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Remembering MLB Pitcher Bob Gibson


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Last week baseball lost one of its most memorable players.


HARRY CARAY: He can do everything, Gibson. Above all, he can throw that ball mighty hard and win.

DAVIES: That's broadcaster Harry Caray describing Bob Gibson, who dominated hitters for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s and '70s with a blazing fastball and an intimidating glare. He died last Friday at the age of 84 from pancreatic cancer.

Gibson played in a different era, when pitchers routinely threw complete games and pitching inside, even knocking batters down, was just part of the game. He played all 17 seasons of his career in St. Louis and accomplished remarkable things. He was an eight-time All-Star Most Valuable Player of the World Series twice, and he still holds the record for the most strikeouts in a World Series game - 17 against the Detroit Tigers in 1968. He also hit 26 lifetime home runs, two in the World Series.

Gibson wasn't friendly to opposing players or the media, but the way he saw it, his job was winning games, not making friends. We're going to listen to parts of two FRESH AIR interviews with Gibson. In one, he sat down with Hall of Fame outfielder Reggie Jackson in 2009 to talk about the confrontation between hitters and pitchers. But first, we'll hear part of his conversation with Terry Gross recorded in 1994, when he published a memoir, "Stranger To The Game." Terry asked him why he didn't like letting his catchers call the pitches he would throw.


BOB GIBSON: I felt if you throw a pitch that you don't want to pitch, you're not going to have your heart in it, and it's not going to be good. And I'll tell you, when that happened - I remember back when I was very, very young - and you do have to pay attention to what other people think about the league and the hitters when you don't know them yourself. Carl Sawatski was a catcher for the Cardinals, and he and I had a disagreement about what pitch to throw to a hitter. And I was young, and he was experienced. And I would shake him off.

And he finally called timeout. And he came out to the mound to tell me that he wanted me to throw a certain pitch. Well, when he went back, got down and I threw that pitch, guy hit a home run. And from that point on, I said, I'll never do it again. Now, that's not to say that you don't take orders or you don't follow what the catchers want you to do. But if you don't want to do it, then I say don't do it.

TERRY GROSS: Now, Tim McCarver was your catcher for many years. How did he feel about that?

GIBSON: Well, he felt the same way. You'd never throw a pitch that you don't want to throw. And usually, a catcher like McCarver had his head in the game so much, and he was so smart about what he was doing back there that I didn't shake him off that often anyway. When I did shake, it was usually to confuse the hitter.

GROSS: You used to use the brushback pitch. Now, were there times when you intentionally tried to hit a batter?

GIBSON: Oh, sure, and usually, that was retaliation. We had a couple of guys - Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and Julian Javier. They got hit constantly. They were very fast. They'd get on the bases, and they just drove guys nuts. So they did get hit, and whenever one of my guys got hit when I was pitching, I would just return the favor.

GROSS: Now, you hit Duke Snider once and broke his elbow.

GIBSON: Oh, he hit himself.

GROSS: He hit himself (laughter).

GIBSON: Yeah (laughter), he sure did.

GROSS: Why don't you explain that?

GIBSON: Well, Duke Snider was a pull hitter, dead pull hitter. And he liked the ball inside. He's a left-hand hitter. And when we - they first moved out to the Coliseum, the Coliseum's right field fence was a long way away, but the left field fence was only 250 feet away. And Duke Snider did not hit the ball to left field.

First time I faced him, he hit a home run over that little fence out there, which was fine. You know, OK, I - you know, I'm going to have to start pitching him a little differently. I pitched him away a little farther, about three or four inches outside, and he reached out and hit the ball. It would have been a home run, but it went foul. And that was the second time out. Well, the next pitch I threw him was inside. Here we go with this pitch that - I'm telling you, it keeps the guy from leaning out. Well, he went back out there, thinking that the ball was going to be outside. And it hit him in the elbow, broke his elbow.

GROSS: How did you feel when that happened?

