Eleven newcomers are on the ballot, but none of them are seen as sure-fire winners, as was the case last year when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were elected overwhelmingly in their inaugural appearances. That could open the door to other long-time hopefuls like Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, who were fourth and fifth behind Ripken, Gwynn and Gossage last year.Rice, who played all of his 16 seasons with the Red Sox, finished with 63.5 percent of the vote. Dawson, who hobbled on bad knees through many of his 21 seasons with Montreal, the Cubs, Boston and Florida, was well behind him at 56.7 percent. But it may be tough for both former outfielders to make up that much ground in a single year. "No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson," said Ryne Sandberg, a former Cubs teammate when he was inducted into the Hall along with Wade Boggs in 2005. "I watched him win an MVP for a last-place [Cubs] team in 1987 and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday." And what about Mark McGwire, the first player tainted by the steroids era to face the electorate? He hit 70 homers in 1998, winning his famous record home run race against Sammy Sosa, and finished with 583 in his career. But in his first year on the ballot in 2007, he received an underwhelming 23.5 percent. In the wake of last month's Mitchell Report, is anything going to change? "For me, there isn't anything that's changed about, No. 1, how much I believe in him, and No. 2, what that means as far as his career and his production and some of the historic things he did," said the Cardinals' Tony La Russa, who managed McGwire in both Oakland and St. Louis. "I'm hoping that he gets that honor sooner rather than later." Many of the 11 newcomers won't receive the requisite 5 percent and will not appear on the ballot again. For Davey Concepcion, the shortstop on Cincinnati's great "Big Red Machine" teams of the 1970s, this is his 15th and final chance. But don't lose hope. Two years ago, Sutter made it during his 13th season on the ballot. "I will pass out," said Concepcion if his long-shot chances of being elected somehow materialize. "I've been waiting for it all my life." So has Gossage. So have all the nominees.
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.