That has been the writers’ approach to players suspected of using banned drugs but not strongly linked; even David Ortiz — who had a positive test in 2003, during survey testing that was imagined to remain anonymous — made it on the primary try last 12 months. In that very same election — their tenth and final appearance on the ballot — Bonds and Clemens earned nearly two-thirds of the writers’ votes (66 percent for Bonds and 65.2 percent for Clemens) but essentially ran out of time.
Now, their fate rests largely with their peers and executives, a voting bloc that skews older: Morris, Trammell, Smith and Sandberg began their careers greater than 40 years ago, and only Jones began his after 1990.
Here’s Jones on the subject, from a conversation with Sports Illustrated in 2017: “I couldn’t imagine looking in my parents’ eyes in the event that they knew I had taken a shortcut or cheated. And ultimately, at the top of the day, that’s what swayed me. And I knew that a few of my contemporaries were doing it, but ultimately it gave me a whole lot of satisfaction walking away knowing I did it the fitting way the entire time.”
If Sandberg, Thomas and Morris maintain their hard line against steroid suspects, meaning Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro must collect at the least 12 of the remaining 13 votes, including certainly one of either Maddux or Jones. That is feasible, in theory, but they might then need wider support from executives than from their peers.
Who will make probably the most persuasive arguments when the committee meets? Who will reconsider past positions? We may never know obviously, however the aspects that hurt some candidates in past elections will not matter.
A crowded ballot — and a limit of 10 selections — kept McGriff from standing out to most writers, and Schilling’s hostility to many within the B.B.W.A.A. left him just shy of election (he peaked at 71.1 percent in 2021). But each players maintained a high standard for a very long time, and baseball lifers are likely to value durability.
Durability was not an issue for Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro. Their approach to achieving it’s the difficulty — and even with a latest set of judges, it threatens their place in history.