GIBSON: Oh, that was his fault. It wasn't mine. And in fact, I went over to talk to him after the game. And he told me - he says, yeah. He says, I was leaning out there, and I shouldn't have been doing it.

GROSS: Did you ever get hit while you were at bat?

GIBSON: Sure. I got hit a lot.

GROSS: Was that retribution against your pitching (laughter)?

GIBSON: Yes, absolutely. You know, that's - it was the way the game was played.

GROSS: Boy, so every time you intentionally hit a batter, did you figure, well, that means I'm going to get hit when I'm up...

GIBSON: Well...

GROSS: ...At bat?

GIBSON: We're making it sound like...

GROSS: Like it happened a lot of times, which...


GROSS: ...It didn't.

GIBSON: And it didn't happen that often.

GROSS: Right.

GIBSON: See; you got a guy back there called the umpire, and he usually stops all of this.

GROSS: Right.

GIBSON: When somebody gets hit on my team and I go back out there and I hit somebody in that team, the umpire will call timeout. He says, OK, guys. That's enough. And usually, that is enough, and it stops.

GROSS: Right. So...

GIBSON: So you don't spend all game throwing at each other.

GROSS: Right. Does - tell me more about what your strategy was like when you were on the mound.

GIBSON: All right. We would go into a town - for instance, going into Philadelphia. And we'd have a three-game series. The first game of each series, you have a - we have a report from the scouts. And we would go over each individual hitter. We knew exactly how to pitch them, how to play defense against them. And so what you would do is you would go over it and refresh your memory on what to do.

So that's not to say that you would pitch like that all the time. But if you got into a situation where this guy could beat you with a base hit or a home run or what have you, then you went to your strategy. You went to those scouting reports, and pretty much if you stayed there, you'd get the guy out. But if you were continually pitching a guy, according to that, he was going to - he would - most of those hitters are good enough to adjust to that. So you try not to pitch them like that all the time.

GROSS: I think you were the first Black athlete to get a scholarship to the college that you went to, and you got...

GIBSON: Creighton University.

GROSS: Did you get a scholarship in basketball and baseball?

GIBSON: No. It was a basketball scholarship, and I just happened to play baseball during the summer. Yeah.

GROSS: So did did you think that you would go into basketball at that time?

GIBSON: I thought I was going to be a basketball player more so than a baseball player, but when I got to be a senior, I thought that maybe - and it didn't seem like anybody was interested that much in me from the professional ranks. I thought maybe I would probably end up in baseball.

GROSS: You actually played with the Globetrotters for a while in - what was it? - around '57.

GIBSON: Yeah, 1957.

GROSS: And you roomed with Meadowlark Lemon.

GIBSON: Yes, I did.

GROSS: But you say you hated the clowning, which is what the Globetrotters were most famous for.

GIBSON: Yes, but I didn't know that at the time because the Globetrotters came into Omaha. And at - in 1957 and I guess a year or two before that, they had a series with the College All-Stars where they played real basketball. And so I played with the College All-Stars, and I didn't even really get to play until the last quarter. I scored a lot of points, and we end up beating the Globetrotters. Well, they asked me to go with them after that.

And so that following fall, I went into Chicago, worked out, made the team. And when we started playing, we started doing the clowning thing. And I didn't realize at first that's what it was. So I didn't really care for that, no.

GROSS: Why not?

GIBSON: I'm not a clown.

GROSS: Was it hard to learn the stunts that the Globetrotters did?

GIBSON: No, it's not hard at all. You - yeah, it's really funny. When you're young, you spin the ball on your finger, and you do some of those things. I don't know why you do it. But when it came time to play, I didn't want to do that. I wanted to play basketball.

GROSS: You said before that breaking records didn't really mean much to you at the time. What did it mean to you to get voted into the Hall of Fame in 1980?

GIBSON: '81.

GROSS: '81 - OK.

