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 supposed to remain anonymous — made it on the first try last year. In that same election — their 10th 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 started their careers more than 40 years ago, and only Jones began his after 1990.
Here’s Jones on the topic, from a conversation with Sports Illustrated in 2017: “I couldn’t imagine looking in my parents’ eyes if they knew I had taken a shortcut or cheated. And ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s what swayed me. And I knew that some of my contemporaries were doing it, but in the end it gave me a lot of satisfaction walking away knowing I did it the right way the whole time.”
If Sandberg, Thomas and Morris maintain their hard line against steroid suspects, that means Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro must collect at least 12 of the remaining 13 votes, including one of either Maddux or Jones. That is possible, in theory, but they would then need wider support from executives than from their peers.
Who will make the most persuasive arguments when the committee meets? Who will reconsider past positions? We may never know for sure, but the factors that hurt some candidates in past elections will no longer matter.
A crowded ballot — and a limit of 10 selections — kept McGriff from standing out to most writers, and Schilling’s hostility to many in the B.B.W.A.A. left him just shy of election (he peaked at 71.1 percent in 2021). But both players maintained a high standard for a long time, and baseball lifers tend to value durability.
Durability was not a problem for Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro. Their method of achieving it is the issue — and even with a new set of judges, it threatens their place in history.