August 22, 1998
Longtime "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace protests an umpire’s call during the first inning of the Dukes game Friday night at Wade Stadium. Wallace was in town to interview Duluth-Superior Dukes pitcher Ila Borders, the first woman to pitch in a professional baseball game. (Tim Greenway / News-Tribune)
ILA SHUTS OUT `60 MINUTES’ FAMES CBS NEWSMAN MIKE WALLACE AND HIS TELEVISION CREW VISITED WADE STADIUM ON FRIDAY NIGHT TO INTERVIEW DUKES PITCHER ILA BORDERS. BUT A TOUGH INTERVIEWER FOUND THE INTERVIEW EVEN TOUGHER WHEN SHE REFUSED TO TALK ON GAME DAY.
ILA SHUTS OUT `60 MINUTES’
FAMES CBS NEWSMAN MIKE WALLACE AND HIS TELEVISION CREW VISITED WADE STADIUM ON FRIDAY NIGHT TO INTERVIEW DUKES PITCHER ILA BORDERS. BUT A TOUGH INTERVIEWER FOUND THE INTERVIEW EVEN TOUGHER WHEN SHE REFUSED TO TALK ON GAME DAY.
BY TOM LARSON AND CHRIS MILLER, NEWS-TRIBUNE
World leaders, white-collar criminals, warlords — few of them have escaped the wrath of CBS news pit bull Mike Wallace.
But Wallace met his match Friday. Duluth-Superior Dukes pitcher Ila Borders brought the legend to HIS knees.
"She wouldn’t talk to me. She wanted nothing to do with me today," Wallace said before the Dukes’ 9-5 Northern League baseball loss Friday night against Sioux City at Wade Stadium. "She had her game face on. I saw her in the locker room and I didn’t say anything to her. She looked at me like I was a hair in her soup."
And the famed newsman had no choice but to retract his fangs.
"If you want cooperation, you do it," he sighed, smiling.
Wallace and a "60 Minutes" crew are filming and doing interviews for a story on Borders scheduled to run around the World Series, or earlier, if St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire breaks Roger Maris’ major-league home run record.
Borders is the first woman to pitch in a professional game, and was making her seventh start of the season for the Dukes. She was featured in a New York Post story that caught Wallace’s eye. He pitched the idea to producer Jonathan Wells and they got the go-ahead, even though it’s not a typical Mike Wallace "60 Minutes" piece.
"When it (`60 Minutes’) started 30 years ago, Harry Reasoner was the heart of America, the white hat," Wallace said. "They needed somebody who was a total contrast. I was the black hat. I’m known for the investigative stuff, but to do a story like this is just a joy."
After Wallace and Wells sold the story to their CBS bosses, Wells traveled to Fargo, N.D., to watch Borders throw. Borders pitched six shutout innings and Wells talked with her following the game.
"It fits into the ’60 Minutes’ profile piece," Wells said. "It’s not what `60 Minutes’ has been known for for 30 years, but we do profiles of remarkable people, and this fits right in."
While Borders has gotten tons of fan support, some in the league aren’t thrilled she’s in it.
Sioux City manager Ed Nottle, who also has an ownership stake in the Explorers, is one.
"Ila’s always handled herself well — I don’t know Ila and I’m not knocking her," said Nottle. "I’m knocking the league. It’s incredible the integrity the Northern League has established in six years and I think this hurts the integrity of the league.
"When an Ila Borders shirt goes to the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose doesn’t, that’s ludicrous. That’s just my opinion."
It was an opinion he repeated during an interview with Wallace after saying, "Mike Wallace and (`60 Minutes’) are here for this is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard."
Borders probably didn’t find anything funny about her outing Friday. She gave up three two-run homers in the first two innings and was relieved with one out in the second inning with the Dukes down 7-0.
Borders will sit for an interview with Wallace today.
"Things like this make a it a little tough to concentrate," Borders said after the game.
Duluth-Superior Dukes pitcher Ila Borders throws the first pitch of the game against the Sioux Falls Canaries on July 9, 1998. It marked the first time a woman started a professional baseball game. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)
Wallace, 80, interviewed several Dukes and manager George Mitterwald before Friday’s game. Mitterwald hadn’t used Borders much until late in the first half of this season, when she started twice after the Dukes were eliminated from the pennant race.
"I just told him I didn’t have enough confidence to use her in tight games," said Mitterwald. The Dukes manager has been impressed with Borders in three of her starts, including two in which she pitched six shutout innings.
Former National League Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones was flown in for the game to comment for Wallace. Jones was noted for throwing with limited velocity, like Borders, but had success by being crafty.
"We’re similar," said Jones, who threw out the game’s first pitch. "I first became aware of Ila a couple of years ago when she was at Southern California College. I talked to her on a radio show and my advice was, `Be aggressive. Go after the hitters.’ "
St. Scholastica baseball coach John Baggs sat next to Wallace during the game and kept track of the speed of Borders’ pitches with a radar gun. Borders’ top speed was 77 mph. She threw 32 pitches, 21 for strikes, and was pulled after allowing Marty Neff’s second two-run home run with one out in the second.
Wallace patiently signed autographs, but headed back to his hotel after Borders left the game. Wallace clearly was taking sides in this story, however. After he interviewed Nottle, Wallace told the Explorers’ manager, "I hope she rubs your face in it."
Said Nottle: "I told him I could find a place for him in my organization, but it definitely wouldn’t be as a scout."
Borders retired from professional baseball in 2000 and pursued a career as a firefighter in California. She visited Duluth in February 2002 for the Dukes’ annual Hot Stove Banquet; here is a photo of her speaking at that event: