Among the first-timers on this year's ballot are three players widely believed to have enhanced their careers through artificial means -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.
They are joined on the ballot by holdovers Mark McGwire, who finally confessed to steroid use after failing to make the Hall of Fame the first four years he was eligible, and Rafael Palmeiro, who flunked a drug test late in his career.
Polls conducted by multiple media outlets suggest none of the five will receive the necessary 75 percent of the votes needed to gain induction in Cooperstown. Results of the voting by longtime members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will be announced on MLB Network at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday.
Others on the ballot include repeat candidates Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith and Tim Raines, and newcomers Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling and Mike Piazza.
McGwire's support maxed out at 23.7 percent in 2010 -- just before his admission. However, polls suggest Bonds and Clemens might crack 50 percent. Many writers who support Bonds and Clemens offer the line of reasoning that both were among the game's best players long before they were alleged to have begun using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Bonds was a three-time National League MVP and an eight-time Gold Glove winner before McGwire and Sosa engaged in an epic home run duel throughout the 1998 season. McGwire wound up with a then-record 70 homers that year, and Sosa hit 66.
According to the book "Game of Shadows" by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, Bonds became enraged at seeing McGwire and Sosa -- players he viewed as inferior to him -- soak up the adulation, prompting him to seek out artificial help from trainer Greg Anderson.
Bonds went on to smash the single-season home run record, hitting 73 in 2001, and the all-time homer record, finishing with 762. He has repeatedly denied knowingly using illegal substances, and he is appealing a felony conviction on an obstruction-of-justice charge related to his denials in front of a grand jury.
Bonds wound up winning a record seven MVP awards, two for the Pittsburgh Pirates, five with the San Francisco Giants. In addition to homers, he is baseball's all-time leader in walks (2,558) and intentional walks (668). He ranks second in extra-base hits (1,440), third in runs (2,227), fourth in total bases (5,976), sixth in on-base percentage (.444) and sixth in slugging percentage (.607).
Clemens was the star attraction in the Mitchell Report, which baseball commissioned as part of its efforts to reveal and eliminate the sport's ties to PEDs. The right-hander was mentioned 82 times in the report, with his former trainer, Brian McNamee, serving as a key witness. Clemens wound up being tried on charges that he lied to Congress when he denied using PEDs, but he was acquitted on all six counts last summer.
Before Clemens allegedly began juicing in the late 1990s, he won the American League Cy Young Award for the Boston Red Sox in 1986, 1987 and 1991. He added four more Cy Youngs from age 34 to 41 -- two for the Toronto Blue Jays, one for the New York Yankees and one for the Houston Astros -- giving him a record total of seven.
Clemens finished with a 354-184 record, a 3.12 ERA and 46 shutouts. His win total ranks ninth on the all-time list, and his strikeout total (4,672) ranks third.
Sosa's case for the Hall looks shaky to those who believe his change of physique tells the tale of PED use. Sosa went from being a lithe, light-hitting base-stealer in his early years with the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox to being a muscle-bound slugger in his later years with the Chicago Cubs.
From 1998-2001, Sosa topped 60 homers three times, and he hit at least 50 in each of those four seasons. He was the 1998 NL MVP -- winning the award over McGwire -- and he made seven All-Star appearances.
The ballot newcomer with the best chance to earn Hall of Fame election this year likely is Biggio. The former Houston Astros star was never touched by the taint of PED talk, and his body never fit the assumed mold of a user.
The catcher-turned-second baseman ranks 21st on the all-time list with 3,060 hits, above the 3,000 mark that used to be considered a free pass to the Hall. (Pete Rose, with 4,256 hits, and Palmeiro, with 3,020, have proved that the unwritten rule isn't always obeyed.)
Biggio made seven All-Star appearances and won four Gold Gloves. The case against him is that he never finished as high as third on an MVP ballot, indicating that while he was a solid player for a long time, he was never a dominant force.
Schilling was dominant in the postseason, and if gains election, it will be due to his October exploits.
In 19 postseason starts, Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. He led his team to the World Series four times, losing with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993 before winning rings with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007.
Schilling is best remembered for pitching Game 6 of 2004 American League Championship Series with a bleeding ankle after having a procedure to reattach a ruptured tendon sheath. He threw seven innings of one-run ball in a 4-2 win over the New York Yankees, and the Red Sox won again the next day to complete a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit.
Schilling's regular-season stats were very good but not spectacular. He went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, making six All-Star appearances but never winning a Cy Young Award.
Unlike the cases of Biggio and Schilling, whose Hall of Fame fates likely will be determined by the writers' view of their stats, and the cases of Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, nearly universally viewed to have used PEDs, the fate of Piazza falls in a gray area.
The 12-time All-Star never failed a drug test and has never been fingered as a juicer, but that hasn't stopped whispers from dogging him during and after his career. The highly circumstantial case against Piazza is that he was the Los Angeles Dodgers' 62nd-round draft pick in 1988 out of a community college -- chosen as a favor to family friend Tommy Lasorda, then the Dodgers' manager -- before he morphed into arguably the best slugging catcher of all time.
Piazza hit 396 home runs as a catcher, the most in history. During a 16-year career spent primarily with the Dodgers and New York Mets, he wound up with 427 homers, also a record for a player who primarily played catcher. He finished with a .309 batting average, a .377 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage.
Among the Hall of Fame ballot holdovers, Morris is the most likely to gain election. He wound up with 66.7 percent of the vote last year in his 13th year on the ballot. If he fails to reach the 75 percent plateau this time, next year will be his final attempt.
Morris was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s, going 162-119 for the Detroit Tigers during that decade. He wound up his 18-year career 254-186 with a 3.90 ERA, never finishing No. 1 or No. 2 on a Cy Young Award ballot.
Bagwell received 56 percent of the Hall of Fame vote last year, his second year of eligibility. He and Biggio were the faces of the Astros for years. Bagwell won the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and the 1994 NL MVP, and he was a four-time All-Star. He batted .297 with a .408 on-base percentage, a .540 slugging percentage, 449 homers and 1,529 RBI in 15 major league seasons.
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