Proving once again to be rigid guardians of the gate to Cooperstown, the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee did not elect any of the 25 candidates on its 2005 ballot.

Results of the biannual election, announced Wednesday, again disappointed the leading candidates who had come close two years ago and hoped for an extra nudge into the shrine.

Tom Seaver, speaking on a conference call for all of the living Hall of Fame players who comprise a majority of the revamped committee, defended their prolonged inability to induct anyone.

"Our job is not to vote someone to the Hall of Fame, but to go through the voting process as it's defined," Seaver said. "The objective isn't necessarily to vote someone in.

"It's very difficult to get into the Hall of Fame -- and it should be a difficult process."

The late Gil Hodges, the former Dodgers first baseman and Mets manager, again led the balloting, but with 52 votes fell eight shy of induction. Former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo matched Hodges' total in edging past Tony Oliva, the runner-up in the 2003 election who garnered 45 votes this time around.

Thus, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg will stand alone as former players during the Hall's induction ceremony on July 31. The electees of the Baseball Writers Association of America will be enshrined alongside J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Peter Gammons and Ford C. Frick Award recipient Jerry Coleman.

But Bill Mazeroski and Hilton Smith, elected in 2001 by an earlier incarnation of the Veterans Committee, will remain the last old-timers chosen for the Hall at least until the next balloting in 2007.

"Election to the Hall of Fame has always been difficult," said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark. "The Veterans Committee process gives players a second chance for consideration, but one must be reminded that each player on the ballot was considered for up to 15 years by the baseball writers.

"The current process works by upholding the Hall of Fame's high standards for election."

  2005 Vets Committee
  voting results
 Player  Votes   %
 Gil Hodges  52  65.0%
 Ron Santo  52  65.0%
 Tony Oliva  45  56.3%
 Jim Kaat  43  53.8%
 Joe Torre  36  45.0%
 Maury Wills  26  32.5%
 Vada Pinson  23  28.8%
 Luis Tiant  20  25.0%
 Roger Maris  19  23.8%
 Marty Marion  16  20.0%
 Ken Boyer  15  18.8%
 Joe Gordon  14  17.5%
 Carl Mays  12  15.0%
 Minnie Minoso  12  15.0%
 Dick Allen  12  15.0%
 Curt Flood  10  12.5%
 Wes Ferrell    9  11.3%
 Mickey Lolich    9  11.3%
 Don Newcombe    8  10.0%
 Sparky Lyle    7    8.8%
 Elston Howard    6    7.5%
 Bobby Bonds    4    5.0%
 Rocky Colavito    4    5.0%
 Thurman Munson    2    2.5%
 Smoky Joe Wood    2    2.5%

"To get 75 percent in any election is a very difficult thing to do," added Dale Petroskey, the Hall's president.

With 80 members of the 83-man committee returning ballots, induction required 60 votes for the necessary 75 percent. The living Hall of Famers and recipients of the Hall's awards to writers and broadcasters cast an average of 5.7 votes on their ballots, short of the allowed maximum of 10.

The uncast votes, however, were unlikely to have made a difference for those who came close to the Hall's threshold, instead reflecting the vote totals of those down the list.

Jim Kaat, a newcomer to the ballot following the expiration of his 15-year term on BBWAA ballot, was fourth with 43 votes (53.8 percent).

Yankees manager Joe Torre, a one-time National League batting champion who ended his 17-year playing career with 2,342 hits, finished fifth with 36 votes. At 45 percent, he was the only other candidate to receive at least half of the backing required for election.

"Two years is too much to wait," Oliva said. "A lot of players are 60 or 70 or so. You don't want to go to the Hall of Fame when you're dead. I told my wife very clear. If I'm dead and they put me in the Hall of Fame, don't go. They can eat it if they want. I want to go when I'm alive.

"They showed exactly that it's almost impossible to get into the Hall of Fame the way the system is right now."

Cooperstown immortality evidently is subject to a harsher yardstick than raw statistics, or even fans' fond memories of favorite players. Accomplished players among the candidates were judged critically by that yardstick.

Of the total of 458 votes cast by the committee, Maury Wills, the guts of the early '60s Dodgers who stole 586 bases, received only 26. Luis Tiant earned 229 wins, and 20 votes. Bobby Bonds' 332 homers and 461 stolen bases added up to four votes.

Thurman Munson, revered by Yankees fans for his performance and leadership during a career curtailed by a fatal plane crash, received two of the 458 votes.

"Some people must be very disappointed for those involved," acknowledged Clark, who embraced the fact the top candidates' support did rise from 2003, when Hodges' 61.7 percent topped the ballot. "The results have shown that this is not a static process, and I find that very encouraging.

"We hope that the next election will prove to be even more dynamic."

This year's process began with a selection committee considering a pool of more than 1,400 eligible candidates who had played in at least 10 seasons, up to and including 1983.

Electees of the defunct Veterans Committee still comprise a majority of the Hall's membership. Of the 260 enshrined former players, 102 were voted in by the writers, 149 by the old Committee and nine by another retired committee on former Negro Leaguers.

Seaver conceded that one possible means of "ensuring" future Veterans inductees is to present voters with a narrower choice.

"Trimming the ballot from 25 to 15 is one potential way to tweak this," said the former Mets ace. "If it's needed ... but I'm not sure anyone really feels that it should become easier to get into the Hall of Fame."