During a visit to AT&T Park last summer, Barry Bonds was asked about his chances for being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"It would be very sad if it didn't happen,'' he said.
The former Giants slugger gets his answer at 11 a.m. on Wednesday when Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson will announce the results of voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
And "sad" might be the least of the possible emotions. Bonds' first appearance on the ballot has ignited a polarizing debate that even has some current residents of Cooperstown all riled up.
"Cheaters should absolutely not be in the Hall of Fame,'' reliever Goose Gossage told the Denver Post last week. "You are telling me we are going to reward these guys? Are you (expletive) kidding me? What is going on in this world? Right is right. Wrong is wrong."
This ballot represents the first time that the Baseball Writers' Association has been asked to decide whether a pair of statistical slam-dunks -- Bonds and Roger Clemens -- should be denied enshrinement because of their link to performance-enhancing drugs.
In contrast to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, whose numbers can be dismissed as steroid-fueled mirages, Bonds and Clemens were among the most dominant players in the game long before BALCO became part of the sporting lexicon. Bonds hit 762 home runs and won seven MVP awards; Clemens won 354 games and seven Cy Youngs.
This isn't a statistical debate; it's a moral referendum. Voters are paying close attention to a provision on the Hall of Fame ballot that has been there since its early origins. The current wording reminds voters to consider: "character, integrity and sportsmanship as criteria for election.''
As Bonds' supporters have noted, however, that integrity clause has not prevented the election of, say, Ty Cobb, whose "reputation as a racist has, if anything been understated,'' according to "The New Biographical History of Baseball," which devotes a section to his violent acts.
Cheating? Gaylord Perry earned enshrinement despite using a "spitball" and other slimed-up pitches en route to his 314 career victories. (Former catcher Gene Tenace once said: "There were occasions I couldn't throw the ball back to him because it was so greasy that it slipped out of my hands.")
Drugs? Baseball writer Joe Sheehan recently detailed how amphetamines may have created some statistical anomalies during the 1970s and wrote: "Voters have been putting players in the Hall who used illegal drugs to enhance their performance for a quarter-century, and deciding that this is where they're going to draw the line is ignorant of history, and aggressively so."
Ballots were due New Year's Eve. And the early rumblings aren't promising for Bonds and Clemens. A survey by the Associated Press revealed that those two failed to muster even 50 percent among the 112 voters they contacted -- about one-fifth of those eligible to choose. (To be elected a player must receive 75 percent of the vote; eligible voters must have covered major league baseball for at least 10 years.)
Tom Verducci, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and among those who left Bonds off his ballot, said: "To me, a vote for someone that you know has used steroids is an endorsement of steroids. And I can't go there."
"They cheated -- all of them,'' wrote Thom Loverro, another non-Bonds voter and a columnist for the Washington Examiner. "And this Hall of Fame is not just about numbers. Three of the six criteria for election to Cooperstown are sportsmanship, integrity and character. Bonds, Sosa and Clemens fail on all three counts."
On the other hand, Richard Justice, a columnist for MLB.com, voted for Bonds, as well as Clemens and eight others on the ballot, by reason that steroids were so pervasive during the era of Clemens and Bonds that there was no use in "punishing them."
"I decided it was just too cloudy,'' Justice said on the MLB Network. "I don't know everybody that did and didn't, so I'm going to vote for the best players and let somebody else sort it out."
ESPN's Buster Olney agreed, saying MLB's loose rules and lax enforcement created the steroid era, "whether we like it or not. ... The baseball writers ought to get out of the way rather than acting like overzealous crossing guards empowered by their ballots. The writers' work should always reflect history, not determine legacies."
Bonds has denied knowingly using steroids. A positive test was introduced as evidence during his criminal trial last year, when he was convicted of obstruction of justice by a jury that failed to reach a verdict on charges he made false statements to a grand jury when he denied knowing using performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens has repeatedly denied drug use and was acquitted this year on charges he lied to Congress when he said he didn't take steroids or human growth hormone.
The writers who chose to leave Bonds and other accused steroid users off their ballots have come under fire as sanctimonious, sermonizing moralists. But they also have the backing of some noted Hall of Famers, who support the tough stance.
"There's no place in the Hall of Fame for people who cheat,'' Hank Aaron has said.
"I think if you cheated, I think you made a decision and I don't think you belong,'' Barry Larkin has said.
"If you cheat, you don't fit,'' Wade Boggs has said.
"I am hoping that those guys that get caught don't get into the Hall of Fame,'' Reggie Jackson has said.
So what to do? Cooperstown is leaving that up to the baseball writers. Idelson, who will read the results live on the MLB Network, said writers have "done an excellent job, historically, in evaluating candidates."
Idelson said that if a player is elected who has ties to steroids, there are no plans to denote that on his Hall of Fame plaque. That text is limited to approximately 90 words, highlighting the achievements of a player's career.
Contact Daniel Brown at email@example.com.