Even before voters recorded the first shutout in a National Baseball Hall of Fame election since 1996, five members of the electorate were way ahead of the announcement in making a statement with silence.
For five voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, a blank ballot was the message to the baseball world, a message centered mainly on having to sit in judgment on a period clouded by the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Four of those publicly identified themselves as sending in a blank ballot -- Howard Bryant of ESPN, Chris Jenkins of the UT-San Diego, Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald in Miami and Mark Faller of the Arizona Republic. The identity of the fifth remains unknown.
The BBWAA announced that there were five blank ballots but did not identify the contributors. Previously, there were nine blank ballots in 2011, five in '10, five in '09 and two in '08.
The 2013 ballot featured 37 candidates, with 13 returnees and 24 newcomers.
With luminaries like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Craig Biggio on the ballot for the first time, this year a blank ballot drew a lot more attention. Anyone who searched for "blank ballot" on Twitter could attest to that, with many people upset that any writer would submit one.
Bryant spent much of Wednesday night and into Thursday morning responding to tweets at @hbryant42 about his blank ballot, many of those saying he should lose his right to vote for turning in a blank ballot.
"My initial reaction from a global standpoint is that it's always kind of dangerous when people disagree with you and they want to take away your vote," Bryan said by telephone Thursday. "That's a little fascist, I think.
"But it shows how much people care about this. People care about the game. It's not like football. It's very specific to baseball. There's a passion for baseball unlike any other sport."
Faller explained via email that his silence was, in fact, a loud statement.
"What we saw today was a national referendum on the steroid era in baseball, and the voters spoke loudly in protest," Faller said. "Personally, I felt that submitting a blank ballot this year would make the loudest statement against the hypocrisy. That said, it all might turn out to be a short-lived protest. I suspect many voters will come to think that a Hall of Fame without these tainted players doesn't make a lot of sense."
Ebro, the sports editor of the Spanish-language daily in Miami, said in a telephone interview that his first voting experience became an extremely difficult one. He said that his decision to send in a blank ballot came after much consideration about the new players on the ballot as well as holdovers and their possible role in the PED era.
"I am just trying to be fair," Ebro said. "Maybe something next year will change for me. But this year there was just too much confusion. This is something that has to be addressed by Major League Baseball and Cooperstown. I think they have to set new qualifications, because there is too much you don't know about that era. We're talking about a whole generation of players."
MLB.com attempted to contact all of the identified writers who turned in blank ballots. Jenkins respectfully declined further comment when reached by telephone.
In an article dated Dec. 31, Jenkins made it clear that he was basing his vote on a high standard for election and a principle against allowing those with PED suspicions into the Hall.
"There were only two names on the 2013 ballot whose careers warranted a place among the gods of the game. Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Neither, I'm hoping, will be allowed into Cooperstown," wrote Jenkins, a longtime baseball writer and columnist at the San Diego paper.
Bryant, an author, a senior writer at ESPN and a correspondent for National Public Radio, wrote in a piece published Wednesday, the day the election results were released: "The voters were handed a basket of rotten vegetables called the steroid era by the players, the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball, and told to make a chef's salad."
Faller explained his reasoning in a Dec. 23 column.
"I am choosing to speak loudly by using silence," he wrote. "This is my way of expressing my anger to baseball. Angry that the powers-that-be turned their backs while this was going on. Angry that it took [the media] so long to shine light on it."
Ebro's opinion was first disseminated widely when noted last week by NBC Sports Hardball Talk blogger Craig Calcaterra, who has been pointing out blank ballots made public. He included Ebro's explanation from his Spanish-language column, translated into English, adding a comment at the end of his post.
"Too bad he doesn't realize that by submitting a blank ballot he is, in fact, rendering a judgment, as that will count as vote against everyone," Calcaterra wrote.
On Twitter, many voiced similar opinions about those who left their ballots blank.
For the record, the five blank ballots would not have made a difference. For instance, five more votes for Craig Biggio still would have left him 34 shy of the 427 needed to reach the 75 percent threshold. And five more votes for Bernie Williams or Kenny Lofton wouldn't have pushed them past the five percent threshold they needed to remain on the ballot.
The fact of the matter is, voting "Nobody" on the Hall of Fame ballot is something that's been done many times, and it remains the prerogative of each voter, if he or she decides to exercise it. Others took the liberty of holding back their ballots this time rather than sending in a blank one that affects the voting percentage.
As Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said when announcing the results on Wednesday, the voting process is a "snapshot in time" that can go for 15 years of eligibility, and that the "journey is just beginning" for many on the ballot.
For those who drew a blank in 2013, that means another sterling set of newcomers -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas among them -- and the opportunity, if they so choose, to vote on some of the players they did not vote for this time around.
"Maybe next year I'll vote for 10 people, I don't know," Ebro said.
Indeed, these voters do have another year to think about whether to vote for Bonds, Clemens, Biggio or anyone else on the ballot.
"I've got 14
more years," Bryant said.