Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski have a good reason to stay close to a phone tonight.

Sometime this evening, a call will come letting them know if they are the newest members of baseball's Hall of Fame. The rest of the world will hear about it at 9 p.m. MST, when the results are officially released.Last year, Willie Stargell was the 17th player elected in his first year of eligibility, and most observers expect Bench and Yastrzemski will be Nos. 18 and 19.

Jim Bunning will be waiting by the telephone, too. For Bunning, it's the 13th year he has waited for a call in the affirmative.

After missing by 21 votes in 1987, Bunning fell four votes shy with 317 (74.2 percent) last year.

"I thought I had a shot," said Bunning, who is eligible for two more years if he doesn't make it. After that, he must wait three years before he can be considered by the Veterans Committee.

"I think I was right the first time," Bunning said. "If you don't make it right away, you should take your name off the ballot so you won't have to go through this every year."

Bunning's near miss wasn't the closest in voting history. Former Chicago White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox missed by one vote in 1985, his last season of eligibility.

Reflecting on the weak field last year, nine writers returned signed ballots without votes. Fourteen of the 45 players listed failed to receive a vote.

If the nine writers had not sent in their ballots, the total would have been 418, meaning 75 percent would have been 314 votes and Bunning would have made it.

Bunning was 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA and 2,885 strikeouts, second to Walter Johnson on the all-time strikeout list when he retired. He won 100 games in each league and also had a no-hitter in each league, including a perfect game while pitching for Philadelphia against the New York Mets on June 21, 1964.

In addition to Bench and Yastrzemski, pitchers Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins also appear on the ballot for the first time.

To be on the ballot, a player must be retired for five years and to be elected must be named on 75 percent of the ballots cast.

While Jenkins and Perry are given an outside chance of making it in tonight, Yastrzemski and Bench are already making plans for spending a July weekend in Cooperstown.

Yastrzemski and Bench not only have outstanding statistical credentials, but carry an image of being among the upper echelon of baseball's stars.

Yastrzemski took over in left field for Hall of Famer Ted Williams and asserted himself with authority.

Yaz finished with 3,419 hits and 452 home runs. He was on 16 All-Star teams, won six Gold Gloves as the Red Sox' left fielder and won the American League MVP Award in 1967, when he won the Triple Crown and led Boston to the pennant.

He also holds league records for the most intentional walks, 190; most at-bats 11,988, and most plate appearances, 13,990.

Yaz reached base via a hit or a walk 5,264 times during his career, ranking third behind Pete Rose, 5,822, and Ty Cobb, 5,440.

"I accomplished something no one else has ever done," Yastrzemski, the only American Leaguer to have 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, said. "I'm very pleased and very proud of my accomplishments."

Bench holds the record for most homers by a catcher, 327. Overall, he hit 389 home runs and won 10 Gold Gloves while helping the Reds win the World Series in 1975 and 1976.

"Johnny Bench was the prototype catcher of his time," former Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson said. "He was a great talent and a leader."

Despite stellar numbers, Perry and Jenkins presented a problem in ethics for some of the voters.

Perry was 314-265 for eight major league teams in 22 seasons. He also had a 3.10 earned run average and 3,534 strikeouts.

But some voters, who asked not to be identified, said Perry's reputation of throwing a spitball might have an influence on their vote.

"I think I have the credentials to be in the Hall of Fame, but it probably won't be on the first try," Perry said.

Jenkins had a lifetime record of 284-226 and 3,192 career strikeouts. But he also had a link to drugs. While with the Texas Rangers, he was suspended from Sept. 9-25, 1980, following his Aug. 25 arrest in Canada on charges of cocaine possession. That probably will cost him some votes.

Others on the 41-player ballot included Vada Pinson, Curt Flood, the late Thurman Munson, Jim Kaat, Bobby Bonds, Tony Oliva, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant, Bill Mazeroski, Orlando Cepeda and Maury Wills.