GIBSON: Yeah, he - going into the Hall of Fame is something that nobody really thinks about while they're playing. And after you finish your career, whatever it is, and you sit down and you think about it, the best thing that could possibly ever happen to you after you get through playing is to go into the Hall of Fame. And when I was inducted - first of all, I thought I would never be inducted because I didn't - you know, the guys that vote on you were reporters. And I didn't talk to reporters a lot, especially on the day that I pitched. I tried to stay away because they would distract you. So I never thought I was going to go into the Hall of Fame. And, in fact, I was prepared not to be selected.

They called me and told me that they were going to have the voting and, you know, there was a good chance that I would go in there. So I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to go in because I didn't think the reporters liked me. But after I went in, after they had the election and I went in, it was - I don't think there's any other feeling greater than that, knowing that they thought - and by they I mean the press and the people that watched you play - thought that you were one of the best players ever. It was a great feeling.

DAVIES: Bob Gibson speaking with Terry Gross in 1994 when Gibson had published his autobiography "Stranger To The Game." Gibson died last week at the age of 84. After a break, we'll hear some of my conversation with Gibson and Hall of Fame outfielder Reggie Jackson. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Gibson, who died last Friday at the age of 84. Next, we'll listen to some of the interview I recorded in 2009 with Gibson and Hall of Fame outfielder Reggie Jackson. They'd collaborated on a book about the confrontation between hitters and pitchers called "Sixty Feet, Six Inches."


DAVIES: Well, Reggie Jackson, Bob Gibson, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, Bob Gibson, you say in this book that if you were a pitcher today - there are a lot more coaches and trainers and video analysis. And they would get you to try and change your windup and make it more economical, fewer moving parts. You had a lot of movement in your windup. Was that conscious?

GIBSON: Well, it was the way I learned to pitch. And my idea - it wasn't just my idea. I think, back in the days and even before I pitched, guys would wind up. And they would go through all types of gyrations. And the hitter pretty much had to look for the ball. Where is it going to come from? And I think the more that he has to look for, the better off you are. They start pitching with a - with no windup and as little movement as possible, and more guys start hitting the ball 550 feet. I think that the hitter needs to look and try to figure out where that ball's coming from.

DAVIES: You write in the book - and this book is a collection of conversations with you guys. And at one point you say, I had a violent delivery. I wanted to be a gathering storm and blow that fastball in there with all the force and fury I could muster. Was that Bob Gibson, who just really being an intimidating force out there with that windup?

GIBSON: Well, yeah, kind of. Except I had just more than a fastball. And I think what made me such a good pitcher...

DAVIES: Right.

GIBSON: ...Was that my slider was just as good as my fastball. And I had just as good a control with my slider as a fastball. And what makes you really effective is that you get guys up there looking for a 95, 97-mile-an-hour fastball. And you throw them a slider, that's 89 and 90. And I think that's why I did so well in the series because those guys were looking for all fastballs.

DAVIES: And coming out of that - all that different motion, they're trying - they're worried about the speed. And then, suddenly, the ball's curving, it's dipping, it's off...

GIBSON: Oh, yeah. They're looking for the ball off of me. You know, what the hitter likes to do is see where that point of release is coming from. And I think it's more difficult if your arms are waving and flapping - and (laughter) not that everybody can do that, I was fortunate enough to be able to do that. But I think the more he has to look at or look for, the better off you are.

DAVIES: Reggie Jackson, would you be bothered by a pitcher's windup if there was a lot of motion there?

REGGIE JACKSON: You try not to. I know that I liked it when a guy had almost a pitching motion of a catcher, just kind of a nice, easy throw, not too much (laughter) movement. It made it a lot easier to follow.

But following a Gibson, following a Tiant, a Juan Marichal, a Warren Spahn, a Vida Blue, Jim Palmer, guys with big, high kicks like Steve Carlton, it makes it tougher. Nolan Ryan had a big kick. Burt Blyleven had a big kick. And when these guys had all that going on and then threw in the high 90's to go along with it with a 12 to six breaking ball, it made it an awful lot tougher, I thought.

