Brooklyn Boro

Joan Joyce: Strike 3, you’re out!

April 8, 2022 William A. Gralnick
Head shot of writer William Gralnick
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Kudos to Briana Godfrey, Coral Springs Charter, Florida, high schooler who was given her fifteen minutes of fame by the Florida Sun Sentinel with an above-the-fold picture of her in action and the story of her exploits. The headline says it all: “Godfrey delivers three-hit shutout.” She won 5-0, struck out thirteen, and helped her own cause going three out of five at the plate. As she said, “I don’t like to lose.”

I remember as a kid seeing pitched softball battles in Brooklyn between men wearing sweatbands and armbands and wristbands and looking like they were going to drop dead after running out a double. Wives and kids were in the stands. I don’t recall if EMS units were on standby.  They were usually a mixture of men just past their prime and men well past their prime. Nor do I recall whether the game was slow pitch or fast pitch because I really wasn’t that interested, just passing by. Each player thought of himself as 30 years younger and as Mighty Casey at bat, often with the same results. To give credit though, every-so-often someone tied into a pitch and made his dreams come true. Cocktail party after cocktail party the homer took on the trappings of the great fish story, the pitch becoming faster, the conditions worse, the situation of the game more critical, and the hit of legendary length. Similar stories could be told about a timely single.

 Why wasn’t I interested? In my generation softball was a game for girls and guys who couldn’t make it on the baseball field. The guy who was captain of the softball team didn’t have nearly the “juice” in school as did the captain of the baseball team. And if the team was winning, he was right up there with the captains of the football and basketball teams. So, when I didn’t make the baseball team (which, btw, I should have—of course, if Coach Cohen knew anything about baseball I would have…), I wasn’t saying, “Oh well, I’ll join the softball team.” In fact, I don’t even know if my high school, Midwood, had one.

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Let’s talk about the game of softball.  There are two kinds of softball—slow pitch and past pitch. Slow pitch is murderously deceptive. You’re looking at a sphere that grows in size, looking on arrival like the Goodyear Blimp and not moving much faster.  It’s all timing. The tendency is to swing like the cartoon characters who would corkscrew themselves into the ground swinging at a pitch.

In baseball, every-so-often a pitcher comes along who throws what’s called an “eephus” pitch. Almost no one can hit it; almost everyone makes a fool out of themselves trying.  After all, a good change-up comes in at about 80-85 miles an hour; a good eephus pitch comes in at a little more than half that speed and it looks like a bird dropping from the sky onto home plate. A fella named Holt on the Rangers threw a 31 mph eephus against the Athletics. It floated in for a strike. If by some miracle you timed it right, the ball would carry into the next county. Ted Williams hit one in an All-Star game similarly that were it not for the stands might still be going. But that’s Ted Williams.  If a big, brawny guy timed a softball slow pitch…well you’d need binoculars to follow the ball’s trajectory unless an apartment building got in the way.

Fyi, dear reader, the eephus pitch, developed in the 1940s by a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher named Stuart, is so named from the Hebrew word for nothing—ephus. The pitcher puts nothing on the ball, no velocity, no spin, “no nuthin.’” You’ll probably be the only person at your next party who knows that.

Fast pitch is just flat-out intimidating. The mound in softball is about 20 plus feet closer to the plate than in baseball. Similarly, the base paths are shorter. When a good fastpitch pitcher releases the ball it’s traveling the speed of a level A fastball in baseball. The batter has a nano-second to do something. Often that something is missed.

But there came a teenage phenom from Waterbury, Ct. who put softball on almost every map, of every city, in every state, and many countries overseas. Her name was Joan Joyce. She died a few weeks ago at age 81. For more than two decades she was the softball and golf coach in Boca Raton’s Florida Atlantic University. Numbers are the only way to tell how amazing this woman was. Here goes:

  • Threw a curve, slider, fastball, and drop.
  • Her pitching record was 753-42
  • She threw 150 no-hitters and 50 perfect games
  • She struck out more than 10,000 batters
  • Her earned run average was .090
  • In 1974 she pitched 229 scoreless inning
  • Her batting average was .327.
  • In exhibition games she struck out Ted Williams twice and Hank Aaron once. She pondered later on in life if she should have gone easier on them but then mused, “I don’t like to lose.”
  • She played four sports competitively and at 42 years of age set the LGPA record for least number of putts to finish a round

Joan Joyce was inducted into 19 different Halls of Fame and has been called the greatest female athlete of all time and also the greatest athlete of all time.

I can only hope that Briana Godfrey and Joan Joyce crossed paths. It is inspiring to meet the person who first dug their shovel into the dirt which became the path that became the road that got you where once upon a time there was nothing for you.

If not, she should read about her if she wants to be like her, a leader of people.

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