The voting process for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame is a sort of selective democracy, with privileges doled out to those deemed qualified among the baseball expert masses.
There were 569 ballots cast in 2013, and no candidates received the requisite 75 percent needed for election. This is not an indictment of the process; rather, it's a tip of the cap to the idea that voting is complicated. It's subjective to the values of each voter, folks who are swayed by character judgments, flavor-of-the-year candidates and other qualities that can best be lumped under the heading "the human element" (and no, this writer is not a voter).
To demonstrate just how subjective it is, look at two teams. The first consists of the past 12 players inducted into the Hall of Fame (all of them between 2005 and 2012, and counting only those who received the necessary votes -- not those chosen by other committees). The second team consists of the top 12 vote-getters in 2013, none of whom gained election into the Hall of Fame. The lineups:
Team 1 (the past 12 inductees):
Infield -- Barry Larkin, Roberto Alomar, Cal Ripken, Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs. Outfield -- Andre Dawson, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn and Jim Rice. Starting pitcher -- Bert Blyleven. Relievers -- Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage.
Team 2 (the top 12 non-inducted vote-getters in 2013):
Catcher -- Mike Piazza. Infield -- Craig Biggio, Alan Trammell, Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez. Outfield -- Tim Raines, Barry Bonds and Larry Walker. Starting pitchers -- Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Jack Morris. Relief pitcher -- Lee Smith.
In terms of pure talent, ability and accomplishments, which team is better? It's at least a wash. If you want to get fancy, we can bring Wins Above Replacement into the mix. WAR represents the number of wins a player is worth above what an entry-level major leaguer would be worth.
Team 1, the Hall of Famers, has a total combined career WAR of 805.3 -- an average of 67.1 each. Team 2, this year's non-inductees, has a combined career WAR of 897.9 -- or 74.8 per player. Bonds and Clemens, the two most controversial members of this year's ballot, skew the numbers a bit. But even without them, the non-inductees have an average WAR of 60.6.
If you want to go position-by-position, it's hard to argue with Clemens, Schilling or Morris in a one-game playoff against Blyleven, who is certainly no slouch. We'll give the infield edge to the HOF inductees. The outfield edge? Raines, Bonds and Walker make an awfully strong argument.
All of which is a long way of repeating this: Hall of Fame voting is an imperfect science that is even more difficult in the steroid era.