NEW YORK -- Late Monday evening, after the day workers and accountants have gone 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 600 hand-stuffed envelopes forwarded by longtime members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Inside are the ballots that will determine the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2005. Two people -- one member of the BBWAA and one from the Hall of Fame -- will check the votes by hand, and come up with a tally that will be certified and logged into a computer by an objective Ernst & Young accountant. A former player's name must be marked on 75 percent of the filed ballots for him to be elected.

This year, will it be Wade Boggs or Ryne Sandberg? Jim Rice or Lee Smith? Bruce Sutter or Goose Gossage? The answer will come on Tuesday during the Hall of Fame's announcement, which will be carried live exclusively on beginning at 1 p.m.

History is with Boggs. Since former Cardinals slugger Stan Musial was enshrined in 1969, all eligible members of the 3,000-hit club have been elected on the first ballot.

"It would be very impressive. I think what I accomplished numbers-wise warrants that," said Boggs, whose 3,010 hits, during an 18-year career for Boston, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay, place him 23rd on the all-time list.

Twenty of the 25 players who have 3,000 or more hits are in the Hall of Fame, with Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson all obvious future first-ballot electees. Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader with 4,256, is banned from baseball and has never been eligible for the Hall.

Sandberg is on the ballot for the third time. He garnered 61 percent a year ago, up from 49.2 percent in 2002. The 10-time All-Star second baseman and 1984 National League MVP with the Chicago Cubs could get another significant bump up this time around. In addition, there isn't a No. 2 sure shot on the ballot like a year ago, when Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were both voted in on their first tries.

"I'm just not sure what the criteria is [to get into Cooperstown]," Sandberg said. "The Baseball Hall of Fame is the sportswriters' shrine. I'm not voting, and there are other guys who haven't been voted in and I shake my head over that.

"Just speaking for myself as a former player, is there anything else for me to do but sit back and wait? That's how it is for me. The guys who go out and talk about themselves and promote themselves, that's not my character. That's not the character I want other people to witness."

Sandberg would be the eighth player to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his third try.

Rice, Smith, Gossage and Sutter are all dark horses.

For one thing, only six times since the first class was elected in 1936 have three players been given the honor by the Baseball Writers in the same year. The last time was 1999, when first-timers and superstars George Brett, Robin Yount and Nolan Ryan all went in at the same time.

Secondly, Smith, Gossage and Sutter have all been plagued by the way the writers view the evolving role of the relief pitcher. Smith is far and away the all-time saves leader with 478, but last year he received only 37 percent of the vote.

Sutter, who is considered the father of the split-finger fastball, received 60 percent and finished fourth behind Molitor, Eckersley and Sandberg. Gossage had only 40.7 percent of the vote and openly wondered why his three-inning appearances and 310 career save don't compare favorably with Rollie Fingers, who had 341 and was elected to the Hall in 1991.

Sutter, whose 12-year career with the Cubs, Cardinals and Braves was cut short by an elbow injury, said he isn't losing any sleep about not getting into the Hall. This is his 13th year on the BBWAA ballot, and he only gets two more tries before being passed on to the Veterans' Committee.

"It's just an honor to be on the ballot, but it's not something I think that much about," said Sutter, who is 18th on the all-time list with 300 saves. "I have no control over it. It's out of my hands. It's the voters -- it's in the voters' hands. There's nothing I can do about it. I can't pitch anymore."

The voters can be benevolent or stingy. They've already passed on Rice 10 times, even though he was a teammate of Boggs, played his entire 16-year career with the Red Sox and hit .298 with 382 home runs.

In 2002, the BBWAA elected only one player -- 15-time All-Star shortstop Ozzie Smith. But it has been nine years since the writers failed to vote anyone into the Hall of Fame. That happened in 1996, when Phil Niekro, Don Sutton and Tony Perez were the top vote getters, but all failed to make the cut. All three, though, were eventually voted in.

It's a real possibility that, when the votes are tallied in the accounting offices of Ernst & Young late on Monday night, only one player will be anointed this year.

The envelopes, please.