Home Baseball Joan Joyce, Dominant in Women’s Softball, Is Dead at 81

Joan Joyce, Dominant in Women’s Softball, Is Dead at 81


On a heat August evening in 1961, Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter” who had completed his Corridor of Fame baseball profession the yr earlier than because the final hitter to bat .400 in a single season, strode to the plate earlier than an overflow crowd at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, Conn., to face a younger softball pitching phenom by the title of Joan Joyce.

The event was a charity fund-raising exhibition. Williams was in his Boston Purple Sox uniform, No. 9. Joyce stood on the mound 40 ft away (regulation in ladies’s softball, versus 60 ft 6 inches in major-league baseball), clad within the red-and-white jersey and shorts she wore because the premier pitcher for the Raybestos Brakettes, one of the vital highly effective groups within the ladies’s sport, with its house area 30 miles to the south in suburban Stratford, Conn.

It was one among a number of such exhibitions wherein Williams and Joyce confronted off within the early Nineteen Sixties, however the one in Waterbury — Joyce’s hometown, the place the followers have been chanting “Joanie, Joanie Joanie!” — proved to be probably the most memorable. It might grow to be an oft-told story within the lore that enveloped Joyce over her lengthy profession as, many would say, probably the most dominant participant within the historical past of girls’s fast-pitch softball and — given her prowess in basketball, volleyball and golf as effectively — as one of many best feminine athletes of her technology.

Together with her windmill-like underhanded supply, Joyce, a few weeks shy of her twenty first birthday, took her full arsenal of blazing pitches to the mound that evening: curveballs, sliders, fastballs and her trademark “drop ball,” which sunk over the plate. And whereas she warmed up, Williams, who was approaching 43 however coming off a sterling, age-defying remaining season in Boston (hitting .316 and swatting 29 house runs), studied the motion of her ball.

To no avail, because it turned out.

For 10 to fifteen minutes, Williams, a left-handed hitter, swung at and missed nearly the whole lot Joyce, a right-hander, threw at him (save for a few foul suggestions).

“Finally,” Joyce later recalled, “he threw the bat down and said, ‘I can’t hit her’” and walked away.

The mighty Williams had struck out.

Years later, Joyce would inform her biographer, Tony Renzoni, how she as soon as met a person who had fished with Williams off the Florida Keys. The person advised her that he had requested Williams to call the hardest pitcher he had ever confronted. “And he said,” she recalled, “‘You won’t believe this, but it was a teenage girl.’”

Her many followers wouldn’t have been so shocked. Joyce, who died on Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla., at 81, was, on the time, within the midst of a Corridor of Fame profession of her personal. And when that profession ended, after nearly twenty years of softball at a nationwide and worldwide degree, she had amassed a staggering set of accomplishments.

Over 19 seasons she compiled a herculean 753-42 win-loss file, tossing 150 no-hitters and 50 good video games and placing out greater than 10,000 batters for a stunningly low lifetime earned-run common of .090.

In a single season she gained 42 video games. She recorded strings of consecutive scoreless innings, together with 123 in 1971 and 229 in 1975-76, and gained eight Most Helpful Participant awards in championship event play, principally with the Brakettes, an nearly perennial championship workforce that took its title from its firm sponsor, a Stratford producer of brake lining for vehicles.

She additionally struck out Hank Aaron in one other exhibition, in 1978 in West Hartford, Conn. Aaron was 44, two years faraway from his enjoying days, and Joyce was 37, however the face-off was billed as one thing of a heavyweight battle.

“She was something else,” Aaron was quoted as saying afterward. “That softball comes at you and rises up around your head by the time you swing at it.”

And, for good measure, Joyce, like Aaron, might hit: She had a profession batting common of .327.

She went on to educate the ladies’s softball workforce at Florida Atlantic College, in Boca Raton, and was in her twenty eighth season there at her loss of life, which the college announced with out giving a trigger. At F.A.U., the place she was this system’s founding coach, she constructed a towering file of 1,002-674-1 as she coached the workforce to 11 convention championships and 11 N.C.A.A. postseason tournaments. She was voted the convention coach of the yr eight instances.

However softball was not the one enviornment wherein Joyce excelled. As a rangy 5-foot-9 ahead (some sources say 5 foot 10), she took a number of all-American honors in basketball enjoying for Connecticut groups within the Ladies’s Basketball Affiliation and the Beginner Athletic Union. She set a nationwide A.A.U. event file scoring 67 factors in a single sport and 3 times was voted an A.A.U. All-Star. She had a profession scoring common of 30 factors per sport (and this was earlier than the three-point shot was launched).

