Bonds received just 36.2 percent of the vote, Clemens 37.6 and Sosa 12.5 in totals announced Wednesday by the Hall and the Baseball Writers' Association of America. They were appearing on the ballot for the first time and have up to 14 more years to make it to Cooperstown.
Craig Biggio, 20th on the career list with 3,060 hits, topped the 37 candidates with 68.2 percent of the 569 ballots, 39 shy of the 75 percent needed. Among other first-year eligibles, Mike Piazza received 57.8 percent and Curt Schilling 38.8
Jack Morris led holdovers with 67.7 percent. He will make his final ballot appearance next year, when fellow pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine along with slugger Frank Thomas are eligible for the first time.
It was just the eighth time the BBWAA failed to elect any players. There were four fewer votes than last year and five members submitted blank ballots.
"The standards for earning election to the Hall of Fame have been very high ever since the rules were created in 1936," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. "We realize the challenges voters are faced with in this era. The Hall of Fame has always entrusted the exclusive voting privilege to the baseball writers. We remain pleased with their role in evaluating candidates based on the criteria we provide."
Bonds, baseball's only seven-time Most Valuable Player, is the sport's season and career home run leader. Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is third in career strikeouts and ninth in wins.
"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.
Since 1965, the only years the writers didn't elect a candidate were 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 were chosen the following years when they achieved the 75 percent necessary for election.
"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."
Three inductees were chosen last month by the 16-member panel considering individuals from the era before integration in 1946: Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O'Day and barehanded catcher Deacon White. They will be enshrined during a ceremony in Cooperstown on July 28.
Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs and was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice for giving an evasive answer in 2003 to a grand jury investigating PEDs. Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges stemming from congressional testimony during which he denied using PEDs.
Sosa, who finished 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.
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.
Mark McGwire, 10th on the career home run list, received 16.9 percent on his seventh try, down from 19.5 last year. He received 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.
The election leaves the Hall without both baseball's career home run leader and its all-time hits king, Pete Rose. There were four write-in votes for 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.
Morris increased slightly from his 66.7 percent last year, when Barry Larkin was elected. Morris could become the player with the highest-percentage of the vote who is not in the Hall, a mark currently held by Gil Hodges at 63 percent in 1983.
Several players who fell just short in the BBWAA balloting later were elected by either the Veterans Committee or Old-Timers' Committee: Nellie Fox (74.7 percent on the 1985 BBWAA ballot), Jim Bunning (74.2 percent in 1988), Orlando Cepeda (73.6 percent in 1994) and Frank Chance (72.5 percent in 1945).
The ace of three World Series winners, Morris finished with 254 victories and was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. His 3.90 ERA, however, is higher than that of any Hall of Famer.
Two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy received 18.6 percent in his 15th and final appearance.
The other BBWAA elections without a winner were in 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958 and 1960.
AP Sports Writer John Marshall in Paradise Valley, Ariz., contributed to this report.