Barry Bonds in 2007 hitting career home run No. 761. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

For the next month, the baseball world — in fact, anyone with an opinion — will debate the merits of a long list of players on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot released Wednesday by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. While the candidacy of the listed 37 players is in the hands of the more than 600 voting members of the association, it’s a handful of names — two big ones in particular — that will be at the center of the majority of the deliberations: Barry Bonds, a seven-time NL MVP and the career home run leader, and Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner and third all-time in career strikeouts.

For the first time, the greatest hitter and pitcher of this recent generation are up for Cooperstown enshrinement. They are also two of the leading figures linked to the Steroid Era of the sport, in addition to slugger Sammy Sosa, who also appears on the ballot for the first time. This year’s debate won’t just be about the players’ immense, eye-popping statistics but about whether players associated with performance-enhancing drugs should be rewarded with a plaque in the hallowed halls of baseball history. This year’s ballot, it seems, will turn into a referendum, of a few by a select few, on one of the most defining periods and black eyes in the sport’s history, diverging into discussions about voters’ moral and ethical obligations.

Mark McGwire, an admitted and apologetic former steroid user and source of 583 home runs, is on the ballot for the sixth season, appearing on nearly 20 percent of the ballots last season, enough to keep his name on this year’s list. Rafael Palmeiro, a member of the elite 3,000-hit, 500-home run club, is on the ballot for the second year; he appeared on only 12.6 percent of the ballots from the previous year, likely because he, too, had a positive steroid test in his career.

Players like Mike Piazza, a first-timer on the ballot, and Jeff Bagwell, who appeared on 56 percent of the ballots last season, will likely suffer from speculation because they were top performers who also played in that Steroid Era, even though neither haven’t been conclusively linked to performance-enhancing drug use.

To remain on the ballot, players need to appear on at least 5 percent of the ballot in the previous season, and stay for 15 years granted they meet that threshold each year. To enter the Hall of Fame, a player needs to be on 75 percent of the ballots. (And, for the record, The Washington Post bars its employees from voting for the Hall of Fame, in addition to the annual end-of-the-year awards.)

Craig Biggio, a 3,000-hit player who played center field and catcher and won Gold Gloves at second base and played his entire 20-year career in Houston, is on the ballot for the first time. Curt Schilling, one of the greatest postseason pitchers and a 216-game winner, is also a first-timer on the ballot. Pitcher Jack Morris (66.7 percent), Bagwell (56.0) and reliever Lee Smith (50.6) were the only players from last year’s ballot to appear on 50 percent of the ballots.

For Nationals fans, three former players will be of interest: infielder Tony Batista, shortstop Royce Clayton and reliever Mike Stanton. Batista, of wide open batting stance fame, played in only 80 games for the Nationals in 2007 (and Montreal Expos in 2004) and was released on May 1 of that year. Clayton played in Washington in 2006 for less than four months, traded to Cincinnati for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner. Stanton, who played until he was 40, pitched a season and a half for the Nationals in 2005 and 2006. Of course, neither of the three are expected to be voted in.