

61.31

Paul Waner

95

56.55

Al Simmons

90

53.57

Harry Heilmann

87

51.79

Dizzy Dean

85

50.60

Bill Dickey

78

46.43

( 75% required for induction.)

 

There were many more greats below them, so many of 'em that none could get the required 75%. Double X retired in 1945 and didn't make it until 1951, his sixth year on the ballot! Hornsby got in in his fifth year on the ballot. Even Lefty Grove, who has a very strong case as the best pitcher of all time, missed his first two times! Ed Delahanty, probably the greatest player of all time before Cobb/Wagner/Lajoie came along, never got in at all. He was on the ballot for six unsuccessful years, came close but no cigar, and was finally admitted through the back door by a special Old-Timer's Committee. You probably remember that a couple of fairly good guys named Cy Young and Nap Lajoie got in on their second try.

You may be wondering how 1951 could have been Jimmy Foxx's sixth year on the ballot when he had retired after the 1945 season. Actually, Foxx had received ballots as far back as 1936, nine years before he retired! That's because there was no five-year waiting period until 1954. Most people don't realize that the waiting period has evolved over time. In the first Hall of Fame vote in 1936, there was no waiting period at all. Babe Ruth, who had retired just the year before, was elected, and active players such as Lou Gehrig and Foxx got many votes. Voters were discouraged from voting for active players after the 1936 election, but the practice was not actually forbidden by the rules, so a small trickle of votes continued to come in for players who were still in uniform. In fact, DiMaggio himself was the last active player to get a vote, having received one in 1945. There was no official waiting rule at all until 1946, when a "one year after retirement" rule was adopted. That stayed in place for only eight years until the modern "five year rule" was adopted in 1954.  DiMaggio originally became eligible during that brief period when eligibility was determined by the one-year rule, and since he had retired after the 1951 season, he was therefore not on the 1952 ballot.

DiMaggio was first added to the ballot in 1953, when he got shellacked by a roster of backlogged all-time greats

 1953 Ballot

Name

Votes

PCT

Dizzy Dean

209

79.17

Al Simmons

199

75.38

Bill Terry

191

72.35

Bill Dickey

179

67.80

Rabbit Maranville

164

62.12

Dazzy Vance

150

56.82

Ted Lyons

139

52.65

Joe DiMaggio

117

44.32

 

In 1954, he had passed Vance and Lyons (and rightfully so!), but still had to wait for three more beloved old-timers

 1954 Ballot

Name

Votes

PCT

Rabbit Maranville

209

82.94

Bill Dickey

202

80.16

Bill Terry

195

77.38

Joe DiMaggio

175

69.44

Ted Lyons

170

67.46

Dazzy Vance

158

62.70

Gabby Hartnett

151

59.92

Hank Greenberg

97

38.49

Joe Cronin

85

33.73

 

That raised him to the top of the non-inductees, which meant he was a lock in 1955, since there were no significant new additions to the ballot.

1955 Ballot

Name

Votes

PCT

Joe DiMaggio

223

88.84

Ted Lyons

217

86.45

Dazzy Vance

205

81.67

Gabby Hartnett

195

77.69

Hank Greenberg

157

62.55

Joe Cronin

135

53.78

 

 

There was no disrespect for DiMaggio. Quite to the contrary, there was a special "DiMaggio rule" provision passed just so DiMaggio would get in early. In 1954, the rules committee passed the modern "five year rule" - therefore making DiMaggio technically ineligible in 1955 since he had played in 1951. However, since he had already been on the 1953 and 1954 ballots, and was obviously a lock for election in 1955, they specifically excluded him from the new rule!! In essence, the 1954 rule said "everyone has to wait five years except the great DiMag!" Technically this rule also applied to any others who had been on previous ballots, but let's not kid ourselves. DiMaggio was the only man genuinely affected, and the rule was passed just for him. No other players who retired in the 50s were even close to consideration. In fact, The Clipper is the only guy in the Hall of Fame who played in the 1950s and was elected in the 50s. He remained the sole 50s man for seven more ballots, until Feller and Jackie Robinson made it together in 1962. Teddy Ballgame made it in 1966, Musial and Campy not until 1969. As of 1970, those were the only six players in the HOF who had played in the 50s, and DiMaggio had beaten the others by a mile.