Every time Phil Niekro returns to Cooperstown, N.Y., he makes a beeline for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I love coming back here, especially when your plaque's hanging on the wall," the former Atlanta Braves knuckleballer said. "And it's still there. I keep checking. You can't help not to."

Niekro returned to Cooperstown yesterday, but his plaque was an afterthought. The Hall of Fame celebrated its 60th anniversary, and Niekro was one of the guests of honor.

"There's a mystique about this town that I've never felt in any other little town I've ever been to," Niekro said. "It's a family town. It's super-friendly. It's got the lake, it's got the hills, it's got the fresh air. It's got everything you want in a little town."

It also had a parade, with Niekro, former Baltimore Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson and longtime Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts leading the way. . . .

The house of Ruth was robbed again.

For the third time in two weeks, two masked gunmen held up employees at the Babe Ruth Museum and Birthplace in Baltimore, police said. The robbers, one of whom wielded a silver-plated handgun, made off with an undetermined amount of cash.

Investigators believe the same pair committed all three robberies, police spokesman Sgt. Scott Rowe said.


Sydney Unveils Stadium

Sydney's $450 million main Olympic stadium officially was opened by a stellar cast of world soccer talent and an emotional performance from pop group INXS.

Italy's Christian Vieri joined a FIFA all-star team against Australia's national side for an exhibition game after a two-hour ceremony.

Australia won, 3-2, in front of 88,101 fans, a record for a soccer match in the country.

Although Sydney Olympics President Michael Knight declared the venue open, more than 104,000 fans watched a rugby league doubleheader there four months ago. Another 88,000 watched Wednesday's rugby league representative match in torrential rain that caused parts of the roof to leak. . . .

International Olympic Committee member Kim Un Yong alleged there was a "dirty plot" to discredit him as he hosted an IOC general assembly in his home town of Seoul.

Kim, the most experienced official implicated in the Salt Lake City Olympic bribery scandal, sought to rebuild his tarnished reputation during the IOC meeting, which began yesterday. But on the eve of the meeting, USA Today reported that Salt Lake City Olympic bidders appeared to have used a small, now-bankrupt company to pass money to underwrite the salary of Kim's businessman son, John Kim.

"I cannot help wondering about the timing of this dirty plot," the elder Kim said of the report. "I can guess the motive behind it."

Kim refused to elaborate, but said previously that opponents inside the IOC were trying to discredit him as a possible candidate to replace Juan Antonio Samaranch as IOC president in 2001.


Boulware Hurts Shoulder

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware injured his right shoulder on the final day of minicamp, but team officials expect him to recover before training camp starts in late July.

Boulware dislocated his right shoulder while participating in tackling drills during the early portion of the workout. Ravens trainers put the shoulder back in place, but Boulware did not return to practice. . . .

The New England Patriots signed former Redskins defensive end Sterling Palmer, team officials said Friday. Palmer, 28, missed the last two seasons because of knee problems.


L. Smith Wins in TKO

Washington welterweight Luther Smith scored a technical knockout against Jesus Arroyo of Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1 minute 22 seconds into the fourth round Friday night in Verona, N.Y. Smith won for the 12th time in as many pro bouts on a pro card as part of the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction weekend.

Seventeen boxing legends will be inducted into the hall in nearby Canastota today. . . .

Washington's Clarence Vinson won the 119-pound final at the U.S. Boxing Challenge Friday night in Colorado Springs, decisioning Cincinnati's Gerald Tucker, 47-39.


Korea Cup Soccer

Mexico and South Korea fought to a 1-1 draw in the opener of the four-nation Korea Cup tournament in Seoul.

Croatia, Egypt, Mexico and South Korea play round-robin matches in the $200,000 tournament. . . .

New Zealand beat India by five wickets at Nottingham's Trent Bridge in England to join South Africa and Pakistan in the semifinals of cricket's World Cup.

CAPTION: Australia's Tony Vidmar, left, battles FIFA all-star Christian Vieri for possession during exhibition game at Sydney's just-opened Olympic stadium.