She was additionally a standout volleyball participant. After beginning her personal workforce, the Connecticut Clippers, she competed in the USA Volleyball Affiliation’s nationwide event from 1969 to 1974 and was as soon as chosen for an All-East Regional workforce. Lower than a month after taking on bowling, she gained the Connecticut state title within the sport and, by her account, later turned down a suggestion to go skilled.

And at 35, an age when many athletes are retiring, she tried her hand at golf. Inside two years, she certified for the Girls Skilled Golf Tour — whereas nonetheless pursuing her softball profession. At age 42 she set an L.P.G.A. file for the fewest putts in a single spherical: 17. (It’s a quantity that has been matched in males’s skilled golf solely by Bob Brue, on the PGA Champions Tour.) Joyce, identified for her highly effective drives if not her accuracy, remained a professional golfer for 19 years, till she was 55 (with out successful a event). At Florida Atlantic, she was additionally the ladies’s head golf coach.

Inducted into as many as 19 Halls of Fame, Joyce was incessantly in comparison with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who, with triumphs in observe and area, swimming, baseball, basketball and golf within the Nineteen Forties and ’50s, has usually been cited as the best feminine athlete in American historical past. However to Jane Blalock, the L.P.G.A. star who persuaded Joyce to embrace golf, “Joan was even better.”

“Joan was the greatest female athlete in sports history,” Renzoni quoted Blalock as saying. “Actually, she’s one of the greatest athletes of all time — male or female.”

Joan Joyce was born in Waterbury on Aug. 18, 1940, and grew up there, the eldest baby of Joseph and Jean Joyce. Her mother and father labored at rival brass factories (her father as a foreman) and purposely labored completely different shifts in order that one mum or dad would all the time be at house with their three youngsters.

Her father, an completed beginner basketball and softball participant, taught Joan each sports activities when she was a toddler, and her athleticism shortly grew to become obvious. She was the star of her woman’s basketball workforce at Crosby Excessive College in Waterbury and, after enjoying in native organized softball video games as a woman, she tried out for the Brakettes at 13 and gained a spot on the roster.

Her feats with the workforce quickly grew to become legend. In 1961, in event play for the nationwide championship, she pitched in three straight video games in a 24-hour interval, placing out 67 batters over 32 innings earlier than dropping to a workforce from Whittier, Calif., within the remaining sport, a marathon determined at 3:30 within the morning within the backside of the nineteenth inning. (Even with the loss, she was named the event’s M.V.P.)

In 1974, the Brakettes grew to become the primary United States workforce to win the Ladies’s Softball World Championship, first held in 1965 in Melbourne, Australia. Enjoying at Raybestos Memorial Discipline in Stratford, with the manufacturing unit’s acquainted oily odor wafting throughout the floodlit area, Joyce threw a one-hitter (a bunted blooper) towards a strong Japanese workforce to take the title. She had made 5 appearances within the event, three of them no-hitters.

Joyce left the workforce in 1963 to attend Chapman School in Orange, Calif., graduating in 1966. Whereas there, she performed for one of many Brakettes’ chief rivals, the Orange Lionettes, main them to a nationwide championship in 1965. After rejoining the Brakettes in 1967, she went on to pitch 4 consecutive no-hitters for them in 1968.

In 1976, she teamed up with the tennis star Billie Jean King and a sports activities entrepreneur, Dennis Murphy, to discovered the Worldwide Ladies’s Skilled Softball League. Joyce grew to become the player-coach of the Connecticut Falcons, a workforce she owned with King and Blalock. The Falcons took the W.P.S.L. crown in 4 straight years earlier than the league went out of enterprise. In its final yr, Joyce took the workforce on a six-game exhibition tour in China in 1979, successful all six and dazzling Chinese language followers.

She additionally appeared on the tv sport present “To Tell the Truth” within the Nineteen Sixties and competed with different elite athletes in a decathlon-like format on ABC’s “Superstars Competition” within the Seventies.

She is survived by a sister, Janis Joyce; and a brother, Joseph.

Spending most of her softball profession as an beginner, Joyce was compelled to take varied jobs to pay the payments — educating, refereeing, serving part-time as a neighborhood school athletic director and operating a journey company. However she didn’t complain in regards to the lack of remuneration.

“A lot of people feel I should be bitter about not being able to get the big-time money that a man with talents comparable to mine would receive,” she advised The New York Instances in 1975. “I don’t care about the money, I enjoy the game, and that’s the most important thing. I’d play this game even if it meant being broke the rest of my life.”

By no means one for self-promotion, Joyce nonetheless put modesty apart in a self-evaluation of her abilities.

“I would have hated to bat against me,” she stated.

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