Baseball's Reggie Jackson, Bob Gibson Team Up On Book

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Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson and batter Reggie Jackson never faced each other in actual competition, but teamed up to write a new book about their game. It's called Sixty Feet, Six Inches, which refers to the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate. Host Scott Simon finds out how the game has changed since they retired and what their predictions are for the upcoming World Series.


It's October - World Series time. Now, if there's one great pitcher you'd pick to be on the mound for your team in the ninth inning at the seventh game of the World Series, it would be Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history, a man with a glare that could stop fly balls in mid-flight.

And if there's one batter you'd pick to be in the box for your team in the ninth inning, seventh game of the World Series, it would be Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, five-time World Series winner with the New York Yankees and the Oakland A's. He was the straw that stirred the drink.

Now, these two Hall of Fame players never faced each other in actual competition, but now they've collaborated on a book, "Sixty Feet, Six Inches," in which one of the greatest pitchers of all time and one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time trade insights about the contest that goes on in that sixty feet, six inches from the pitcher's mound to home plate.

Reggie Jackson joins us now from the studios of member station KAZU in Monterey Bay, California. Mr. Jackson, thank you so much for being with us.

Mr. REGGIE JACKSON (Former Baseball Player): Thanks for having us on.

SIMON: And from member station KIOS in Omaha, Nebraska, Bob Gibson. Bob, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. BOB GIBSON (Former Baseball Player): It is my pleasure.

SIMON: The two of you never faced each other in actual competition, but what about spring training?

Mr. GIBSON: Well, we actually did face each other but it wasn't in real competition. The first time, I believe, it was an All Star Game.

SIMON: Oh, of course.

Mr. GIBSON: And the second time was at one of the Martin Luther King games in Los Angeles.

SIMON: Did you get a hit, Mr. Jackson?

Mr. GIBSON: Well, he says he did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Now, what's the disagreement there?

Mr. JACKSON: No, there isn't any. I had a similar situation with Nolan Ryan. He came up one time and threw me a pitch and said, I want to see if you can hit my best fastball - this was during a game. So I hit a line drive to left field for a base hit, a bullet. And I just did a dinner for him about two years ago, and he recounted the story and I hit a little jam, blooper to the left fielder for a fly ball out. And that's his description. My description's…

SIMON: Oh, I see. What you thought was a screaming line drive was his little blooper.

Mr. JACKSON: Yes, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JACKSON: And I got a double off Bob in the All Star Game. And you know, it was a meaningless, no-count game situation. And I just let it go because it's fun. It's fun to listen to it. I love it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Reading this book, which I liked a lot, I was struck by the fact that each of you - a pitcher and a hitter - felt when you stepped into the game that you owned the pitch. And I wonder if I can get you to talk about that. Mr. Gibson, you say from the pitcher's point of view, I'm going to dare the hitter to hit me. I own this out. And Mr. Jackson, you took the opposite position as the hitter.

Mr. JACKSON: I'm going to go first and let Bob have the end, because his story is - his way is, of defending his position on the plate, I have no recourse. So I like the ball away from me, which would make me vulnerable to inside strikes and vulnerable to inside pitches. I couldn't hit the ball in. I just basically looked for the ball away and relied on pitchers' mistakes.

SIMON: Well, Bob, let me put it to you this way - what's more…

Mr. JACKSON: I want you to really ask Bob how he defended his away.

SIMON: How do you…

Mr. JACKSON: The outside part of the plate belonged to him.

SIMON: Right. How did you own that, Mr. Gibson?

Mr. GIBSON: Well, there's only three parts of the plate. There's the inside, the outside and middle. And the middle is a no-no. You try your best not to ever throw the ball there, regardless of how hard you threw. But most guys don't like to swing at balls away because they don't have power enough to do anything with it.

And to keep those guys like Reggie from reaching out there and hitting that ball away, you had to come in every once in a while. And every once in a while when you threw the ball inside and they were going outside, they'd end up hitting themselves. And so…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIBSON: …Reggie didn't like that. He think (unintelligible). No, no, no, I wasn't throwing at you, you hit yourself. If you pay attention to that ball inside, you won't get hit with it.

