NEW YORK -- The most highly debated election for entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame ended Wednesday without a new inductee.
For the first time since 1996 and only the second since 1971, eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America did not vote in a single player from a ballot of 37 candidates that was deep and controversial.
Craig Biggio was the leading vote-getter, having been named on 68.2 percent of the ballots, but fell 39 votes shy of election as he received 388 votes among the 569 ballots that were cast. Five of those ballots were left blank. He was followed by Jack Morris (67.7 percent), Jeff Bagwell (59.6) and Mike Piazza (57.8).
Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson admitted that this was a very a tough election for the voting cohort.
"Writers have had a lot of consternation [this year] about who they decided to pick and this made it one of the most talked about classes in history," he said. "I think we have to remember that a snap shot in time is not one ballot, but 15, the most times a player can appear on the ballot. And for some of the people on this ballot that journey is just beginning."
The ballot was loaded with a number of first-time-eligible players whose careers spanned a period of Major League Baseball that some believe was clouded by the use of performance-enhancing drugs:
Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader with 762.
Roger Clemens, a storied right-hander with 354 wins.
Biggio, a second baseman with 3,060 hits.
Sammy Sosa, the only slugger to bash more than 60 homers in three different seasons and who totaled 609 in his career.
Piazza, who hit 396 of his 427 homers as a catcher -- the most of any player at that position in Major League history.
None of them made it in.
Morris, a starter who dominated the American League during the 1980s, didn't make it, either, on his 14th try. He'll have one more chance. So long as they maintain at least five percent of the ballots cast, players have 15 years on the ballot before they are no longer eligible to be elected by the BBWAA. Nineteen players, including Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton, missed that five-percent mark this year and will not be back on the ballot.
It's not going to get any easier next year as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent are all expected to be among the first-timers on the ballot.
As all Baseball Hall of Fame votes are conducted, a candidate needed to be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots to be elected. BBWAA members with 10 consecutive years or more of covering the sport were eligible to vote and they could name as many as 10 players on their ballots.
Clemens and Bonds finished eighth and ninth, respectively, Clemens receiving 37.6 percent and Bonds 36.2. Tim Raines (52.2), Lee Smith (47.8), Curt Schilling (38.8), Edgar Martinez (35.9) and Alan Trammell (33.6) were among the remainder of the runners-up. Sosa received 12.5 percent.
"Next year, I think you'll have a rather large class and this year, for whatever reasons, you had a couple of guys come really close," Commissioner Bud Selig said at the owners' meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz. "This is not to be voted on to make sure that somebody gets in every year. It's to be voted on to make sure that they're deserving. I respect the writers as well as the Hall itself. This idea that this somehow diminishes the Hall of baseball is just ridiculous in my opinion."
There will still be an induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 28. Longtime Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, turn-of-the-20th-century umpire Hank O'Day and 19th-century catcher Deacon White were elected to the Hall last month by the Pre-Integration Committee, and their memories and heirs will be honored on that date. All three are deceased.
Tom Cheek, who called the first 4,306 regular-season games and 41 postseason games in Blue Jays history, will receive the Ford C. Frick Award for "major contributions to baseball" posthumously on July 27 during a ceremony at Doubleday Field. He is survived by his wife, Shirley, who is expected to be in Cooperstown to accept the award.
Paul Hagen of MLB.com will be presented the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for "meritorious contributions to baseball writing" and will also be honored at Doubleday Field that day.
The Hall will add a special wrinkle to the main Sunday event to honor Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and 10 other Hall of Famers who were not recognized at the time of their induction due to wartime travel restrictions.
"When no player is elected or cases like that you're not going to have the crowds you normally would," Idelson explained. "It has an adverse affect on Hall of Fame weekend. Fortunately the Cooperstown season is more than that weekend. For that weekend we'll do what we need to do to now enhance the ceremonies."
It was the eighth time the writers didn't elect anyone since voting began in 1936. Phil Niekro, Tony Perez and Don Sutton split the vote in 1996, with Niekro leading at 68.3 percent. All three eventually attained enshrinement. Two players and two managers, including Jim Bunning and Earl Weaver, were elected that year by a Veterans Committee. Yogi Berra led the voting in 1971, his first year on the ballot, but fell short of election. He was inducted the following year.
Morris, who had 254 career wins during his 18-year career -- an American League-best 162 of them in the 1980s -- topped a list of returnees that included, among others, Bagwell, Smith, Raines, Trammell, Martinez and Dale Murphy, the center fielder who finished his 15-year tenure on the writers' ballot without success.
"Today's news that those members of the BBWAA afforded the privilege of casting ballots failed to elect even a single player to the Hall of Fame is unfortunate, if not sad," said Michael Weiner, the executive director of the MLB Players Association. "Those empowered to help the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum document the history of the game failed to recognize the contributions of several Hall of Fame worthy players. To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify.
"Moreover, to penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings -- and others never even implicated -- is simply unfair. The Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players to have ever played the game. Several such players were denied access to the Hall today. Hopefully this will be rectified by future voting."
Among the first-timers, Biggio still seems to be on a clear course eventually toward a plaque, because 3,000 hits is an almost-certain ticket to the hallowed Hall. Of the 26 other retired players who amassed 3,000 or more hits, only two are not in the Hall, and both have extenuating circumstances. Rafael Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 569 homers but was suspended for a positive steroid test in 2005, his last season in the Major Leagues. Pete Rose, the all-time leader with 4,256 hits, is banned from baseball because of gambling and is not eligible to be included on Hall of Fame ballots.
Biggio played 20 seasons, all for the Astros. He batted .281 as a catcher, outfielder and second baseman; he played 1,989 of his 2,850 games at second base.
For the others, the future looks much more problematic despite their overwhelming numbers.
Bonds played 22 seasons for the Pirates and Giants and holds the all-time records for homers in a career (762) and a single season (73), plus walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688) He won the National League MVP Award seven times, including three times before 1998, the demarcation line for when many believe steroid use in baseball entered its peak.
Clemens, who pitched for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros during a 24-year career, is ninth in career victories, one shy of Maddux, the pitcher with the most wins in their era with 355. Clemens is third all-time with 4,672 strikeouts, behind Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. Clemens won the AL MVP Award and the Cy Young Award in 1986 for the Red Sox and captured the Cy Young Award seven times, six of them in the AL.
Sosa hit 66 homers for the Cubs in 1998, the year of the feverish home run race with Mark McGwire to break Roger Maris' record of 61, set in 1961. McGwire finished with 70, a record that was broken three years later by Bonds. During that '98 season, Sosa led the National League with 158 RBIs and was named the NL's MVP. Sosa hit 63 in 1999, 64 in 2001 and led the league with 50 in 2000 and 49 in 2002. During that five-year period from 1998-2002, Sosa hit 292 homers.
Piazza may be the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history, hitting the most home runs of any backstop to go along with a .308 lifetime batting average, 1,335 RBIs, and a .922 OPS, the last mark also tops among catchers. The MVP of the 1996 All-Star Game in Philadelphia was a 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and won Rookie of the Year honors with the Dodgers in 1993.
"We hope in the not too distant future that Mike Piazza will take his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon about a man who played eight of his 16 seasons with the Flushing, N.Y., based club. "The statistics he compiled during his career as a catcher were unmatched by anyone in the history of the game. We are optimistic one day soon Mike's plaque, with a Mets cap, will be hanging in Cooperstown where it truly belongs."