Sports

Joan Joyce, a Sensation in Softball and More, Is Dead at 81

On a heat August night time 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 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 many high groups within the ladies’s recreation, with its house area 30 miles to the south in suburban Stratford, Conn.

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

With a slingshot-like underhanded supply, Joyce, a few weeks shy of her twenty first birthday, took her full arsenal of blazing pitches to the mound that night time: curveballs, sliders, fastballs and her trademark “drop ball,” which sank over the plate. And whereas she warmed up, Williams, who was approaching 43 however coming off a sterling, age-defying ultimate 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 all the things Joyce, a right-hander, threw at him (save for a few foul suggestions).

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

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 stated,” she recalled, “‘You gained’t imagine this, but it surely was a teenage woman.’”

Her many followers wouldn’t have been so stunned. 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 stage, 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 putting out greater than 10,000 batters whereas accruing an astonishingly 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 match play, largely with the Brakettes, a perennial powerhouse 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 one thing else,” Aaron was quoted as saying afterward. “That softball comes at you and rises up round your head by the point 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 educate the ladies’s softball group at Florida Atlantic College, in Boca Raton, and was in her twenty eighth season there at her dying, 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 group to 11 convention championships and 11 N.C.A.A. postseason tournaments. She was voted the convention coach of the yr eight occasions.

However softball was not the one enviornment 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 enjoying for Connecticut groups within the Ladies’s Basketball Affiliation and the Newbie Athletic Union. She set a nationwide A.A.U. match file scoring 67 factors in a single recreation and 3 times was voted an A.A.U. All-Star. She had a profession scoring common of 30 factors per recreation (and this was earlier than the three-point shot was launched).

She was additionally a standout volleyball participant. After beginning her personal group, the Connecticut Clippers, she competed in the US Volleyball Affiliation’s nationwide match from 1969 to 1974 and was chosen for an All-East Regional group. Lower than a month after taking over bowling, she gained the Connecticut state title within the sport and, by her account, later turned down a proposal 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 Women 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 (a quantity 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, 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 regularly in comparison with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who, with triumphs in monitor 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 higher.”

“Joan was the best feminine athlete in sports activities historical past,” Renzoni quoted Blalock as saying. “Truly, she’s one of many best athletes of all time — male or feminine.”

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

Her father, an completed beginner basketball and softball participant, taught Joan each sports activities when she was a baby, and her athleticism shortly grew to become obvious. She was the star of her woman’s basketball group at Crosby Excessive Faculty 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 group quickly grew to become legend. In 1961, in match play for the nationwide championship, she pitched in three straight video games in a 24-hour interval, putting out 67 batters over 32 innings earlier than dropping to a group from Whittier, Calif., within the ultimate recreation, 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 M.V.P.)

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

Joyce left the group in 1963 to attend Chapman Faculty 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 group 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 group on a six-game exhibition tour in China, successful all six and dazzling Chinese language followers.

The Seventies additionally introduced Joyce some consideration on tv: She appeared on the sport present “To Inform the Reality” and competed with different elite athletes in a decathlon-like format on ABC’s “Superstars Competitors.”

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 numerous jobs to pay the payments — instructing, refereeing, serving part-time as a group school athletic director and operating a journey company. However she didn’t complain in regards to the lack of remuneration.

“Lots of people really feel I needs to be bitter about not having the ability to get the big-time cash {that a} man with abilities akin to mine would obtain,” she advised The New York Occasions in 1975. “I don’t care in regards to the cash, I benefit from the recreation, and that’s crucial factor. I’d play this recreation even when it meant being broke the remainder of my life.”

By no means one for self-promotion, Joyce nonetheless put modesty apart in her personal self-assessment.

“I might have hated to bat in opposition to me,” she stated.

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