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BASEBALL'S GREATS SET FOR THIRD -- PERHAPS LAST -- HURRAH AT PILOT

The annual June nostalgia fest that features many of the diamond's retired greats, near-greats, and even a few just-pretty-goods makes its third and, perhaps, final appearance at Pilot Field today.

A total of 48 old-timers -- ranging from 36-year-old Larry Christenson to 83-year-old Luke Appling -- are expected to play, or at least make token appearances, in the National Old Timers Baseball Classic.

The five-inning American League vs. National League game starts at 8:10, right after Metropolitan Opera star Robert Merrill sings the national anthem.

Many former players also will take part in a fan photo session from 4:30 to 5:30.

As of Sunday afternoon, the Pilot Field box office said there were still about 4,000 tickets left for the game.

Tonight's tentative rosters feature a star-studded cast that includes 10 Hall of Famers, six most valuable players, six Cy Young award winners, six home run champions, and two batting champions. However, the National League manpower might be reduced by one Hall of Famer, MVP, batting champ and all-time home run leader.

As of Sunday afternoon, Hank Aaron was faced with jury duty in Atlanta. Aaron was a late cancellation at last year's game with a bad back.

Besides Aaron, who is 56, the National League's Hall of Famers include outfielders Enos Slaughter, 74, and Lou Brock, 51. They also have first baseman Willie Stargell, 50; and pitchers Sandy Koufax, 54, and Warren Spahn, 69.

The American League's Cooperstown inductees are Appling, a shortstop who has made a short appearance at the plate for the past two years; pitchers Bob Feller, 71, and Early Wynn, 70; and third baseman Brooks Robinson, 53.

Tonight's game -- billed as "Starry, Starry Night" -- is the third and final show under an existing contract between the Buffalo Bisons and Eagle Sports Group Ltd., the Concord, Mass.-based firm which originated the game and produces it for charity. Highlights will be rebroadcast at noon Saturday on ESPN.

Although promoters say they have been extremely happy with Buffalo, they don't deny there is a possibility the nine-year-old game, which started in Washington, D.C., may move elsewhere.

"We take it one year at a time," said Dick Cecil, Eagle Sports president and managing director of the game.

"We had a three-year agreement with Buffalo. It's over this year and we'll review things with the Bisons and make a determination. We'll know by the first of September. It started off well. It's a good marriage. We've been happy here. The Bison organization has been great."

But, Cecil added, "I'm not sure if any city can sustain it for three years in a row. That's one of the things we have to take a look at. We were six years in Washington. This is our third year here. I think now we have to sit down and review and find out what the pattern is for the future."

The 1988 game drew a sellout crowd of 19,500. Last year's contest attracted 15,742.

"We've been super happy with Buffalo," said Chuck Stevens, secretary and treasurer of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, the non-profit organization which has raised an average of $50,000 a year from the eight games.

"I would have absolutely no problem with coming back to Buffalo," Stevens said.

Stevens, however, pointed out that competition for old-timers from a series of games sponsored by the Equitable Insurance Co. at major league parks has cut into the availability of players.

"We certainly anticipate doing another one," said Stevens, a former St. Louis Brown player who will coach the National League tonight. He added the final choice of a location would be left up to Cecil.

Proceeds of the game go into a fund used to aid needy former major and minor league ball players and their families. Stevens said the 63-year-old organization assists between 35 and 50 people a month.

Thirty-two players on this year's roster did not play last year when the National League won, 8-7, to take a 5-3 series lead.

Newcomers for the American League are: Feller, Dick McAuliffe, 50; Jim Busby, 63; Phil Roof, 49; Rich Rollins, 52; Earl Battey, 55; Gene Woodling, 67; Tom Tresh, 52.

New American League pitchers are: Camilio Pascual, 56; Bill Monbouquette, 53; Dick Bosman, 46; and Jim "Mudcat" Grant, 56.

National Leaguers who didn't play in 1989 are: Aaron, Slaughter, Don Blasingame, 58; Gene Mauch, 64; Johnny Callison, 51; Dale Long, 64; Tom Haller, 53; Jerry Kindall, 55; Bobby Bragan, 72; Bill Robinson, who will be 47 on Tuesday; Orlando Cepeda, 53; Manny Sanguillen, 46; Charlie Neal, 59; and Andy Pafko, 69.

Except for Tug McGraw, 45, who got the win last year, the National League has a completely different pitching staff consisting of Spahn, Koufax, Christenson, Ferguson Jenkins, 46; Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, 59; and Tom Seaver, 45.

Returning are the American League's Appling, Robinson, Wynn, Bobby Murcer, 44; Roy Sievers, 63; Rocky Colavito, 56; Willie Horton, 47; Boog Powell, 48; Frank Howard, 53; and Jim Lonborg, 47.

National League players here last year were: Brock; Stargell; McGraw; Ron Swoboda, 46; and Don Kessinger, 47.

OLD TIMERS SCHEDULE

4:30-5:30 p.m.: Photo session (no autographs) on outfield warning track for fans with cameras and tickets. Enter through right-center field gate.

5:30: All gates open.

6:00-7:25: Batting practice.

7:30: Player introductions.

8:00: National anthem.

8:10: Game begins.

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