NEW YORK -- Baseball's all-time home run king and the most decorated pitcher likely will be shut out of the Hall of Fame in January. A survey by The Associated Press shows that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, as well as slugger Sammy Sosa, don't have enough votes to get into Cooperstown.
With steroid scandals still very much on the minds of longtime members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America as they cast their ballots, the trio failed to muster even 50 percent support among the 112 voters contacted by the AP -- nearly one-fifth of those eligible to choose.
Candidates need 75 percent for election
So Bonds, the only seven-time MVP, and Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, are likely to remain outside the Hall along with career hits leader Pete Rose, who was banned for betting on baseball as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
"I'm not going to vote for anybody who has been tainted or associated with steroids," said MLB.com's Hal Bodley, the former baseball columnist for USA Today. "I'm just not going to do it. I might change down the road, but I just love the game too much. I have too much passion for the game and for what these people did to it."
The current ballot was announced this week and Bonds, Clemens and Sosa were on it for the first time. Votes will be cast throughout the month and results will be released Jan. 9.
Among voters who expressed an opinion, Bonds received 45 percent support, Clemens 43 percent and Sosa 18 percent. To gain election, Bonds and Clemens would need more than 80 percent support among the voters not surveyed and Sosa would need to get more than 85 percent.
"No one would dare say that Bonds, a seven-time National League MVP with 762 home runs, isn't a Hall of Famer," Thom Loverro, a columnist for The Washington Examiner, wrote in a column that explained his decision. "Nor would anyone say that Clemens, with 354 career victories, 4,672 strikeouts and seven Cy Young Awards, shouldn't be enshrined in Cooperstown. The same goes for Sosa, who finished with 609 career home runs, including 243 of them from 1998 through 2001.
"Except they cheated -- all of them. And this Hall of Fame is not just about numbers. Three of the six criteria for election to Cooperstown are sportsmanship, integrity and character. Bonds, Sosa and Clemens fail on all three counts."
The Denver Post's Troy Renck doesn't plan to vote for them, either.
"I understand that everyone has their opinion on this issue and I respect those," he said in a telephone interview. "For me personally, having coached kids for the last decade and talked to them about doing things a certain way, I would feel very uncomfortable voting for anyone that is a known cheater."
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins took the opposite view.
"The Hall of Fame's `character' clause should be stricken immediately, because it's far too late to turn Cooperstown into a church," he wrote in an email. "Whether it was gambling (rampant in the early 20th century), scuffing the baseballs, corking bats, amphetamines or steroids, players have been cheating like crazy forever. It's an integral, if unsavory, part of the culture. I've always had the same criteria: which players were the best performers of their particular era -- so absolutely, I'll vote for Bonds, Clemens and Sosa."
Bonds and Clemens gained far more support than Sosa in the survey.
"I will definitely vote for Bonds and Clemens. I still need to consider Sosa's resume," ESPN.com's Jim Caple said. "Steroid use has nothing to do with my vote. Steroids were not banned during the majority of their careers when they achieved the vast majority of their accomplishments. All we can go by is what they did on the field. If Gaylord Perry is in the Hall for violating a rule that was in place 40 years before his career began, how can you justify withholding a vote from someone for a rule that wasn't in effect? (And personally, I would rather face a pitcher on PEDs than a spitballer)."
Hall voters are BBWAA members who have been with the organization for 10 consecutive years at any point. The BBWAA does not release the full list.
About 8-10 percent of the approximately 600 Hall of Fame voters are employees of the AP or freelance writers who work for the AP, the BBWAA said.
The AP contacted known voters by telephone and email from Wednesday to Friday. They were asked only how they would vote on Bonds, Clemens and Sosa: yes, no or unsure. About half asked not to be identified, and only those who agreed to be identified by name are quoted in this story.
Bonds has denied knowingly using steroids. A positive test was introduced as evidence during his criminal trial last year, when he was convicted of obstruction of justice by a jury that failed to reach a verdict on charges he made false statements to a grand jury when he denied knowing using performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens has repeatedly denied drug use and was acquitted this year on charges he lied to Congress when he said he didn't take steroids or human growth hormone.
Sosa was among the 104 positive tests in baseball's 2003 anonymous survey, The New York Times reported in 2009. He told a congressional committee in 2005 that he never took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds and Clemens fared far better in the survey than Mark McGwire did when a sample of voters were questioned by the AP before his first appearance on the ballot in December 2006. The slugger with 583 home runs received 24 percent support in the survey and 23.5 percent in the BBWAA ballot.
Since then, McGwire's support has never topped 24 percent and dropped to 19.5 percent of the 573 votes cast last January.
Rafael Palmeiro, who topped 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, was suspended for 10 days in 2005 following a positive test for Stanozolol -- he said he didn't know what caused it. He received 12.5 percent in January.
Several voters said their decisions were for this vote only and they planned to reassess their position each year. Some said that they wouldn't consider voting for Bonds, Clemens or Sosa this year because they didn't want them to have the additional honor of being elected on their first ballot.
Players who have appeared in 10 seasons and have been retired for five years are eligible for consideration by a six-member BBWAA screening committee, and a player goes on the ballot if he is supported by at least two screening committee members. A player remains on the ballot for up to 15 elections as long as he gets 5 percent of the votes every year.
Ballots must be submitted to the BBWAA by Dec. 31. Inductions will take place July 28.
Voters were contacted by telephone and email from Wednesday to Friday.
Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling also are among the 24 first-time eligibles, and Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are the top holdover candidates.