DAVIES: You guys are both in the Hall of Fame because you were great players in the regular season. But you really, really stood out in championship games, when it was all on the line. You both were incredible performers in the World Series. Reggie Jackson, nobody else in the game has hit four homers on four consecutive swings in the World Series like you did in 1977. You have five World Series championships. What were those big games like for you? Did it feel different? Was your focus different?

JACKSON: It was a battle between me and the guy on the mound. And I knew everything about who I was facing even in the other league. We had scouting reports. I paid attention to them. I watched. I learned. I understood. I felt prepared. And I really wanted the guy that I was facing to be at his best because then it made the thinking easy because you understood what a guy had, which was his best pitch, or, say, like facing a guy like Bob Gibson in the World Series.

Be proud of what you got because then I know what I'm going to get. I may not be able to handle it, but the thinking gets simple. He's not going around me unless the situation calls for it, meaning pitch around me and face another hitter depending on the score or the situation. I felt I was going to have a good swing. I felt prepared. So the game got a little more simple. I didn't have any clutter in my mind. It's me and you. I'm ready, and so are you. I hope you had a good night's rest. I hope you had a big breakfast.


JACKSON: Kiss your wife and your baby goodbye. Get your insurance paid up.

DAVIES: Because here it comes (laughter).

JACKSON: Grab that can over there before you come in here.

GIBSON: Well, he's right about that because when we got into the Series, he was going to get what I had unless there was a situation where I needed to pitch around him. And I didn't have any problem doing it.

DAVIES: Meaning walk him and face the next guy, right? Yeah. And, of course...

GIBSON: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, Reggie's up there. And Reggie's not going to get a hit every time he's up there, nor is he going to hit a home run every time he's up there. But he's probably more capable of hitting one than the guy behind him.

So why do a silly thing, especially if you're in a situation where he could win, he could beat you at ballgame. You would pitch around him, that meaning pitch to the next hitter, a guy that you know you can get out or you suspect you can get out a lot better than him. If I don't make a mistake on Reggie, I'm going to get him out. I don't know whether I'm going to make a mistake. If I do make a mistake, he's going to hit it. So let's try somebody else. And that's the way I looked at it.

DAVIES: The fascinating thing hearing you two talk is that you never faced each other either in the postseason or in the regular season, right?

GIBSON: World - All-Star Game.

DAVIES: In the All-Star Game, right? And...

GIBSON: Yeah. He keeps telling me...

DAVIES: (Laughter).

GIBSON: ...He hit a double off of me. And I don't remember.


DAVIES: Bob Gibson, I've got to ask you about the 1964 World Series, where you pitched in Game 7 on only two day's rest - that's very little rest - after having won Game 5, took the game all the way into the ninth inning with a 7-3 lead, then gave up two homers. And your manager, Johnny Keane, left you in. You finished. You won the game. You were the most valuable player of the series.

And afterward, when Johnny Keane asked why he left Gibson in, who seemed to be tired after pitching only - nine endings on only two days' rest, he said, I never considered taking him out. I had a commitment to his heart. Tell me about that day and that relationship.

GIBSON: Well, first you've got to - I blame Johnny Keane for those last two home runs that they hit off of me.


GIBSON: I go out. And Johnny says, Bob, I don't want you to get fancy out there. I want you to just throw the ball. Every pitch, fastball right over the middle of the plate. He says, I don't think that they're going to hit four home runs. And so after the second one, I looked into the dugout. And Johnny was getting a drink of water. I was looking to see where are you, John? Are you sure they're not going to hit four?

But, you know, I have a commitment to his heart. I can't tell you exactly what he had in mind when he said that. I know that he had plenty of confidence in me. And he felt that he was going to just go down the line with me, win, lose or draw. Now, that's saying something for him. I didn't want to let him down, period. And I was tired. I was really tired out there. But he was going to leave me in there, and so I was going to give it everything I had.

DAVIES: Yeah. I think what he meant was that this man has a will to win like no other.

GIBSON: Yeah, but you keep throwing that fastball over the middle the plate, (laughter) that will might dwindle.

