For only the second time in four decades, baseball writers failed to give any player the 75 percent required for induction to Cooperstown, sending a powerful signal that stars of the Steroids Era will be held to a different standard.
All the awards and accomplishments collected over long careers by Bonds, Clemens and Sosa could not offset suspicions those feats were boosted by performance-enhancing drugs.
Voters also denied entry Wednesday to fellow newcomers Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling, along with holdovers Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Lee Smith.
Among the most honored players of their generation, these standouts won't find their images among the 300 bronze plaques on the oak walls in Cooperstown, where - at least for now - the doors appear to be bolted shut on anyone tainted by PEDs.
"After what has been written and said over the last few years I'm not overly surprised," Clemens said in a statement he posted on Twitter.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa retired after the 2007 season. They were eligible for the Hall for the first time and have up to 14 more years on the writers' ballot.
"Curt Schilling made a good point, everyone was guilty. Either you used PEDs, or you did nothing to stop their use," Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said in an email to The Associated Press after this year's vote was announced. "This generation got rich. Seems there was a price to pay."
Biggio, 20th on the career list with 3,060 hits, appeared on 68.2 percent of the 569 ballots, the highest total but 39 votes shy. The three newcomers with the highest profiles failed to come close to even majority support, with Clemens at 37.6 percent, Bonds at 36.2 and Sosa at 12.5.
Other top vote-getters were Morris (67.7), Jeff Bagwell (59.6), Piazza (57.8), Tim Raines (52.2), Lee Smith (47.8) and Schilling (38.8).
"I'm kind of glad that nobody got in this year," Hall of Famer Al Kaline said. "I feel honored to be in the Hall of Fame. And I would've felt a little uneasy sitting up there on the stage, listening to some of these new guys talk about how great they were. ... I don't know how great some of these players up for election would've been without drugs. But to me, it's cheating."
At ceremonies in Cooperstown on July 28, the only inductees will be three men who died more than 70 years ago: Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O'Day and barehanded catcher Deacon White. They were chosen last month by the 16-member panel considering individuals from the era before integration in 1947.
"It is a dark day," said Jose Canseco, the former AL MVP who was among the first players to admit using steroids. "I think the players should organize some type of lawsuit against major league baseball or the writers. It's ridiculous. Most of these players really have no evidence against them. They've never tested positive or they've cleared themselves like Roger Clemens."
It was the eighth time the BBWAA failed to elect any players. There were four fewer votes than last year and five members submitted blank ballots.
"With 53 percent you can get to the White House, but you can't get to Cooperstown," BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell said. "It's the 75 percent that makes it difficult."
There have been calls for the voting to be taken away from the writers and be given to a more diverse electorate that would include players and broadcasters. The Hall says it is content with the process, which began in 1936.
"It takes time for history to sort itself out, and I'm not surprised we had a shutout today," Hall President Jeff Idelson said. "I wish we had an electee. I will say that, but I'm not surprised given how volatile this era has been in terms of assessing the qualities and the quantities of the statistics and the impact on the game these players have had."
Bonds, baseball's only seven-time Most Valuable Player, hit 762 home runs, including a record 73 in 2001. He was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using PEDs but a jury two years ago failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements and convicted him on one obstruction of justice count, finding he gave an evasive answer.
"It is unimaginable that the best player to ever play the game would not be a unanimous first-ballot selection," said Jeff Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, Bonds' longtime agent.
Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is third in career strikeouts (4,672) and ninth in wins (354). He was acquitted last year on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury, all stemming from his denials of drug use.
"To those who did take the time to look at the facts," Clemens said, "we very much appreciate it."
Sosa, eighth with 609 home runs, was among those who tested positive in MLB's 2003 anonymous survey, The New York Times reported in 2009. He told a congressional committee in 2005 that he never took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Since 1961, the only years the writers didn't elect a candidate had been when Yogi Berra topped the 1971 vote by appearing on 67 percent of the ballots cast and when Phil Niekro headed the 1996 ballot at 68 percent - both got in the following years. The other BBWAA elections without a winner were in 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958 and 1960.
Morris will make his final ballot appearance next year, when fellow pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are eligible for the first time along with slugger Frank Thomas.
"Next year, I think you'll have a rather large class, and this year, for whatever reasons, you had a couple of guys come really close," Commissioner Bud Selig said at the owners' meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz. "This is not to be voted to make sure that somebody gets in every year. It's to be voted on to make sure that they're deserving. I respect the writers as well as the Hall itself. This idea that this somehow diminishes the Hall of baseball is just ridiculous in my opinion."
Players' union head Michael Weiner called the vote "unfortunate, if not sad."
"To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify. Moreover, to penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings - and others never even implicated - is simply unfair. The Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players to have ever played the game. Several such players were denied access to the Hall today. Hopefully this will be rectified by future voting."
The BBWAA election rules say "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
An Associated Press survey of 112 eligible voters conducted in late November after the ballot was announced indicated Bonds, Clemens and Sosa would fall well short of 50 percent. The big three drew even less support than that as the debate raged over who was Hall worthy.
Voters are writers who have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years at any point.
BBWAA president Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle said she didn't vote for Bonds, Clemens or Sosa.
"The evidence for steroid use is too strong," she said.
As for Biggio, "I'm surprised he didn't get in."
Mark McGwire, 10th on the career home run list with 583, received 16.9 percent on his seventh try, down from 19.5 last year. He got 23.7 percent in 2010 - a vote before he admitted using steroids and human growth hormone.
Rafael Palmeiro, among just four players with 500 homers and 3,000 hits along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, received 8.8 percent in his third try, down from 12.6 percent last year. Palmeiro received a 10-day suspension in 2005 for a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, claiming it was due to a vitamin vial given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada.
MLB.com's Hal Bodley, the former baseball columnist for USA Today, said Biggio and others paid the price for other players using PEDs.
"They got caught in the undertow of the steroids thing," he said.
Bodley said this BBWAA vote was a "loud and clear" message on the steroids issue. He said he couldn't envision himself voting for stars linked to drugs.
"We've a forgiving society, I know that," he said. "But I have too great a passion for the sport."
NOTES: There were four write-in votes for career hits leader Pete Rose, who never appeared on the ballot because of his lifetime ban that followed an investigation of his gambling while manager of the Cincinnati Reds. ... Two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy received 18.6 percent in his 15th and final appearance. ... At the July 28 ceremonies, the Hall also will honor Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby among a dozen players who never received formal inductions because of restrictions during World War II. ... Piazza has a book due out next month that could change the view of voters before the next election.