Legends unveil Hall of Fame exhibit
Feller, Brock, Niekro on hand at Great Lakes Science Center
CLEVELAND -- Three Hall of Famers sat in a row. The first man, known for his fastball, and second, known for his legs, built their careers around speed. But the third man owes his success to quite the opposite. He built his career around the whimsical, dawdling nature of the knuckleball.The three men, Bob Feller, Lou Brock and Phil Niekro, were at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland on Thursday afternoon, hosting the opening of Baseball as America, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's traveling exhibit. And while the men sat waiting for the event to begin, Niekro, using his eyeglasses case as a prop, demonstrated his knuckleball grip to Brock, and Brock, who certainly stole a few of his 938 bases while floaters were in mid-flight, smiled. Paul Dolan, the president of the Cleveland Indians, was also smiling during his brief speech before the exhibit was unveiled.
"I never envisioned that my Little League career in Chardon, Ohio, would lead someday to me standing at the same dais as Lou Brock, Bob Feller and Phil Niekro," Dolan said. "But in a way, that's really what the Hall of Fame is all about -- connecting people with their childhood heroes."And the exhibit, which showcases the prominent role that baseball has played in development of American culture, opened on a sunny spring afternoon, just days before the beginning of the 2007 baseball season. "That means that the flowers are growing again," Brock said of springtime and the return of baseball. "When I say flowers, that not only means physically but mentally, as well." Feller, who said he's in the press box during about 90 percent of the Indians' home games, arrived in Cleveland from the Indians Spring Training facilities in Winter Haven, Fla., late Wednesday night. "Everybody is apprehensive about how their team is going to compete and how the players are going to produce," Feller said. "But this is a great time of year. The robins are showing up, and I can hear them chirping in the trees." Feller was in the Indians' clubhouse in Winter Haven on Wednesday afternoon after Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia was hit on the forearm by a line drive. Sabathia is currently day-to-day, but initially there were concerns that the injury was more serious. "He'll probably have a little bruise. It was a glancing blow," Feller said. "He told me he's going to pitch Opening Day, but I don't know if he'll be able to or not. "But I'll tell you one thing -- he'll be more alert when he throws the ball from now on. They come back there pretty fast." Niekro, who will turn 68 on Opening Day, stood before a display that showed the grips of various pitches and spoke with reporters about the mysterious knuckler. "No one knows too much about it, can't figure it out, which makes it interesting," Niekro said. "I don't know why it does what it does. Pitchers don't. Hitters don't know why it does what it does. They don't know where it's going, what it's going to do. They've done research on it and can't come up with a definitive answer on why that thing never does the same thing twice." Niekro, who is 16th on the all-time wins list with 318, grew up in Blaine, Ohio, where his father, a coal miner, taught him and his brother, Joe, the pitch, which helped them combine for 539 big-league wins. Phil said he can still make the knuckler dance, "but not like I could years ago." He won his 300th while pitching for the Yankees in 1985, and at the time, the knuckleball wasn't working, and his father was very sick. "I was having a hard time with the knuckleball during that stretch," Niekro said. "I went out in the first inning and thought, 'The only way I can fool them is if I throw something other than the knuckleball.'" So, he said, he made pitches up that day, but when he recorded the final out of his shutout, he did it with the knuckler. "I had to," he said. Brock spoke for a few minutes about the declining status of the stolen base. Many teams have strayed away from the steal, viewing it as too risky a move in today's power game, but Brock does not expect his bread-and-butter move to become extinct.
Joseph Gartrell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.