DAVIES: Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson recorded in 2009, when they'd collaborated on a book about the confrontation between hitters and pitchers called "Sixty Feet, Six Inches." Gibson died last week at the age of 84. We'll hear more of that interview after a break. Here's a memorable moment from Gibson's career in 1968, when he fanned 17 batters to set the record for the most strikeouts in a World Series game. Announcer Harry Caray has the call as Gibson pitches to the Detroit Tigers' Willie Horton.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Gibson's going to pick up records today like a vacuum cleaner, Harry.

CARAY: One ball, no strikes, high pump, foul bat. He got two strikeouts in the first, three in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth, one in the fifth, two in the sixth, two in the seventh, one in the eighth, two so far in the ninth. What a remarkable performance - one ball, one strike. Foul bat - strike two. And he could end it all now with the most dramatic of flourishes. Two strikes on the ball. Make us proud ever to see a baseball game here. Watching baseball World Series history being made, and so are you, wherever you are.

Two strikes on the ball. Look at that concentration on his face - almost chased it. A breaking ball - Willie Horton stopped in time. Just think; he's accounted for 16 of the putouts all by himself. He's got it. Strike him out. Look at the scene on the field, McCarver the first one. Now there's infielders all over him. A new world record of 17 strikeouts in one game.

DAVIES: I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're remembering Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who died last Friday at the age of 84. He was one of the most dominating pitchers in the game in his 17 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he led the team to two World Series titles. I spoke to Gibson and Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson in 2009, when they'd collaborated on a book about the confrontation between pitchers and batters called "Sixty Feet, Six Inches."


DAVIES: I want to talk about throwing inside and guys getting hit by pitches because you guys have both been on opposite ends of this. And, Bob Gibson, with your permission, I'm going to read a section from you from the book that you've collaborated with Reggie here where you're talking about - you're saying basically that you like to pitch on the outside part of the plate. That is the part - pitch away from the batter. And you say that nobody's really going to square on a pitch and hit you when you pitch it outside, and then you write, (reading) unless he cheats. What I mean is unless he leans in and dives at that outside corner. Obviously, I can't let him do that because that's where I'm trying to pitch. So if he tries it, I have to stand him up a little bit. Think of the hitter as a dog with an electronic collar. You just administer a slight correction, as they call it, if he tries to get out of his yard. Throw the ball inside, and he can't wander into the wrong area.

That's what you were doing when you pitched inside, right?

GIBSON: Pretty much, yeah. I was getting to him to think about the ball inside. Now, Reggie - Reggie likes to hit the ball out away from him. That's where I want to get him out. So what do I do to keep him from hitting that ball out away from him? I pitch him inside, and I don't just pitch him inside once. I come in there often. And so now he's going to think about me pitching him inside. If he's thinking about that ball inside, then I can get him out of the way. If he's thinking outside and I throw outside, he's more capable of hitting the ball. But if I get inside and do it often enough, he's not going to go leaning out there because sometimes when I'm pitching inside and he's thinking outside, you know, the ball comes inside, and I'll hit him. So...

JACKSON: (Laughter).

GIBSON: And he knows it. So - and he says, well, maybe he's going to come in here. More often than not, I'm going to be away from him. But it just might be that one time that I'm not away from him, and he's going to get hurt. It'll come in and bite him.

DAVIES: Well, and a Bob Gibson fastball can hurt you, no doubt. Reggie Jackson, you know, the lore is that pitchers now throw at and throw close to hitters a lot less than they did years ago. I want to - back when you played, how did you feel when a pitcher, you know, knocked you down, threw it in so that you had to jump out of the way? What were the circumstances under which that was OK?

JACKSON: Well, that's - you added something there...


JACKSON: ...That's very important. There were circumstances where it was OK. If you hit a good hitter on the other ball club and somebody on our club was going to get hit and - you know, certain pitchers would make sure they hit either the most important guy or, if you hit the second most important guy over there, you'd hit the second most important guy on our club. And they may just single out and say, OK, we're going to knock Reggie down.

DAVIES: Right.

