American softball player
In August, 1961, a 21 year-old woman stood on a pitching mound facing recently retired baseball great Ted Williams , who positioned himself at the plate with the same competitiveness and determination as he did during his major league career. An over-capacity crowd at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, Connecticut, cheered as young softball pitcher Joan Joyce hurled one unhittable softball after another past one of baseball's greatest hitters during the charity exhibition game. In a profile issued by the Waterbury Hall of Fame in 1997, Joyce recalled the incident this way: "I threw to him about 10 minutes. He fouled off one or two pitches, but that's all. He threw his bat down and walked away." Her triumphant face-off with "The Splendid Splinter," repeated in 1968, demonstrated her legendary pitching ability. It remains her best known and favorite achievement in a long and dazzling athletic career.
An Athletic Family
Joyce was born August 1, 1940, in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her father was a baseball player and coach for local teams, and Joyce and her brother tagged along to the ball fields. Naturally athletic, she showed an interest and aptitude for the game. With her family's encouragement, Joyce began practicing softball by throwing against a home-made target.
By the age of 16, she was good enough to join the powerhouse Raybestos Brakettes (now the Stratford Brakettes), an amateur fast pitch softball team based in Stratford, Connecticut. When the team's starting pitcher was injured during
the 1958 National Championships, Joyce was moved from first base to the pitching mound. The 18-year-old pitched a no-hitter to win the championship game for her team. Her pitching career was launched.
Joyce developed an arsenal of pitches—drop, riser, curve, and change-up—all delivered from a slingshot motion. She may not have been the fastest pitcher, but her ball movement and stamina soon made her one of the best. Still, her pitches were said to reach up to 118 miles per hour, although they were never timed with a speed gun. She told Tom Yantz of The Hartford Courant, "They probably were in the 70s." They just looked much faster to the batter. And her approach to pitching was simple and effective. She explained to Yantz, "My pitching philosophy was to keep the umpires out of it. That meant pitch to the area where the batter didn't want to swing."
Softball's Brightest Star for Two Decades
Joyce interrupted her stretch with the Brakettes to attend Chapman College in Orange, California. During her three years there, she played softball for the Orange Lionettes, leading the team to a national title in 1965.
She compiled astounding records during her amateur years—507 pitching wins with just 33 losses, 123 nohitters, 33 perfect games, and a 0.19 ERA (Earned Run Average). She led the Brakettes to the world championship title in 1974, the first time a team from the United States won. But she was not just a great pitcher. She also was a skilled fielder and batter, with a career batting average of .327, good enough to lead the Brakettes in batting six times. Joyce's success was well recognized—she won eight Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards in the playoffs, the Brakettes won 12 national championships, and she was named an Amateur Softball Association All-American 18 times.
Her amateur success prompted an attempt at a professional career. In 1976, she co-founded the International Women's Professional Softball Association along with tennis star Billie Jean King , golfer Jane Blalock, and promoter Dennis Murphy. Joyce was the star player, manager, and part-owner of the Connecticut Falcons, as well as the league's commissioner. Nearing forty, she compiled a 101-15 pitching record, threw 34 no-hitters, and had eight perfect games. Only her .290 batting average hinted at her advancing age. The league folded after four seasons due to inadequate financing and marketing, but Joyce led the Falcons to the World Series title all four seasons.
Excelled at Other Sports
Joyce's achievements would be remarkable even if they were limited to softball. But she was a sports phenomenon at a time when few opportunities existed for women athletes. She was a star volleyball player at Crosby High School in Waterbury, and later played in amateur leagues and served as an official. As a teenager, she had a 180 bowling average and sought out the best competition she could find. She pursued basketball, another childhood love, at Chapman College, where she was a three-time Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) All-American. She took up golf while teaching at Waterbury Catholic High School after college. She joined the Ladies Professional Golf Tour (LPGA) at the age of 37 after playing in just three amateur tournaments. In almost 20 years of consistently good play on the LPGA tour, her best finish was a sixth place. She also was a teaching pro at Deer Creek Country Club in Florida.
Joyce's multi-sport prowess earned comparisons to an earlier legendary athlete. Former Connecticut Falcons player Kathy Neal remarked to Tom Yantz of The Hartford Courant, "She really was the Babe Didrikson Zaharias of her era."
Asked what made her such a talented all-around athlete, Joyce told Lori Riley of The Hartford Courant, "Probably determination. I was basically a pretty good athlete from when I was real young. I had good teachers. And I worked real hard at what I did."
