Highlights from the conversation with Blyleven include:
On throwing 60 career shutouts:
I'm glad I pitched in the era that I did, that I finished what [I] started. That was my goal. That was my upbringing though, too. That's the way my parents were. They taught us to work hard, that nothing [was] going to come easy. If I lost 1-0 early, you know whose fault it was? It was my fault. So I had to run more, I had to do more, I had to work hard, and that's just the way I looked at baseball.
On which Major League pitchers throw a curveball similar to his:
I think Adam Wainwright with the Cardinals. I know he's got a very good curveball. I think Justin Verlander when he gets on top. He's got the nasty slider, but he's got a good bite on his curveball.
On learning how to throw his curveball:
I grew up in Southern California listening to games with Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett. Scully was describing Sandy Koufax's curveball. ... Mr. Koufax had a big influence on me, because I visualized what his curveball or his drop-back then did. ... When I did start throwing my curveball, I visualized what the ball needs to do to create a drop and that became my curveball. People talk about my curveball, but it was my fastball, control of my fastball.
On being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame after 14 years of eligibility:
I'm very, very proud to be the first Dutchman elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A lot of hard work. A lot of years of ups and downs, but I think when it's all said and done, my numbers spoke for themselves.
I don't know what the writers were looking at to be honest with you. .... When it's all said and done, you play this great game of baseball, I'm elected into the Hall of Fame, it's a great honor, but I feel deep down I should have been there earlier because my Dad passed away in 2004 and gosh darn it, I wanted him there.
On sabermetrics impacting his Hall of Fame candidacy:
Baseball writers hopefully now are looking at the numbers, that there is more to going out there every fourth or fifth day than wins and losses. There is consistency, there are shutouts, there are complete games, there are innings pitched. That's what the game is all about. As a pitcher, you can't control sometimes the score, but you can control what you did out there and that's what I took a lot of pride in.
Highlights from the conversation with Niekro include:
On today's Major League pitchers:
I won probably quite a few ballgames because I got a base hit here and there, turned a double play, got a squeeze down, picked the guy off first, second, something like that. I don't think a lot of guys today really look at it that way. They say, "I'm a pitcher, [I] get paid to pitch, strike him out and that's about it." ... I've seen more guys mess up double plays to second or first because they're off balance and they just don't work at those things in Spring Training. You got a lot of time in Spring Training. ... Make use of it. Make yourself the best infielder you can be, make yourself the best hitting pitcher, make yourself [have] the best pickoff move.
On if he would have made it to the Major Leagues without throwing a knuckleball:
I didn't throw hard. With a good wind behind me, I could get up [to] 84, 85 [mph]. I had a little slider, a little sinker, threw an eephus pitch now and then, [and] didn't have a curveball. I probably wouldn't have survived. I probably wouldn't [have] even survived in the Minor Leagues if it wasn't for my knuckleball.
On the key to throwing a knuckleball:
That knuckleball is such a commitment you have to make. All of a sudden you're thinking, "I'm not a fastball pitcher, I don't have a curveball, I don't have a slider. I'm going to throw knuckleball, knuckleball, knuckleball." You have to have that much confidence in yourself, but you do have to have another little pitch in case you do get behind the situation where you have to throw something for a strike. In my case, it was a little moving fastball and a little slider that I needed at times when I couldn't get [the knuckleball] over.
On if he could throw one inning in the Major Leagues today:
More than one. ... I'll go down to the Gwinnett Braves, Triple-A club for the Braves, and throw some batting practice, and of course I'll play some catch with my grandsons. My arm feels [as] good now as it has [did] probably when I retired.
On throwing only one knuckleball during his 300th career win:
Toronto had won the pennant the night before so they were pretty "champagne'd up" and I don't know if they could tell a knuckleball from a straight ball. I went by the first inning and didn't throw a knuckleball. I told [Yankees catcher] >Butch Wynegar in the dugout, I said, "Let's see if we can get by the second inning without throwing a knuckleball." ... I continued to [throw fastballs] until Jeff Burroughs came up in the bottom of the ninth. I was pitching a shutout, I was winning 9-0, I got two strikes on Burroughs and then all of the sudden it hit me. I said, "I'm probably going to win my 300th career game here, my father taught that knuckleball to me in the backyard of Ohio and I won 299 games [with it]. I can't think of a better way to win my 300th game by striking Burroughs out if I can with a knuckleball." ... I threw it and Jeff missed it by a couple feet and that was my 300th win.
On which hitter he had a hard time pitching against:
Bill Buckner could hit me very well and I think that when he got to home plate that his objective was to get to first base and he really didn't care how he did it. ... I'd rather face a Willie Stargell or Mike Schmidt ... with the bases loaded other than Bill Bucker. Now those guys might hit in the upper deck, but I got to think that I can strike them out at times. Buckner, I could not.
I think he was a much better ballplayer than a lot of people think. .... Every day, he came to the ballpark and he took his infield practice, he took his batting practice every day at Spring Training. ... Of course everybody knows of him [from his] home runs, his batting average, the RBIs, but he was a great right fielder, had a good arm, and could steal bases. ... All I know is that Henry could do all the things you needed to do in baseball to be the greatest player [there] was. ... Hands down to me, he was the best.