COOPERSTOWN _ Hall of Famer Bob Feller last pitched in a major league game in 1956.
To say the 90-year-old's right arm might have some rust would be an understatement. Still, Feller will get the nod to be one of the starting pitchers at the inaugural National Baseball Hall of Fame Classic at 2 p.m. June 21 at Doubleday Field, the Cooperstown shrine announced Monday.
Feller is one of five Hall of Famers who will participate in the seven-inning exhibition. Fergie Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Brooks Robinson will also play in the Classic, which will have its rosters filled in over the upcoming weeks, said Jeff Idelson, the Hall's president.
Former major leaguers George Foster, Bill Lee, Steve Rogers, Lee Smith and Jim Kaat also have committed to playing.
"We're still building the rest of the roster," Idelson said. "Any time you can have a player play who wore a major league uniform, you're talking about somebody special. You're going to get some guys of the caliber of a George Foster or a Lee Smith, which is a pretty-high caliber, but not quite Hall of Fame caliber. Then you'll get some players who, compared to them, don't quite have that stature, but the fact that they wore a major league uniform puts them in pretty elite company."
The Classic is being held as a replacement for the Hall of Fame Game, which was canceled by Major League Baseball last year. The final Fame Game was to be played between the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres last June. However, heavy rains forced its cancellation.
The Hall, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, announced Nov. 17 the Classic would become one of its marquee events and chose to play it on Father's Day, which is also the first day of summer.
"I'm sure we'll learn some things and maybe do something different and maybe add on, but the whole idea of it is something that I want to be involved in," Niekro said during a conference call Monday. "Where else would you rather do it than Cooperstown? It doesn't get any better than this.
"... When I was younger and if my dad could have taken me to Cooperstown and see something like they are going to do this year, I would have hitchhiked there."
Tickets, which will cost $12.50 for the first- and third-base seats, and $11 for outfield seats, go on sale April 18. A one-day sale will be held at the Hall beginning at 10 a.m. and approximately 2,500 tickets will be made available. Ticket buyers will be permitted into the museum at 9 a.m. and can start lining up outside the Hall at 6 a.m.
Members of the museum can purchase tickets April 18 by calling 1-866-849-7770 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. There is a six-ticket maximum on purchases. Idelson said the Hall could kept tickets prices down because Ford Motor Company is the presenting sponsor.
The five Hall of Famers will be there to play, not just mingle, said Idelson, who added he talked to Feller a couple of weeks ago. The righty told Idelson he wanted to get the start.
"They are all here for the weekend and they'll all be in uniform," Idelson said of the Hall of Fame fivesome. "Feller's going to start. ...I said, How many frames do you think you can give us?' and he said It depends whether or not you keep a pitch count,'" Idelson said. "I said No pitch counts. This is old school.'"
Players, when not in the game, will chat with fans and sign autographs, Idelson said.
Feller, who began his career as a 17-year-old in 1936, went 266-162 over 18 seasons with the Cleveland Indians. One of the hardest throwers of his generation, Feller won 20 or more games six times and finished with an ERA of 3.25. He also struck out 2,581. Feller earned election to the Hall of Fame in 1962, gaining 93.8 percent of the vote.
"It speaks volumes that a guy like Bob Feller would want to step up and start," Idelson said. "This is a guy who played before the game was integrated. This is a guy that played before the Hall of Fame was born. But he's also someone who is so proud to be a Hall of Famer. There's no more longer-tenured Hall of Famer than Feller, who has been a Hall of Famer for more than half his life. ... To have him in uniform on Doubleday Field, I don't think it gets any better than that."
According to the website, azcentral.com, Feller was seen warming up before the annual Fergie (Jenkins) and Friends celebrity game for charity March 26 at Mesa, Ariz.
The other starting pitcher hasn't been announced, but knuckleballer Niekro could be a possibility.
A 24-year major-leaguer, Niekro, who turns 70 Wednesday, finished 318-274 with 3,342 strikeouts. Not known as a hard-thrower during his career, "Knucksie" said he recently threw his famous pitch while attending spring training with the Atlanta Braves.
"I couldn't go more than seven innings right now," he said with a chuckle. "Another week, maybe eight. I'm a little rusty right now, but I could probably give you six good ones and take a chance on the seventh. That's right now, today. Give me a week or two and I'll give you nine."
Don't let Niekro's age fool you. Though he said he knows what people want to see at a exhibition like this, he also let a bit of his competitiveness come out.
"Everybody likes to see runs," Niekro said. "Not too many people like to see a good pitching duel. I think years ago maybe they did. But now everybody goes to the ballpark to see long balls and home runs and runs scored and sliding into bases. I'm going to be out there letting everybody up there get a chance to hit the ball over the fence. But if he does and he comes up next time, he's going down on his you know what."
Molitor, 52, is the newest Hall of Famer on the roster. Molitor, who retired after 21 major-league seasons in 1998, hit .306 and earned election to the Hall in 2004.
Jenkins, 66, won 284 games over 19 seasons with five teams. Robinson, 71, arguably one of the finest third basemen to ever play the game, played his 23-year career with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Hall of Famers also cover seven decades of baseball history.
"We did look to try and build from different generation," Idelson said. "In doing so, you basically have seven decades of playing represented here. You have a great span of players. When you filter in the other major league players who will complement these guys, it will truly be a multi-generational experience for that group as well."
P.J. Harmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 229.