“Sixty Feet, Six Inches: A Hall of Fame Pitcher & A Hall of Fame Hitter Talk About How the Game Is Played” is a beautifully simple concept for a baseball book. Lonnie Wheeler, who has partnered with Bob Gibson on his autobiography, “Stranger to the Game,” and “Pitch By Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game,” about Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, stays almost entirely out of the way and simply allows Gibson and Reggie Jackson to take center stage.
The book is broken out into different topics and records the two men’s conversation as they discuss different aspects of the game and tell stories from their playing days. Wheeler does such a good job of keeping the focus on Gibson and Jackson that even his questions don’t appear in the text. Instead, each section gets a one- or two-word headline and then Gibson and Jackson are off to the races, with the reader observing in fly-on-the-wall fashion.
Both men are thoughtful and articulate, and obviously bring a wealth of baseball knowledge to the book. They seem like a particularly well-suited pairing for this book, not only because of their respective roles as ace pitcher and slugger, but because their similarities and differences both seem to lend an interesting aspect to the book. Much of “Sixty Feet, Six Inches” is built upon the showdown between pitcher and hitter and the thought that both men bring to the confrontation. To me, that showdown is the best thing that baseball has going for it – the closest thing we have these days to the old western movie scenes where the good guy and bad guy square off in the middle of the deserted street.
Gibson played 17 years in the National League, all with the Cardinals, while Reggie Jackson played in the American League for the Athletics, Orioles, Yankees, and Angels. Gibson’s career began in 1959 and Jackson’s began in 1967, so they never faced one another and often faced different opponents, and while both men know what it was like to be a Black Major League Baseball player, Gibson came a generation earlier and had sounds like a very different experience than Jackson did.
Both men bring a sense of humor to the conversation, and seem to enjoy turning the discussion occasionally to how they would approach facing the other and how they would have handled situations differently than the other. There also is an obvious respect between the two and their approaches to the game, even as they approached the game differently.
I think my only suggestion for the book might have been some sort of an introduction covering the challenges and high points of each man’s career. Personally, I was far more familiar with Gibson’s career and less knowledgeable about Jackson’s conflicts with Billy Martin – but other than that small note, I really think Wheeler took the right approach with this material. When you have Gibson and Jackson talking baseball, there’s no need to overthink things.
The result is a book that provides a great glimpse into 1960s and 1970s Major League Baseball while providing tips about the mental side of the game that I would recommend for any young ballplayer today.