2011 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and it's both a Who's Who of 1990s and early 2000s MLB and a stark reminder of how old we're all getting. Former Expos and Giants pitcher Kirk Rueter is eligible this year; I remember him going 8-0 for Montreal as a rookie in 1993. Bobby Higginson debuted with the Tigers in 1995, for the love of Jeff!
There is no shortage of ex-Orioles on the ballot, either. Holdovers Roberto Alomar, Harold Baines, Tim Raines, and Lee Smith are joined by first-timers Kevin Brown, Charles Johnson, Rafael Palmeiro, and B.J. Surhoff. That's eight guys who wore the orange and black out of a total of 33 eligible players. It figures to be a brutally competitive vote, as Alomar and longtime bridesmaid Bert Blyleven both fell just short of enshrinement last year and are early favorites for 2011. The biggest name to join the field is Jeff Bagwell, who put up a .297/.408/.540 slash line - or 449 home runs and 1529 RBI if you prefer counting stats.
There are some returning ballot members who are have gotten bafflingly anemic vote totals thus far, including Raines, Smith, Alan Trammell, and Edgar Martinez. With Mark McGwire meeting up with new candidates like Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez, the morality play about steroid use will take center stage once more. I'm fatigued by the whole thing, and it's my opinion that there's no way we'll ever know for sure that any player from the past two decades was clean, so every player should be judged on their career performance. The "steroid era" will just be another label some day, much like the pre-integration era or the dead-ball era. Under this criteria, McGwire and Palmeiro are Hall of Famers, but not Juan Gone.
Let the debate begin...or continue. We won't know who is in and who is out (and who's dropped from the ballot altogether) until January 5.