One day, Barry Bonds and the other stars of the steroids era might be enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame.
But that day won't be in 2013, and if the balloting is any indication, it probably won't come for a quite some time.
These players haven't been banished like the members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox who conspired to throw the World Series or Pete Rose, who admitted betting on baseball games. For today's disgraced stars, punishment may be standing for election annually and experiencing the contempt and disillusionment felt by fans, sportswriters and even fellow athletes who aren't taken in by players' denials or mollified by failed prosecutions.
It isn't hard to imagine Bonds or one of his contemporaries looking at the results and exclaiming, "Say it ain't so."
But it is. Some fans aren't sure what to make of athletes who used — or are suspected of using — performance-enhancing drugs, whether they were playing baseball, racing bicycles or competing for Olympic gold. The take-away from this week's vote is that baseball writers, who choose Hall of Famers, aren't ready to forgive and forget.
Bonds, the San Francisco Giants slugger who broke Hank Aaron's career home run record, finished a distant ninth in the balloting, with 36.2 percent. Just ahead of him was seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens with 37.6 percent. Both fell far short of the 75 percent required for induction.
You had to look even farther down the list to find Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro — star players who admitted using steroids or, according to credible reports, failed drug tests during their careers.
"This generation got rich," Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt told the Associated Press. "Seems there was a price to pay."
The records set by Bonds and the others still stand. Nothing has been erased from the record books, no asterisks were placed next to their names. Their careers, like those of Rose and the Black Sox, are chronicled in history books and highlight reels. For now, however, they are denied baseball's highest honor.
Not everyone in the Hall of Fame was a model citizen. Cap Anson was an avowed racist who helped force black players out of the Major Leagues for a half-century. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were implicated in a game-fixing scheme. Some players took amphetamines.
The voters either didn't know or chose to ignore that unsavory behavior. They may yet cast ballots for steroid-era stars, who were enabled by owners who turned a blind eye to drug use as long as stadiums were full and TV ratings were high.
But even if Bonds or Clemens or some other tainted stars of the steroids era are inducted, questions will linger about their achievements.
Are they truly the peers of Aaron and Mays, Koufax and Spahn? And was the chase for baseball immortality worth the stains on their legacies and the integrity of the game?