Joyce has successfully made the transition from player to coach. In 1994, she became the first women's head softball coach at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. She has guided the Lady Owls to a number 10 national ranking, the highest softball ranking in the history of the Atlantic Sun Conference. She has been named the Conference's Coach of the Year five times in eight seasons. She continues to conduct softball clinics. In 1996, Joyce also was named head coach of Florida Atlantic University's women's golf team and the senior women's administrator.
|1940||Born August 1 in Waterbury, Connecticut|
|1956||Joins the Raybestos Brakettes|
|1958||Pitches a no-hitter for the National Fast Pitch Softball Championship|
|1962||Joins the Orange (California) Lionettes while attending Chapman College|
|1967||Re-joins the Raybestos Brakettes|
|1974||Leads the Raybestos Brakettes to a world championship title, the first for a United States team|
|1975||Retires from the Raybestos Brakettes|
|1976||Co-founds the International Women's Professional Softball Association, which lasts four seasons|
|1977||Qualifies for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA)|
|1994||Becomes first women's softball coach at Florida Atlantic University|
|1996||Becomes women's golf coach and senior women's administrator at Florida Atlantic University|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1957||Selected as an Amateur Softball Association All-American, the first of 18 consecutive years|
|1974||First woman honored with a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance|
|1975||Named Bill Lee Male Athlete of the Year|
|1983||Inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame|
|1989||Inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame|
|1991||Inducted into the Hank O'Donnell Sports Hall of Fame|
|1995||Named Atlantic Sun Conference Softball Coach of the Year, the first of five times|
|1995||Named Palm Beach County (Florida) Coach of the Year|
|1996||Inducted into the Palm Beach County (Florida) Sports Hall of Fame|
|1997||Inducted into the Waterbury (Connecticut) Hall of Fame|
|1997||Inducted into the Connecticut Sports Museum Hall of Fame|
|1998||Inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame|
|1999||Inducted into the New England Women's Sports Hall of Fame|
|1999||Inducted into the International Softball Federation Hall of Fame|
A Softball Great
Rival pitcher Charlotte Graham, who played against Joyce in the professional league, told Joe Jares of Sports Illustrated in 1976, "She's a fantastic lady. She's my idol. I've watched her closely for 10 years. She's truly the best player women's softball has ever had." In Great Women Athletes of the 20th Century, writer Robert Condon agreed, calling her "the finest women's softball player of all time." Her dominating presence inspired awe and helped lay the foundation for the sport's future.
Joyce enjoyed great acclaim for more than 20 years of softball playing, but her well known match-ups with Ted Williams stay with her. Williams was quoted by Tom Yantz in The Hartford Courant as declaring, "Joan Joyce was a tremendous pitcher, as talented as anyone who ever played." Joyce is surprised about the lingering fame, telling Yantz in 1999, "It's amazing. I've been in airports, hotels all over the world. It doesn't matter where, but people will come up to me and say, 'You struck out Ted Williams. I was there.'"
SELECTED WRITINGS BY JOYCE:
(With John Anquillare) Winning Softball, Henry Regnery Co., 1975.
Condon, Robert J. Great Women Athletes of the 20th Century. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1991.
Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1998, 2nd ed.
Bohls, Kirk. "Joyce's Ability to Make Softball Dance Has Left All-Stars on Floor." The Austin-American Statesman (July 11, 1997): C1.
Jares, Joe. "She's Still Wonder Woman." Sports Illustrated (July 26, 1976): 60.
Riley, Lori. "A Chance to Excel." The Hartford Courant (November 29, 1998).
Special to The Palm Beach Post. "Palm Beach Hall Inducts Five." The Palm Beach Post (March 11, 1996): 3C.
White, Jr., Gordon S. "Joan Joyce Enjoys Moments of Glory." The New York Times (May 30, 1981): 17.
Yantz, Tom. "The Missing Legend; Ted Couldn't Touch Joan." The Hartford Courant (December 30, 1999).
Young, Al. "Joyce Personified Softball League." USA Today (June 8, 1992): 8C.
"Bill Lee Male Athlete of the Year Award." Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. www.ctsportswriters.org/honorroll.html (December 4, 2002).
"Brakettes All-Time Roster." http://www.brakettes.com/alltime_roster.html (December 26, 2002).
"Brakettes History." http://www.brakettes.com/history.htm (December 26, 2002).
"Hall of Fame." Women's Sports Foundation. http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/cg…/iowa/about/awards/results.html?record=4 (December 4, 2002).
"Joan Joyce." National Softball Hall of Fame. http://www.softball.org/hall_of_fame/pff_memberdetail.asp?mbrid=147 (December 4, 2002).
"Joan Joyce." Waterbury (CT) Hall of Fame. http://www.biblio.org/bronson/joan.htm (December 4, 2002).
"Joan Joyce Profile." The Official Site of Florida Atlantic University Athletics. http://fausports.ocsn.com/sports/w-softbl/mtt/joyce_joan00.html (December 4, 2002).
"Joyce, Joan." Encyclopedia of Women and Sport in America, by James Haskins. http://vweb.hwwilsonweb.com/cgi-bin/webspirs.cig (December 4, 2002).
"Myers, Joyce and Freel Named A-Sun Player, Coach and Freshman-of-the-Year; FAU Sweeps Atlantic Sun Softball Honors." Atlantic Sun Conference News Release. http://www.atlanticsun.org/news/may02/All%20Conf%20Sb%2002.htm (December 4, 2002).
"Softball — WPSL Team Information." The Official Site of National Pro Fastpitch. http://www.profastpitch.com/league/index.shtml (December 4, 2002).
Sketch by Carole Manny