JACKSON: We're going to hit him. And you understood it at times, especially if we started and a guy hit a couple of home runs against us and the pitcher had to hit the guy in order to just, you know, get him to respect him a little bit.

DAVIES: Now, that's what...

JACKSON: He just can't get abused.

DAVIES: I've got to interrupt you there because that's one thing that I never did understand. If someone hits two home runs fair and square, is having a great day, that's a reason to throw at him?

JACKSON: Yeah. Go ahead, Bob.

GIBSON: Well...

DAVIES: Bob Gibson, yeah.

GIBSON: Let me say this. A guy hitting a home run off of me is not a reason for me to throw at the guy. If the guy hits my best pitch in a good location and he hits a home run, that's a reason for me to throw at him. You know what I mean? I don't want him getting my best pitch. There's a lot of mistakes that I'm going to make, and when I make a mistake, he's capable of hitting a home run. Well, that's my fault. But when he goes out and gets my really, really good pitch and hits a home run off it, he might have to get hit the next time.

DAVIES: Now, when you say hit, you're talking about not just coming close. You're talking about drilling him in the ribs.

GIBSON: Hit you in the back, in the butt.

JACKSON: Well, yeah, in the ribs or somewhere in there, somewhere where it's not bad. If you throw at a guy's head, then we all feel, pitcher as well as hitter, that, you know, you're trying to do some damage or you're affecting - you're messing with my livelihood.


JACKSON: But there are times in baseball when I was coming along - and Bobby, too - that you just hit guys, and that was part of the game. There is no question that in the '50s and '60s, Black players got thrown at more. That's not a negative comment. It may come out that way, but that's the way it was. Hitting another player was part of the game. Hitting a player in the head is not. When you hit a player in the head, you're more apt to get some fisticuffs or, you know, bring both teams out on the field. But it was more accepted that - in the '50s, '60s and '70s. I think nowadays, it's a little overpoliced because I will always believe that knocking a hitter down, even hitting a hitter, at some times, is part of baseball.

DAVIES: Right. And there was this tradition of retaliation, which still happens today, where a pitcher from one team hits a guy on another team. Then the batting team's pitcher, when they get back out on the field, will be expected to hit one of their hitters. And, Bob Gibson, that might have put you in the position, then, sometimes, of having to plunk somebody who - because of something that had happened while your team was at bat. How did you feel about that? Having to go out there - they call it protecting your team, right?

GIBSON: Yeah. I didn't - I had no problem with it at all. Now, they used to say, well, wait for the pitcher, and get him. I said, no. The pitcher might not even be in the game when, you know, it's his time to hit. So I would usually - the next inning I'd pitch, I'd hit the first guy up, and then maybe I would get the best hitter on their team. But I wanted to retaliate so they wouldn't forget, you know? And I just wouldn't wait, and they knew this. The first guy that came up to the plate, he was really...

JACKSON: Jittery.

GIBSON: ...Light slippers.

DAVIES: (Laughter).


DAVIES: And...

JACKSON: Nowadays, they promote - wait till the right time. Wait till you have two outs. Wait till you have a lead. And so pick your spot is what it's called.

DAVIES: Well, and umpires will throw you out. They will warn both benches, and then when you hit somebody, you get tossed out, which didn't happen...

GIBSON: Oh, I don't like that. I had a situation - it was in San Diego. Lee Weyer happened to be the umpire. And we got somebody hit on our ball club, and they knew my reputation as retaliating. You know, and I wasn't - I'm not trying to hurt anybody. I'm only going to hit him. And after the inning - the half inning was over and I'm walking to the mound, Lee Weyer was walking along with me. Now, Bobby...

DAVIES: So the umpire...

GIBSON: Now, Bobby, if you hit somebody, it's going to cost you $50. It's going to cost you $50. And I said, Lee - and at that time, I was making pretty good money. I said, Lee, I have a whole bunch of $50, so you start adding them up.


GIBSON: And he didn't kick me out. First guy up, I didn't hit him. I knocked him down.


GIBSON: And he done kicked me out of the ballgame.

