Florida Atlantic’s Joan Joyce, dominant in women’s softball, dies at 81

On a heat August evening in 1961, Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter” who had completed his Hall 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, Connecticut, to face a younger softball pitching phenom by the identify of Joan Joyce.

The event was a charity fundraising exhibition. Williams was in his Boston Red Sox uniform, No. 9. Joyce stood on the mound 40 toes away (regulation in ladies’s softball, versus 60 toes 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 highly effective groups within the ladies’s sport, with its dwelling discipline 30 miles to the south in suburban Stratford, Connecticut.

It was considered one of a number of such exhibitions through which 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 would change into 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 ladies’s fast-pitch softball and — given her prowess in basketball, volleyball and golf as effectively — as one of many best feminine athletes of her era.

With a slingshotlike 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 dwelling 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 every thing 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 man instructed her that he had requested Williams to call the hardest pitcher he had ever confronted. “And he said,” she recalled, “‘You won’t imagine this, but it surely was a teenage lady.’ “

Her many followers wouldn’t have been so stunned. Joyce, who died Saturday in Boca Raton, Florida, at 81, was, on the time, within the midst of a Hall 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 document, tossing 150 no-hitters and 50 good video games and placing out greater than 10,000 batters whereas accruing an astonishingly low lifetime ERA of .090.

In one 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 Valuable Player awards in championship match play, principally with the Brakettes, a perennial powerhouse that took its identify from its firm sponsor, a Stratford producer of brake lining for cars.

She additionally struck out Hank Aaron in one other exhibition, in 1978 in West Hartford, Connecticut. Aaron was 44, two years faraway from his taking part in days, and Joyce was 37, however the faceoff was billed as one thing of a heavyweight struggle.

“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, may hit: She had a profession batting common of .327.

She went on to teach the ladies’s softball workforce at Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, and was in her twenty eighth season there at her dying, which the college introduced with out giving a trigger. At FAU, the place she was this system’s founding coach, she constructed a towering document of 1,002-674-1 as she coached the workforce to 11 convention championships and 11 NCAA postseason tournaments. She was voted the convention coach of the yr eight instances.

But softball was not the one area through which 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 taking part in for Connecticut groups within the Women’s Basketball Association and the Amateur Athletic Union. She set a nationwide AAU match document scoring 67 factors in a single sport and 3 times was voted an AAU 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 within the United States Volleyball Association’s nationwide match from 1969 to 1974 and was chosen for an All-East Regional workforce. Less than a month after taking over 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. Within two years, she certified for the Ladies Professional Golf Tour — whereas nonetheless pursuing her softball profession. At age 42 she set an LPGA document for the fewest putts in a single spherical: 17 (a quantity matched in males’s skilled golf solely by Bob Brue, on the PGA Champions Tour.)

Joyce, recognized for her highly effective drives if not her accuracy, continued as a professional golfer for 19 years, till she was 55, remaining a contender although by no means recording a match win. At Florida Atlantic, she was additionally the ladies’s head golf coach.

Inducted into as many as 19 Halls of Fame, Joyce was often in comparison with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who, with triumphs in observe and discipline, swimming, baseball, basketball and golf within the Nineteen Forties and ’50s, has usually been cited as the best feminine athlete in American historical past. But to Jane Blalock, the LPGA 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 youngster 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 dwelling with their three kids.

Her father, an achieved novice basketball and softball participant, taught Joan each sports activities when she was a baby, and her athleticism shortly turned obvious. She was the star of her ladies basketball workforce at Crosby High School in Waterbury and, after taking part in in native organized softball video games as a lady, she tried out for the Brakettes at 13 and gained a spot on the roster.

Her feats with the workforce quickly turned legend. In 1961, in match 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 shedding to a workforce from Whittier, California, within the remaining sport, a marathon determined within the backside of the nineteenth inning at 3:30 within the morning. (Even with the loss, she was named the match’s MVP.)

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

Joyce left the workforce in 1963 to attend Chapman College in Orange, California, graduating in 1966. While 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 tennis star Billie Jean King and a sports activities entrepreneur, Dennis Murphy, to discovered the International Women’s Professional Softball League. Joyce turned the player-coach of the Connecticut Falcons, a workforce she owned with King and Blalock. The Falcons took the WPSL 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, profitable all six and dazzling Chinese 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 decathlonlike format on ABC’s “Superstars Competition” within the Nineteen Seventies.

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

Spending most of her softball profession as an novice, Joyce was compelled to take varied jobs to pay the payments — instructing, refereeing, serving half time as a neighborhood faculty athletic director and operating a journey company. But 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 instructed The New York Times 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.”

Never one for self-promotion, Joyce nonetheless put modesty apart in her personal self-assessment.

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

This article initially appeared in The New York Times.

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