Legends don uniforms again at Hall of Fame Classic

Fisk, Blyleven, Smith among those at annual event in Cooperstown, N.Y.

June 20th, 2012

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Leave it to Carlton Fisk to make a Hall of Fame observation.

Fisk, back in uniform Saturday for the first time in nearly two decades, took one look around the room at his peers and compatriots and issued a wry smile to go with his raw sentiment. Bert Blyleven was across the room, and Phil Niekro was sitting just a few seats away when Fisk let fly.

"Some of these guys are getting really old," said Fisk. "Did you notice that?"

Indeed, the average age skewed a bit old at the Hall of Fame Classic, an exhibition game designed to connect fans to some of their favorite players from prior generations. Fisk was part of a delegation of six Hall of Famers at the event, but he and fellow immortal Eddie Murray elected not to play.

That still left Niekro and Blyleven -- the game's starting pitchers -- as well as Ozzie Smith and Tony Perez, players that need no introduction in Cooperstown or elsewhere. And they were joined by a group of recent retirees and old-time veterans eager to get back between the lines.

"We're just going out there to play, and hopefully you don't get injured," said Murray before the game. "We do have people here who can play, and I don't know when was the last time they played. It's supposed to be a fun thing ... but I think I may have more fun signing autographs down the line. I may try to get that one at-bat and go down the line to sign autographs so I can get out of harm's way."

The Classic -- now in its fourth season -- has developed into a popular aspect of one of the Hall's busiest weekends. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum staged a fielding clinic for kids on Friday, and Sunday will bring the annual Family Catch and the Cooperstown Golf Classic.

Some of the players brought their families to celebrate Father's Day, most notably former Pirate Rob Mackowiak. The former utilityman hit two home runs on the day his son was born eight-plus years ago, and he got to spend time in Cooperstown with both his father and his son this weekend.

Fisk, inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2000, will be spending Father's Day alone this year. Fisk said his wife was involved in the opening ceremonies for the Illinois Special Olympics this weekend, and he also said that the closest he comes to coaching is watching his grandson compete.

"I think this is the first time I've had a uniform on since I retired," said Fisk, who was wearing a Hall of Fame jersey. "That's the good thing about my career, and one of the bad things, too. I played until I couldn't play any more. I ran the table on how long a player could play at my position. When I retired, I'd had enough, and I really had no desire to get back on the field, because I know what it takes to get on the field and stay on the field."

All of the competitors in Saturday's game were featured in a Game Day Parade down Main Street, and Dmitri Young managed to repeat as the champion of the pregame Hitting Challenge. Young, sporting a fit physique, held off former teammate Dante Bichette to defend his championship.

Young said that he and Bichette spoke about their children, and he also said that he no longer harbors the hope of a comeback to the big leagues. The former switch-hitter now works as an instructor for youth baseball teams, and he said that he hopes to remain in playing shape even if he stays retired.

"I'm a Type 2 diabetic, and I was on six different medications," said Young, who now can fit into his high school jersey. "And now I'm on one. ... It's easy now. It's just a way of life. I eat smaller and I'm walking and I'm just keeping myself active."

Darrell Evans -- one of five former home run champions in attendance -- said that he was humbled and honored to be invited to the event. Evans, who hit 414 home runs in his career, said that he was pleased that former peer Ron Santo will be inducted to the Hall of Fame posthumously.

"It's just a shame he wasn't in before," said Evans. "As a player, knowing what the other players think about you is the most important thing. Everybody wanted him. He deserved it. The politics? Whatever. We have no control over that. The great thing is that people did know he belonged.

"But I don't think that changes anything -- just the perception of how he was. I'm sure for him, and especially for his family, it will be nice. I know he'll be there when it happens. I hope so."

Blyleven, the crafty old master of the curveball, was visiting Cooperstown for the first time since he'd been inducted to the Hall of Fame last summer, and said that everything was much more relaxed for him this time around. There was no speech to make, and nothing to do beyond pitch again.

Blyleven worked three innings and snapped off a few curveballs Saturday, and he even had to cover first base on one play. The 61-year-old was long gone when Desi Relaford drove home the winning run in the seventh inning, though, and said his life hasn't really changed since his induction.

"I broadcast for the Twins, so it hasn't really changed that much," Blyleven said. "I'm doing less games now, and I'm doing more appearances, and I like that. I like going out and meeting people. I don't know if it's changed, other than when I sign my name on an autographed baseball, I put HOF."