DAVIES: Sent the message. You know, one thing I've always it's always fascinated me is when ballplayers get hit - and I know it hurts - they never rub it. What's that about, Reggie Jackson?

GIBSON: Oh, that's not true.

JACKSON: That's not true.

GIBSON: That's not true.

JACKSON: If you get hit and it hurts, I'm going to rub it.

GIBSON: Willie Davis...

DAVIES: I see you guys just walk it off, and I don't know how you do it.

GIBSON: Willie Davis was hitting off of me. And my slider was 89, 90 miles an hour. And he swung at a slider mine, and it hit him in the knee. And he didn't rub it. And I was wondering, oh, I wonder what that's all about. And he hit a ground ball, and he got halfway to first and fell. I said, now, that's more like it.


GIBSON: Now I knew. He's got to rub this thing or something.

DAVIES: You know, Reggie Jackson, I know that you were hit in the head a few times and hit once in the face by Dock Ellis. And I'm just wondering, after something like that, how do you stand in ever again 60 feet away from a guy that can throw a fastball? How does - doesn't it affect your nerves?

JACKSON: Well, I went out to the ballpark after I got hit in the head one time - in the face by Dock Ellis - around 1 o'clock because I was - I sat out two days. And I went out to the ballpark the next day with a big swollen face and almost a closed eye because I was going to play that night. And I had the batting practice pitcher, a guy by the name of Jimmy Frey, who was a manager for the Cubs, throw at me in batting practice. And I hit for about 45 minutes and got over that.

There's another time in Texas, a guy had hit me in the head by the name of Mike Paul, a left-hander for Cleveland. I played against him in college. He hit me in college. And then we got together in the pros, and I hit a home run off him in Cleveland. And then about four or five years later, he was pitching for Texas. And the - I came up to the plate, and there were two guys on. And the catcher was a kid named Kenny Suarez, who was about 5'7". And the umpire was Bill Haler. And I got in the batter's box, and the first pitch that this guy threw to me was up and in. And I turned around to Ken Suarez, and I said, I'm not going to be able to get to the pitcher's mound, but if he hits me, I'm going to rip your face mask off and whoop you right here at home plate.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

JACKSON: He called time and went to the pitcher's mound. And he looked at the umpire, and the umpire looked at me. And he went to the pitcher's mound and said something to Mike Paul. And the next four pitches were - next three pitches was over in the right-hand hitter's batter's box.


JACKSON: Got a walk.

GIBSON: I like that. I like that.

DAVIES: Sending a message.

JACKSON: Yeah. I said, I'm going to fight you.

GIBSON: I think, though, if I had been catching, you and I would have been rolling in the dirt. Oh, yeah.

DAVIES: Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson recorded in 2009. Gibson died last week at the age of 84. We'll hear more of that conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who died last week at the age of 84. We're listening to the interview I recorded with Gibson and fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in 2009 about their book, which explored the confrontation between hitters and pitchers in the game. It's called "Sixty Feet, Six Inches."


DAVIES: Reggie Jackson, I have to ask you one thing that I've always wanted to ask a great hitter, and that is, when a pitcher releases the ball, it's on top of you so quickly, and you have a much better chance if you can tell whether it's a fastball or a slider or a curve. Can you actually see the rotation of the ball and tell what kind of pitch it is?

JACKSON: Dave, if you can't see the rotation and tell if it's a sinker, a fastball, then you have to be able to tell whether that fastball is a two-seamer or a four-seamer. You have to be able to recognize if it's a slider or a curveball. You have to be able to recognize if it's a changeup or a split finger. And if you can't, you're not going to be a major league player. You're not going to be a good player. Any other player that's playing every day that's hitting above 275 or 260, he can see what's coming when it leaves the pitcher's hand.

DAVIES: So in that split second, you can pick up the rotation and see what's coming.

JACKSON: Yes. You better. You better.

DAVIES: That's amazing.

