It’s boring to watch me,” says softball pitcher Joan Joyce, in a gentle voice that belies the astounding power contained in her 5’9″, 160-pound frame.
Catfish Hunter should be so boring. Whether it’s Joan’s famous screwball, or her curve, rise, drop or knuckler, the 6-ounce, 4-inch ball whooshes across the plate at 90 miles an hour with awesome, if predictable, accuracy. The greatest pitcher in the 50-year history of women’s softball, Joan has won 551 games, including 83 no-hitters, and lost only 35 since 1954.
“I’ve been playing softball since I was able to walk,” Joan, 34, says. Her father, an appliance factory foreman, was an avid player and always took his three children along to watch. “We were brought up with the game,” says Joan. “You either love it or hate it. My older brother and I loved it and my younger sister ended up hating it.”
At 13, Joan joined a local women’s team, the Raybestos Brakettes, in Stratford, Conn. Except for three years at Chapman College in California, she’s been playing with the Brakettes during the 75-game season that runs from May to August ever since. The Brakettes compete in the Atlantic Coast league, consisting of six teams from Massachusetts to Florida. Led by her spectacular pitching, the Raybestos team—fielded by a company that makes brake linings—has won 11 national championships in the last 17 years. In 1974 it captured the world championship by defeating a Toyota-sponsored team from Japan.
Joan has emerged as a leading figure in women’s athletics—a position she regards with ambivalence. “I’m not an advocate of women’s lib per se, I don’t go out preaching it,” she explains. “I’ve done the things I wanted to do for 21 years and I didn’t let anyone stop me.” She does not enjoy public speaking but feels an obligation “to help some of the girls” by lecturing to high school and college classes and attending athletic banquets. “It’s not really what I’m interested in,” she insists, but adds, “one thing, though—when I grew up my biggest idol was Mickey Mantle. Now kids can also look to the women who play.”
A superb all-round athlete who also excels at bowling and volleyball, Joan was twice a member of the AAU AII-American Basketball team and is now on the U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Committee. Last year she placed eighth in the national women’s Superstars competition. Unlike most sports headliners these days, Joan Joyce is strictly an amateur who receives no compensation for her soft-ball prowess. “It doesn’t bother me,” she admits. “I wouldn’t trade my life.”
To support herself, Joan, who is single, is the Women’s Athletic Director at Mattatuck Community College in Waterbury, Conn. She also owns the Joan Joyce All-Star Travel Agency in nearby Trumbull, which her sister, Janis, runs. Although she complains that stardom increasingly “intrudes on my privacy,” the gregarious Joyce gives herself little time alone. Her three-bedroom house, where she lives with her sister and two teammates, resembles a boarding house. “Sometimes as many as 15 people are here,” says Joan, who has set up a front-yard trailer to handle the overload.
Though at the peak of her career, Joan is considering giving up softball for professional golf. She shoots in the 80s and exhibits astonishing power in her drives. “Until this year I’ve never had any instructions,” says Joan. “When the season ends in August I’ll work at playing golf. I don’t think I’ll ever be happy unless I try it.”
Whatever the sport, she is fierce in her drive to win. “I absolutely care. I don’t go into the dugout and cry if I lose, but I don’t like it,” she says. “It just makes me a lot tougher.”