(The Chirp) -- It is doubtful that fewer Baseball Hall of Fame balloting classes will generate as much conversation and debate as the one released today by the folks in Cooperstown.
Today, the Hall released its 2013 ballot that will be sent to 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, who must decide how best to handle a long list of players tied directly, indirectly or circumstantially to performance-enhancing drugs.
Here's a user's guide to the users, suspected and otherwise, that voters will be basing their ballots upon.
Keep it close at hand. Some debates may not go away for the next 15 years.
Rafael Palmeiro: Tested positive for Stanolozol in 2005, the first whale nailed by baseball's drug-testing program. His 3,020 career hits and 569 home runs would make him a Hall lock; instead, his positive test -- and sanctimonious denials of PED use in a 2005 congressional hearing -- reduced him to vote totals of 11% and 12.6% his first two years on the ballot.
Mark McGwire: His nebulous testimony about steroid use in the same hearing that set Palmeiro up for his fall from grace all but discounted his 583 career home runs. McGwire peaked at 23.7% of the vote in 2010. Coming clean did not help his cause, either. After admitting in January 2010 he took steroids and growth hormone in his career, McGwire's total dipped to 19% each of the next two years.
Barry Bonds: Bonds dodged a perjury conviction in a federal trial related to his testimony in the BALCO doping scandal but was convicted of obstruction of justice, a conviction that is still under appeal. However, the crux of that trial was based on whether he "knowingly" took steroids. Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was jailed on numerous occasions for refusing to testify against Bonds. The book Game of Shadows breaks down in excruciating detail the arc of Bonds' alleged used, which it claims began after the 1998 season. Those details have not been credibly disputed. For what it's worth, Bonds had a near-Hall of Fame career (411 home runs, 445 steals, a .996 OPS) from 1986-98, years in which he was ostensibly clean. By the time his 22-year career wrapped up in 2007, he had a record 762 home runs and a 1.051 OPS.
Roger Clemens: The biggest name ensnared in baseball's 2007 Mitchell Report on PED use, Clemens will learn this year if his successful fight to avoid federal perjury charges -- and his seven Cy Young Awards -- resonate with voters more than allegations from his former trainer that he took steroids and growth hormone between the years of 1998-2001. Clemens won 354 games over his career, including 213 wins and four Cy Young Awards before he supposedly started using PEDs. But voters must weigh whether the allegations leveled by Brian McNamee -- at least partially corroborated by former teammate Andy Pettitte -- resonate more than Clemens' June 2012 acquittal on six charges of lying to Congress and obstruction. Clemens sued McNamee for defamation in 2008, a suit eventually dismissed by a series of federal judges. McNamee's defamation suit against Clemens, filed in 2009, is still winding through the legal process in New York.
Sammy Sosa: McGwire was admittedly doped up when he slugged a then-record 70 home runs in 1998. The only player who could keep pace with him? Sosa, who finished with 66. Seven years later, they both testified before Congress about PED use. While Sosa came out a bit better than McGwire, his suddenly faulty English and statement that he had not "broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic," where steroids can be legally purchased, did not help his cause. Sosa's statement that he "never took performance-enhancing drugs" was investigated by a House committee in 2010 after a New York Times report said he was among a group of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003 survey testing. But the House panel did not recommend the Department of Justice investigate Sosa, perhaps in part because of a five-year statute of limitations on such investigations.
Nothing but whispers
Jeff Bagwell: There has been no evidence that Bagwell used PEDs during a career in which he hit 449 home runs, had a .297 batting average, won an MVP award and finished in the top three two other times, all easily Hall credentials. In fact, his career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) put him in elite, sure-fire Hall territory. But his bulky physique and the large disconnect between his minor-league and major league production (he hit six home runs in 731 minor-league at-bats) have tailed him. Bagwell received 42% and 56% of the vote his first two years on the ballot, and barring any PED evidence emerging, figures to eventually win election. But in a 2010 interview with ESPN.com, Bagwell seemed to sense that he might be a victim of his era when it came to Hall of Fame voting. "I know a lot of people are saying, 'His body got bigger.'" Bagwell said then. "Well, if you're eating 30 pounds of meat every single day and you're working out and bench pressing, you're going to get bigger. You can go to every single trainer and they'll say, 'He was the first here and last to leave, and that dude worked his ass off.'"
Mike Piazza: Like Bagwell, Piazza had famously modest amateur credentials -- he was drafted in the 62nd round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. Then, he developed into arguably the greatest-hitting catcher of all time as baseball's steroid era blossomed. That's put him in the crosshairs of suspicion, though he has publicly denied using PEDs. One on-the-record assertion that Piazza doped came in Jeff Pearlman's 2009 book on Clemens, The Rocket Who Fell To Earth. Reggie Jefferson, a major league first baseman/outfielder from 1991-99, said Piazza's use was widely assumed by his peers. "He's a guy who did it, and everybody knows it,"Jefferson said. "It's amazing how all these names, like Roger Clemens, are brought up, yet Mike Piazza goes untouched."