JACKSON: A guy with a slider like Bob, you'd see a dot. You'd see a dot in the ball. And you wouldn't - yeah, you'd see that dot. If that dot got big and you saw it too clear, it was a bad slider, and it was going to leave the ballpark when you swung at it.

DAVIES: You saw a dot. What do you mean by the dot, Reggie?

JACKSON: Just the spin of the baseball with a slider, the rotations in the seams form a dot, a red dot, you know, on the ball as it comes at you when it's a real good slider. The guys will say, boy's tight. It's electric. If it got sloppy, the dot got big and then it became a hanger, became a bad fastball.

DAVIES: And, Bob Gibson, and I have to ask you about one more moment. I don't remember the year. But you always talked about how Roberto Clemente was the kind of player that would just leap out and lunge at pitches away from him wherever. And he once hit a line drive at you that hit you so hard, it broke your leg. Right?

GIBSON: Yes, that happened.

DAVIES: And you pitched for three more batters before you left?

GIBSON: Well, I pitched to two more anyway. I used to get Clemente out fairly easily, and it was because of him jumping and leaping out at that ball away. And I used to throw the first pitch inside, knocking down. I mean, knock him down on purpose. Didn't hit him. I don't think I ever hit him. But it would make him so mad that he would swing at everything. And then the next pitches, I wouldn't even throw a strike, and I'd strike him out. I'd get him out. He hit ground balls. And this one time in particular was in 1967. It was right before the All-Star break. And I got a ball up and away. You could get Clemente out if it's down and away, down and away. And they tell you pitch guys low and away and high and tight. And that means pitching up and in and low and away.

And if you got it up in a way to Clemente, he hit the ball to right field like a left-handed pull hitter. I mean, he just really smashed it. And so I got the ball up a little bit, but it wasn't letter-high. It was about belt high. And he hit a line drive. And about the time my right leg hit the ground, I wasn't able to get my glove down quick enough. And the line drive hit me right on the ankle, broke my fibula.

I didn't know it was broken. I just knew it hurt a lot. And so our trainer came out. And back in those days, they would spray this ethyl chloride on your leg, and it would freeze it, and you wouldn't feel anything. And our trainer freezed (ph) it. He put that stuff on it. And I said - he says, how you feel? Well, I felt fine. I couldn't feel it. And so they - I threw a couple pitches, and I said, yeah, it's OK. They went back away, and I started pitching.

And I end up getting three and two on Donn Clendenon. And I knew that he was going to look for a fastball, so I was going to put a little bit extra on it. And I put a lot of weight on that bone, and it popped. It snapped in half. And it was really kind of scary. I looked behind me because I thought somebody walked up and hit me with a stick, but I fell over and I passed out. And next thing I know, everybody was looking in my face, but I didn't know it was broken. I just thought I had gotten a little bruise on it. And today, that would never happen. You get hit like that, and they take you out. They take a little better care of you.

DAVIES: So that's how you get Bob Gibson out of a game.


GIBSON: Well, they certainly got me out of the game that day.

DAVIES: Well, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, thanks so much. It's been fun.

JACKSON: OK, my friend, thanks for having us.

DAVIES: Bob, thanks a lot.

GIBSON: All right. You're very welcome.

DAVIES: Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson recorded in 2009. Gibson died last week. He was 84.


BRUCE SPRINGSTONE: (Singing) Nelly Kelly loves baseball games. She knew the players and all of their names. You could see her up there every day shouting hurray as they'd play. Her boyfriend by the name of Joe said, to Coney Island, dear, let's go. So Nelly started to fret and pout and to him I heard her shout take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd. Oh, won't you buy me some peanuts and some Cracker Jack. Well, I don't care if I never get back. I don't care if I never get back. Root, root, root for the home team. If they don't win, it's a shame. Because it's one, two, three strikes you're out at the old ball game, at the old ball game, at the old ball game. Strike one, strike two, strike three - you're out.

DAVIES: Coming up, Justin Chang reviews two new documentaries, one about the Trump administration and the coronavirus, the other about the impact of incarceration. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL EVANS TRIO'S "MILESTONES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.