Jan. 3, 2013 -- Two of Major League Baseball's all-time greats are on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year, and despite stats that make them look like shoo-ins, it's likely neither will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer.
Barry Bonds, baseball's home run king, and Roger Clemens, the owner of more Cy Young awards than any other pitcher, are eligible for the Hall this year, and based solely on their numbers, both would be obvious first-year inductees.
However, both players' extraordinary careers were tainted by steroid use during baseball's "Steroids Era."
In nearly all offensive categories, Bonds is among the best ever -- the recipient of a record-setting seven MVP awards and 14 All-Star appearances. Clemens ranks near the top in career wins and strikeouts. But steroid use is the ultimate lightning rod in baseball, and both men have been at the center of the controversy.
In order to make it to Cooperstown, a candidate must be named on 75 percent of the about 600 ballots sent to Baseball Writers Association of America voters. Players are to be elected according to their "record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to [their] team."
This year, several of the 37 players listed on the ballot were implicated for performance enhancing drug use during the steroids era.
A number of baseball writers have publicly released their ballots, with explanations of why they did or did not vote for the candidates. There is a chance that this year, based on the ballots that have been made public so far, none of the eligible players will be elected into the Hall.
Some of the players won't make it because voters don't consider them worthy of one of baseball's highest honors. Others, however, have the stat sheets and credentials, but have also been surrounded by PED-related controversy.
MLB has tried to separate itself from steroid use in recent years by implementing random drug tests and punishing any player who tests positive for banned substances. Since this controversial ballot was released, a number of voters have stated they will never vote for "known steroids users."
"When I vote for a player I am upholding him for the highest individual honor possible," Sports Illustrated columnist Tom Verducci wrote in an article explaining his vote. "Voting for a known steroid user is endorsing steroid use. Having spent too much of the past two decades or so covering baseball on the subject of steroids -- what they do, how the game was subverted by them, and how those who stayed away from them were disadvantaged -- I cannot endorse it."
On the other side of the debate, some of Bonds' supporters have argued that his numbers before his steroid use began would themselves make the left-fielder worthy of the Hall.
In his New York Times column, statistician Nate Silver explains the left fielder's credentials before the 1998 season, when he reportedly began using performance enhancing drugs.
"By that time, he had already won three M.V.P. awards and eight Gold Gloves and had hit 411 home runs and stolen 445 bases," Silver wrote. "On the basis of Wins Above Replacement, he would have ranked as roughly the 30th best player in baseball history had he retired then."
One current Hall of Famer, pitcher Bob Gibson said in 2009 that he might have used steroids had they been available during his playing days, and that he believed players who used PEDs should still be in the Hall.
Two other faces of the so-called "Steroid Era," Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, whose home-run derby of a 1998 season captured the attention of the nation, are also both on the ballot this year.
It's McGwire's seventh year on the ballot (last year, he appeared on 19.5 percent of ballots), and Sosa's first. Based on the votes that have been made public, it doesn't appear likely that either will make it into the Hall this year.
As Silver noted, this ballot "is close to being an up-or-down referendum on whether suspected steroids users are fit for the Hall of Fame." The results could serve as the benchmark for all future players who appear on the ballot with even circumstantial evidence that they may have used PEDs.
Other players who were embroiled by controversy have been kept out of the Hall for undermining the integrity of the game, despite stats that should have gotten them enshrined.
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson, an outstanding offensive outfielder, has been permanently banned from baseball (and therefore, the Hall of Fame) due to his alleged involvement in the so-called "Black Sox scandal," in which White Sox players fixed the 1919 World Series. In 1999, the House of Representatives passed a resolution urging MLB to rescind his ineligibilty, but he is still banned.
Pete Rose, MLB's all-time hits leader, three-time batting champion, and an 18-time All-Star (at an unmatched four different positions), is also ineligible for the Hall of Fame. He admitted gambling on baseball games while he was a player, and agreed to permanent ineligibility, but the issue remains a contentious one in baseball.
No player has been elected in their first year on the ballot since Rickey Henderson in 2009, and no player has ever been elected in unanimously. Other first-time players on the ballot this year include Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, and Craig Biggio. Thirteen players are returning to the ballot this year, including Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Jeff Bagwell, and Time Raines.
The results of the vote will be announced at 2 p.m. ET on MLB Network and streamed live on Baseballhall.org.
Players who make the cut will be inducted in Cooperstown on July 28, along with umpire Hank O'Day, executive Jacob Ruppter, and catcher Deacon White, all of whom were elected by the Pre-Integration Era Committee.