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Phil Niekro is in the best shape of his life

Image (1) Niekro%20AP.jpg for post 3834

Really, he’s rarin’ to go:

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 . . . “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].

What he means is the Hall of Fame Classic, the exhibition game played in Cooperstown in advance of the inductions in late June. Neikro was announced today as one of seven Hall of Famers who will play this year. Bob Feller will be there too, as he was last year. As will newcomers Rollie Fingers Goose Gossage, Gary Carter, Harmon Killebrew and Mike Schmidt.

The real question: If Niekro can really throw 80, and if he still has even a modicum of control over the knuckler -- to the extent anyone ever really has control over a knuckler -- how much better is he than, say, the Royals or the Mets fifth starters this year?