The book: “Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey”
The author: Ila Borders, with Jean Hastings Ardell
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 264 pages, $26.95, released April 1
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website
The pitch: In 2003, Ila Borders was at the Pasadena Central Library, wondering if she deserved a standing ovation.
She was voted in by the members of the Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary into their Shrine of the Eternals, sharing that induction day with Jim Abbott and Marvin Miller.
“I realized that I was in good company as one of the game’s outliers,” Borders writes in Chapter 8 of her autobiography. Jean Hastings Ardell, author of the book “Breaking into Baseball: Women in the National Pasttime,” did the introduction for Borders, saying that her career illustrated that “women have remained the game’s last outpost regarding discrimination” and a story like Borders’ “embodies the classic theme of literature: Somebody wants something that is denied them and they set out to find a way to get it.”
“Yes, I thought, that sums up my career,” Borders added.
With Ardell’s valuable assistance, the 42-year-old Borders gets to tell her own story her own way, instead of through the newspapers, magazines and even a “60 Minutes” piece about her time as a left-handed pitcher for four pro minor leagues (most notably with Mike Veeck’s St. Paul Saints) after growing up in La Mirada, playing at Whittier Christian High, Whittier College and then Southern California College in Costa Mesa (now Vanguard University).
There is, of course, more to it.
The parts about her dealing with the fact she has known she was gay since she was 5, but the difficulty of having to stay in the closet while at a Christian college. There was a stormy relationship with her father, who eventually divorced her mother some 13 years ago.
Now, she can also finally thank all the people along the way who helped her journey.
Borders now seems to be a peace with many things – including the Shrine of the Eternals recognition – so that the ease of her story comes out on the easy page turner.
“Maybe the inspirational book that I, masked as the all-American straight girl, had always wanted to write can still inspire, though in a different, more honest way,” Borders writes in the epilogue. “I can only say that this is who I am now.”
To many of us in the media, she’s the 12-year-old at La Mirada Little League who got her first big interview with Rick Lozano at KABC-Channel 7 after she struck out 18 of the 18 batters she faced.
She was Mo’ne Davis before Mo’ne Davis, but without the Little League World Series TV stage.
She was also a bridge to Ginny Baker, the lead character in the Fox TV series “Pitch,” without the distinction of becoming the first MLB pitcher with the San Diego Padres.
Still, she’s Ila Borders, a firefighter and paramedic in the Portland, Ore., area who once in a while gets recognized. Maybe now she can smile about it.
= An interview with the SCNG’s Jeff Miller in March at this link.
= A podcast at the Hall of the Very Good at the SportsDaily.com.
“Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers” by Debra A. Shattuck (University of Illinois Press, 328 pages, $25.95, released Jan. 15, 2017) takes us back, back, back to pre-Borders times.
Imagine the reaction of this group if it could have seen what Borders did accomplish.
Consider that on July 9, 1898, a baseball team of women known as the Bloomers – and wearing the bloomer outfits of the day — took on a male-based team in Denver. Frank Winder, a 23-year-old first baseman on the male team, collapsed and died during the contest with what the local coroner attributed to heart failure.
The Denver Evening Post, however, described the story the next day under a headline: “Fell Dead on the Ball Field: Crossing Bats With the ‘Bloomer Girl’ Team Was Too Much for Winder.”
Decades before the world would know about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, there were strong-willed women who took to the baseball field, many as amateurs, but some as members of barnstorming teams for pay, playing the game out of love, respect and a desire for competition and equality.
Without the exhaustive research by Shattuck, a Provost and Associate Professor of History at John Witherspoon College in Rapid City, South Dakota, who compiled all this as part of the University of Illinois Sports And Society project, those gems of baseball history might just be sitting dormant in a newspaper morgue.
Instead, Shattuck’s inspiration to focus on how women took to this burgeoning game of baseball from the late 1850s to 1899 is a concentrated compilation of stories and data that may read too much like a living, breathing university master’s thesis project. But it still stands up between some dry paragraphs and repetitiveness as a way to put some things into context about the game’s genesis and how women, like many minorities at the time, struggled just for opportunity.
They were baseball’s suffragettes.
“For decades, most modern scholars of sport assumed that baseball was and always had been a man’s game,” Shattuck writes. “They unwittingly perpetuated the gendered narrative introduced in the nineteenth century by men with a financial stake in shaping the game for their own purposes. Even feminist scholars who railed (and rail) against the exclusion of girls and women from scholastic, collegiate and Organized Baseball structures and teams general assumed that baseball had always been a man’s game and that women never had a chance to alter that reality because of patriarchal structures of power. The truth about baseball’s gendered past is far more complex.”
So much so that this may be the only book of a little more than 300 pages long where the final 180-plus pages are set aside just for an appendix, detailed footnotes, a bibliography and an index.
== “The All-American Girls After the AAGPBL: How Playing Pro Ball Shaped Their Lives,” by Kat D. Williams, released March 17
== The Institute for Baseball Studies and the Baseball Reliquary have two ongoing exhibits called “Equal to the Game: Women and Baseball,” with photographs, artifacts and artwork. The exhibits run concurrently at the Wardman Library at Whittier College (7031 Founders Hill Road) through May 4 and at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts at Whittier College (6760 Painter Ave.) through April 27. More info for both exhibits: 626-791-7647
== Major League Baseball announced a new initiative on Thursday that will include about 100 girls aged 16 and under to compete a “Trailblazer Series” baseball tournament at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton from April 13-15 in conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day. Eight teams have been formed, four in each of the 12-and-under and 16-and-under divisions. Among the coaches picked is Justine Siegel of L.A., founder of the all-girls “Baseball for All” youth baseball organization. Players picked for this event based on applications include Norwalk pitcher/first baseman Abygil Castro, Sherman Oaks catcher/second baseman Charlee Friedman, Thousand Oaks shortstop and pitcher Emma Froemke and Malibu first baseman/third baseman Zoe Doyle. More information on the Trailblazer Series can be found at MLB.com/trailblazerseries.