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Three will be the first to know
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01/05/2003  9:20 PM ET 
Three will be the first to know
Hall of Fame vote counters must keep a secret
Vote now for the 2003 All-Star game
Votes for Jim Kaat will be counted for the 15th and final time on Monday. (AP Photos)

Late Monday evening, when the day workers and accountants go home from their jobs at the New York offices of Ernst & Young, three people seated in a secluded conference room will begin the giddy and somewhat arduous task of opening about 480 hand-stuffed envelopes forwarded by longtime members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Inside are the ballots that will determine the 2003 Class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They will check the votes by hand -- one member of the BBWAA and one from the HOF -- and that tally will be certified and logged into a computer by an objective Ernst & Young accountant. A name must be marked on 75 percent of the filed ballots for a former player to be elected.

"For about 12 hours we'll be the only people in the world privy to the results," said Jack O'Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA and a national baseball writer for the Hartford Courant, who will be joined Monday night by Jeff Idelson of the HOF and Mike Dilecce of Ernst & Young.

By 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, the rest of the world will know who got in: Eddie Murray, Gary Carter, Lee Smith or Ryne Sandberg? And who will miss again: Steve Garvey, Jim Kaat or Goose Gossage?

Voting for the HOF is a rare privilege afforded members of the BBWAA, but only those writers who have covered baseball for 10 consecutive seasons earn that right.

"It's been that way since the first HOF Class in 1936," O'Connell said.

Hall of Fame 2003

Induction Ceremony
Sunday, July 27
Cooperstown, New York

The inductees
Gary Carter | Eddie Murray

Schedule of weekend events
Complete coverage

None of it is taken lightly. On the cover letter to the printed ballot, HOF president Dale Petroskey tells voters: "Players eligible for election will automatically return to the ballot in 2004, provided they receive votes on a minimum of 5 percent of the ballots cast. If any player receives less than 5 percent, he will no longer be eligible for consideration by the BBWAA. A player may remain on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years, provided he continues to receive votes on at least 5 percent of the ballots."

Each eligible writer can vote for as many as 10 players each year or as few as none and has about a month to return the completed ballot to O'Connell.

This year there were 33 players on the ballot, 17 for the first time. By the Hall's own criteria, this will be the 15th and final appearance for Kaat, who won 283 games for five teams in 25 seasons and last year appeared on only 23.1 percent of the ballots. There are 189 former Major Leaguers in the HOF -- only 96 of them voted in by the BBWAA and the other 93 by the Veterans Committee.

"It's not easy to be named on 75 percent of the ballots," Idelson said. "There really aren't any mistakes."

How tough is it to get in? For the 2002 class, when a winner's name needed to appear on 354 of the 472 ballots, only Ozzie Smith attracted enough votes to be elected by the BBWAA. His name appeared on 91.7 percent or 433 of the ballots. Carter missed by a mere 11 votes. Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter were the only other former players among the 28 listed who received more than 50 percent.

Six players -- Ron Guidry, Dave Stewart, Mike Greenwell, Frank Viola, Lenny Dykstra and Tim Wallach -- received less than 5 percent of the vote. Four more -- Mike Henneman, Jeff Russell, Scott Sanderson and Robby Thompson -- received no votes at all. None of the 10 will ever be back on the ballot.

The ballots are mailed out to voters in early December and must be returned by post or fax by the end of the year. O'Connell said he mailed out about 550 ballots last month. Some writers are so anxious they both mail and fax their ballots, part of the process that will be double-checked when the votes are counted and certified Monday night.

The record return is the 515 ballots that sent Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield in to the HOF as part of the 2001 class, said O'Connell, who added that he once was disappointed that about 80 ballots a year are not returned.

Some members don't update their home addresses and others pass away.

"I had one guy call me this year to say he was getting a divorce and his ex-wife would probably throw the ballot out," O'Connell said.

Now O'Connell said he's become satisfied by the rate of return. "I spoke to people who do the Harris Poll and they told me that if you're getting a 90 percent return, that's unheard of. You're doing darn good," he said.

Barry M. Bloom is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at barry.bloom@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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