NEW YORK -- It could either be the year of the reliever or the year of the big zero. It could be the year that Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage are anointed in the hallowed National Baseball Hall of Fame or nobody at all for the first time since 1996, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to give any former player the requisite 75 percent of the vote. The announcement will come Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET and be broadcast live on BaseballChannel.TV.
Jim Rice and Andre Dawson are also waiting in the wings. The pair of stellar outfielders, plus Gossage and Sutter, found their names on more than 50 percent of the ballots a year ago, when Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs were voted in, Boggs on his first shot with 91.9 percent of the votes. "I've felt the best this year, though, about the possibility of going in," Gossage said recently from his home in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I don't know if that's because of the feedback I'm getting from the writers who are calling me or what. The funny thing is, I always hear the good things. Nobody ever calls to tell me why they didn't vote for me. I guess they never would, but I never even hear it through the grapevine." The pregame begins on BaseballChannel.TV at 1 p.m. ET with the show hosted by Casey Stern and Billy Sample. The pair will spend the hour previewing candidates, showing video clips and offering learned analysis. Along the way, they'll have the help of such baseball brains as Padres manager Bruce Bochy and former Mets, A's and Astros skipper Art Howe. At the strike of 2 o'clock, Dale Petroskey, the Hall of Fame president, will announce the new inductees and then follow that up with an interview with Sample. During the hour leading up to the announcement, the new Hall of Famers will be notified by phone and told to be ready for the induction ceremonies on July 30 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., the home the Hall of Fame. The months between that call and the actual induction are legendary. "It was nonstop after January," Sandberg said last year. "It came from all different directions. Being involved with the Cubs, I have responsibilities with the team. I did Spring Training and then different things for them. I went to Houston and did a thing for the Hall of Fame. Opened their travel exhibit there. Went to New York three times. Chicago. We had something just about every other day on the calendar." It begins with the ballot. This year 29 names -- 14 newcomers -- were on the ballot sent last month to the members of the BBWAA with 10 or more consecutive years of experience covering baseball. The first-timers -- highlighted by Orel Hershiser, Will Clark, Dwight Gooden, Albert Belle and Ozzie Guillen -- don't really have a slam dunk candidate among them like Boggs was last year and Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mark McGwire may be a year from now. Late Monday evening, at the New York offices of accounting firm Ernst & Young, three people seated in a secluded conference room will open about 600 hand-stuffed envelopes forwarded by the BBWAA. Last year, 516 ballots were cast. Two people will check the votes by hand -- one member of the BBWAA and one from the Hall of Fame -- then that tally will be certified and logged into a computer by an objective Ernst & Young accountant. Until Tuesday, those will be the only people who know what former players may comprise the Hall of Fame Class of 2006. None of the ballot returnees has garnered more than the 66.7 percent of the vote attained last year by Sutter, the closer who revolutionized the game by throwing a split-fingered fastball (or forkball) as his out pitch. It is Sutter's 13th year on the ballot, two fewer than his maximum eligibility to be voted in by the BBWAA. It should be noted that Sandberg, the Cubs' All-Star second baseman, had 61 percent of the vote in 2004 and then jumped to 76 percent of the vote in 2005. So Sutter, in particular, is right on the cusp. This past year, Rice, who played his whole career for the Red Sox, had 59.5 percent of the vote; Gossage, who pitched for many, but is probably best known for his work as a Yankee, had 55.2 percent, and Dawson, who starred for the Cubs and Expos, was named on 52.3 percent of the ballots. Rice is on the ballot for the 12th time; Gossage for the seventh time, and Dawson for the fifth time. No one else was even close with Bert Blyleven, who had 287 wins in his 22-year career, falling just short of 41 percent. "It's a little frustrating, but I've had to kind of roll with it," said Blyleven, who is on the ballot for the ninth time, from his home in Fort Myers, Fla., last month. "You try to get [voters] one-on-one and persuade them a little bit." The BBWAA rarely shuts candidates out. The last time it happened in 1996, Phil Niekro, Tony Perez and Don Sutton all finished in the 63-to-68 percent range. The trio was eventually elected: Niekro in 1997; Sutton in 1998, and Perez in 2000. The last time three players were selected in the same year was the famous Class of 1999 that boasted Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount, who all made it in on their first shout. In the last six elections, two players have been picked each year, save for 2002 when the Cardinals' wizard of all shortstops, Ozzie Smith, was the lone inductee. Gary Carter, who excelled behind the plate for the Expos and Mets, missed by less than 2.5 percent that year, but was voted in along with first-timer Eddie Murray in 2003. And so, this could be a rerun shutout of 1996, a replay trio of 1999, or the more colloquial pair of recent years. "No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson," Sandberg said of the man known as "The Hawk." "He's the best I've ever seen. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way." It'll all be revealed on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET on BaseballChannel.TV.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.