SIMON: I wonder, while we're talking about throwing inside, of course, Bob, you were a pitcher in the National League, and Mr. Jackson, I guess all of your career was in the American League, wasn't it?


SIMON: Has the designated hitter rule in the American League, what has that done to pitching inside? Is there more throwing at a player than there used to be because of that rule?

Mr. JACKSON: For me, I think there's a bit of an overreaction. When we played, you know, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, pitching inside, knocking players down, getting hit, was part of the game. Today there's so much policing of it. There's a disciplinarian in Major League Baseball. I think it changes the game to the point to where you lose something that worked in the past, and I think it's because it's disciplined so quickly that you can't get even with a guy.

You hit one guy, the other guy hits the other team's best player or someone on that team, and it's all said and done. That's the way it used to be.


Mr. GIBSON: Yeah. Pitching inside, just pitching inside, doesn't mean that I'm coming in there and I'm trying to knock a guy down, I'm trying to hit a guy or to scare him. I want him to think about the ball inside when I come in off the plate. That's pitching inside. I want to get him out on the corner in there. That's pitching inside.

So we're talking about two different things.

SIMON: Both of you in this book are a little skeptical about pitch counts. And we'll explain to our audience that a lot of managers or pitching coaches have just a finite, limited number of pitches they want a pitcher to throw and will lift him after they've thrown 100 pitches or something. And of course as a result it's very rare to get a complete game these days. Most pitchers go six, maybe seven innings. What do you each think of pitch counts?

Mr. JACKSON: I like to see the pitching coach and the manager watch pitchers to see if they're laboring. There are pitchers that'll get into 50, 60 pitches in the third inning and their mechanics are off, their fundamentals are off, they're throwing across their body and doing things wrong to where it starts taxing the body, the arm, the elbow and shoulder.

There also are times when a guy is having an easy, smooth day, may have 95 pitches in the ninth inning, and that guy could throw 10, 12 innings. And so I think that needs to be watched, not a certain pitch count.

Mr. GIBSON: One time I was pitching against the San Francisco Giants and I threw 194 pitches.

SIMON: Oh my gosh.

Mr. GIBSON: But like Reggie said, I wasn't laboring. I don't believe that you can save anything for the next time or for later on. I think from the time you walk out on that mound, you should give it everything that you have and you should not try to save anything, because you start pitching like that, you'll never get to where you want to go.

SIMON: While we have each of you here, any of you want to venture who's going to win the World Series this year?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, I was hoping, like Bob, for a Yankees-Cardinals.

SIMON: Boy, that would be great for the two of you. Go on the road with a book together, yeah.

Mr. GIBSON: And with the Dodgers winning just to aggravate all of the New York fans, because Joe was there.

SIMON: Oh, Joe Torre to return to New York.

Mr. GIBSON: Yeah, we're talking Joe Torre, yeah.

SIMON: With the Dodgers, yeah.

Mr. GIBSON Yeah, that would really aggravate a bunch of people and I would be really happy about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Mr. Jackson, can we assume you think the Yankees, it's their year?

Mr. JACKSON: I think we - I don't like to say things like that. I like to take it one game at a time. I remember in 1980 we had so many players that had great years and I've never forgotten that. We were supposed to go all the way, we were the hands-down favorite, big payroll, big this, big stars, et cetera.

I believe in, if you get too far ahead of yourself at this time of year facing another club, the Dodgers and the Phillies, they're both equal. We need to be on our game. And then I worry about how far we're going to go. I want us to get there, but what I think doesn't mean a thing, because the people in Anaheim have other opinions.

SIMON: Well, gentlemen, thanks so much. Pleasure talking to both of you. And, Mr. Gibson, we want to mention you're there at the studios of KIOS in Omaha, which is our station there, and you went to high school in the same building.

Mr. GIBSON: Yes, I did. I'm not going to tell you when I got out of it because it was a long time ago.

SIMON: Well, we're honored that our station there is where you went to high school. And, of course, the great Reggie Jackson, speaking with us from Monterey Bay, California. Thanks very much, Mr. Jackson.

Mr. JACKSON: Thank you very much. It certainly is enjoyable.

SIMON: Reggie Jackson, Bob Gibson, their new book: "Sixty Feet, Six Inches."

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