This week the real debate begins over an election -- that of the 2013 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots, which were sent out Monday, include for the first time: Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader; Roger Clemens, one of the winningest pitchers in baseball history; and Sammy Sosa, the slugger who stole the hearts of baseball fans in the summer of 1998.

None of them will be voted into Cooperstown this year. It's possible none of them ever will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Steroids have been part of the discussion about the Hall of Fame since Mark McGwire -- who later admitted to using steroids -- first appeared on the ballot three years ago and fell far short of the 75 percent needed for election. Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for steroids, has not even come close to that figure in the two years he has been on the ballot.

Cases -- weak ones, perhaps -- could be made against both players as Hall of Famers without the steroid use in their past. McGwire was a one-dimensional home run hitter, and Palmeiro, though he was one of the few players with more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, was never considered one of the dominant players of his era.

No one would dare say that Bonds, a seven-time National League MVP with 762 home runs, isn't a Hall of Famer. Nor would anyone say that Clemens, with 354 career victories, 4,672 strikeouts and seven Cy Young awards, shouldn't be enshrined in Coopers?town. The same goes for Sosa, who finished with 609 career home runs, including 243 of them from 1998 through 2001.

Except they cheated -- all of them. And this Hall of Fame is not just about numbers. Three of the six criteria for election to Cooperstown are sportsmanship, integrity and character.

Bonds, Sosa and Clemens fail on all three counts.

Bonds is an admitted cheater. He did so, according to reports, in his grand jury testimony in the BALCO investigation. Bonds admitted he took the cream and the clear but claimed he didn't know what it was. Reasonable people may have a hard time believing that.

Clemens was tried and acquitted of lying to Congress when he denied the allegations in the Mitchell Report that he used performance-enhancing substances. If you read the Mitchell Report and the testimony of his former trainer, Brian McNamee, reasonable people may have a hard time believing his denials.

Sosa was reportedly on the 2003 list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He has denied using such substances. Reasonable people who saw Sosa shrink to the size of the Orioles' bat boy in 2005 might disagree.

How many reasonable baseball writers will ignore the cheating? Not enough.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and Contact him at