Ripken, the Iron Man, and Gwynn, the eight-time National League batting champion, head the list of most likely electees. The jury is still out on Mark McGwire, the first player to hit 70 homers during a single season, but a man who is tainted by the shadow of Major League Baseball's so-called steroid era. The trio is among 17 players on the ballot this year for the first time.
Holdovers Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Rich Gossage hope that their strong showings in 2006, when Bruce Sutter was the sole electee, will carry them over the top in 2007.
All will be revealed on Tuesday, and the announcement will be carried live via BaseballChannel.TV on MLB.com, which will air its Hall of Fame election show from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, hosted by Casey Stern and Billy Sample. At the 2 p.m. witching hour, Dale Petroskey, the Hall of Fame president, will make the official announcement.
By then, the former players to be inducted in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 29, will already have gotten the much-awaited phone calls. The ballot was announced more than a month ago, and eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who have logged at least 10 consecutive years, spent that month making their decisions.
To be elected, a player's name must be inscribed on 75 percent of the approximately 590 ballots sent out. To be carried over for another year, a player must be named on at least 5 percent of the ballots. By rule, except under very special circumstances, a player must be retired for five years to become eligible, and can't remain on the writers' ballot for any longer than 15 years.
Even in the mind of one of the most obvious candidates, there is some doubt.
Gwynn was a 15-time National League All-Star, who had 3,141 hits, batted .338 and won five Gold Gloves as a right fielder in his 20 Major League seasons, all played with the San Diego Padres.
The 2007 ballot features 32 candidates, with 15 returnees and 17 newcomers. (Years on ballot)
"The numbers aren't going to change," said Gwynn, who along with the other new 16 ballot members, retired at the end of the 2001 season. "They're posted. It's been five years. You can argue all day long about this and that, but it's all up to the people who vote. I think I'm a Hall of Famer. But you lay in bed at night wondering if you did enough."
Ripken, who toiled his entire 21-year career for the Baltimore Orioles as a shortstop and third baseman, also professed to be a tad nervous.
He played in a record 2,632 consecutive games from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998, shattering the mark of 2,130 once held by Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig. Ripken, as well, had 3,184 hits --including 431 home runs -- batted .276, was twice an American League Most Valuable Player (1983 and 1991), was a 19-time AL All-Star, and won two Gold Gloves.
"I always have butterflies in my stomach when it comes to momentous things like this," Ripken said.
McGwire, who played 16 seasons for the Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals before a knee injury prematurely ended his career in 2001, hit 583 homers -- 70 of them in 1998 and 65 more in 1999. McGwire's single-season record was broken in 2001 by Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who hit 73. Though McGwire was a 12-time All-Star, the AL's Rookie of the Year in 1987 and a Gold Glove-winning first baseman in 1990, he has been a focal point of controversy.
McGwire is plagued by the specter of his perceived place in Major League Baseball's steroid era and his reluctance to speak candidly about it during Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., nearly two years ago. Even though ballot instructions strictly limit a voter's scope to a players' "record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which he played," some voters have said that the Congressional appearance, coming four years after his retirement, could have a profound affect on their voting for McGwire.
"I think writers are going to make their point," Gwynn said. "I think he's a Hall of Famer. But it's a lot of people's point of view that he didn't come across well in the Congressional hearings. It's going to cost him. It's a shame, but I think that's what's going to happen."
Also new on the ballot this year are some of baseball's best and brightest: Harold Baines, Paul O'Neill, Bret Saberhagen, Eric Davis, Bobby Bonilla and Tony Fernandez, but none are expected to make the grade.
Among the 15 holdovers from last year's ballot are Rice, Gossage and Dawson, players who all scored above 60 percent of the vote at the same time that Sutter was selected with 76.9 percent. But next year, when the ballot is projected to be much thinner, may be the time for them.
Gwynn said he's well aware of what is at stake. He's thrilled about his prospects, but some of the excitement is being tempered right now because he believes that some of his Major League predecessors should already be in the Hall.
"There's always that guilt that bothers me because I'm a big baseball fan," Gwynn said. "I grew up watching baseball, and even when I first came up, there was no doubt that Goose was a Hall of Famer. I see guys like him not in there and to me it's a double-edged sword. I want to get in, but I want these guys to accomplish what they want to accomplish, too."