Niekro headlines HOF Classic roster

Niekro headlines HOF Classic roster

Phil Niekro claims he's in great shape, and if the wind is favorable enough, the 70-year-old right-hander said he can still crank his fastball up in the 80-mph range.

But Niekro isn't kidding anyone. He relied on a devastating knuckleball through 24 Hall of Fame-worthy seasons from 1964-87. And when he potentially takes to the mound once again to serve as the starting pitcher for the Hall of Fame Classic in June, he plans to use that dancing knuckler to dazzle hitters, just like he did during his Braves heyday.

"I'm in excellent shape," Niekro said on a conference call with reporters on Monday. "In fact, I'm on the boat right now fishing, and I just got done throwing this morning. My fastball is up to about 81 [mph] now with the wind behind me, so yeah, I'm looking forward to [the Classic].

"But I'm not a fastball pitcher, I'm not a strikeout pitcher. I'll be throwing knuckleballs and 'goo-goo balls' and everything I know how to get those guys out."

Neikro was announced Monday by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as one of seven Hall of Famers -- up from five last year -- who will participate in the second Hall of Fame Classic, presented by the Ford Motor Company, at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., on June 20.

Joining him will be returnee Bob Feller -- who started last year's game opposite Niekro -- and five newcomers: closers Rollie Fingers and 2008 Hall inductee Rich "Goose" Gossage, catcher Gary Carter, first baseman Harmon Killebrew and third baseman Mike Schmidt.

A preliminary roster of more than 20 other former Major Leaguers will be announced around the time of Opening Day. Starters will also be announced at a later date. The Classic will be staged in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

"We wanted to bring more Hall of Famers into the mix," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said during a news conference at the Bullpen Theatre at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "We believe that we have a great, diverse cross-section of guys that represent different eras. We have two guys that represent World [Series] championships in New York, we've got corner infielders with more than a thousand home runs, you have two starting pitchers who have [584] wins. So, yeah, we think this is a pretty powerful lineup."

The game, a seven-inning exhibition that lands on a Sunday and starts at 1 p.m. ET, is the conclusion of Father's Day Weekend. Other activities planned include a Hall of Fame golf tournament that will serve as a fundraiser for the Museum's education mission, the return of "Family Catch," the youth skills clinic hosted by several ex-big leaguers and a special "Voices of the Game" program.

Tickets can be purchased on March 20 only, with a walk-up sale at the Museum beginning at 9 a.m. Prices are $12.50 for first- and third-base seats and $11 for outfield seats. This year, fans will have an eight-ticket maximum per ticket purchaser, which is up from last year's six. Buyers can line up starting no earlier than 6 a.m. at the Museum, and overnight camping is not permitted.

If tickets remain, phone and Internet sales will begin on March 29.

"The inaugural Hall of Fame Classic was the start of a new tradition in Cooperstown, for the fans, the players, the Hall of Fame and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association," Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who also serves as president of the MLBPAA and on the board of directors for the museum, said in a statement. "Once again in 2010, we are looking forward to another great Father's Day event in Cooperstown, where the game's legends will give fans a chance to relieve their childhood memories at Doubleday Field."

The Hall of Fame Classic debuted last year as a replacement to the Hall of Fame Game, which was discontinued after 68 years because of scheduling problems.

Niekro recalled last year's event fondly and said his favorite part was getting a chance to chat with those in attendance.

This year, he's expecting a capacity crowd.

"I think one of the real key and important parts of this weekend is seeing the fathers with their boys and maybe their daughters and their parents," Niekro said. "I can't think of a better way to spend a Father's Day weekend with your son than in the greatest little baseball town in America, in Cooperstown."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.