Joan Joyce: The Greatest American Athlete You've Never Heard Of

In August 1961, just one year after his retirement from the MLB, Ted Williams donned his old Red Sox uniform one more time for a charity fundraising softball exhibition in Waterbury, Connecticut (via The New York Times). Although he was 42 years old at the time, Williams was coming off a season in which he hit .316 and had 29 home runs (via Baseball Reference). The two-time MVP came to the plate in front of a raucous crowd and struck out. The pitcher who got the best of him was a 20 year-old softball phenom named Joan Joyce.

Joyce's athletic career spanned multiple decades and, although softball may have been her most dominant sport, multiple sports, including volleyball, golf, basketball and bowling. According to The New York Times, Joyce told her biographer that she had met a man who knew Williams and had asked him who the most difficult pitcher he had faced was. Joyce said, "And he said, you won't believe this, but it was a teenage girl" (via The New York Times). Striking out Williams and laying claim to being the most difficult pitcher he faced was simply the tip of the iceberg when it came to Joyce's softball accomplishments.

Domination on the mound

In a softball career that spanned 19 years and included national and international competitions, Joyce was nearly unhittable. She compiled a 753-42 record, which comes out to a nearly 95% winning percentage (via The New York Times). On top of this, according to The Waterbury Observer, she threw 150 no-hitters, 50 perfect games, struck out over 10,000 batters and had a career earned run average of a paltry .090. The majority of Joyce's career was spent playing for the Raybestos Brakettes of Stratford, Connecticut.

In 1974, the Brakettes, led by Joyce, became the first American team to win the Softball World Championship (via The Waterbury Observer). During the tournament Joyce threw three no-hitters, according to The Waterbury Observer. Every time Joyce took the mound, there was the chance you were going to see something incredible. In a 1978 exhibition in West Hartford, Connecticut, Joyce took on another MLB legend, Hank Aaron, the all-time home runs leader at the time. And just like with Williams, Joyce would strike out the home run king (via The New York Times). Aaron was quoted after the game as saying, "She was something else. That softball comes at you and rises up around your head by the time you swing at it" (via The New York Times). For most people, dominating one sport on an international level is enough, but that was not the case for Joyce.

Excelling in other areas

She was much more than a one-sport athlete. According to The New York Times, Joyce had a career average of 30 points per game while playing for Connecticut teams in both the Woman's Basketball Association and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). She also set the national record for points in an AAU game after scoring 67 in a tournament game (via The Waterbury Observer). Between 1969 and 1974, Joyce, who started her own team, the Connecticut Clippers, competed in the United States Volleyball Association's national tournament and was named to the All-East Regional team (via The New York Times).

Joyce turned down an offer to go professional in bowling after winning the Connecticut state title less than a month after taking up the sport (via The New York Times). Joyce decided instead to focus on going pro in golf. Within two years of starting golf, Joyce made it to the Ladies Professional Golf Tour (via The Waterbury Observer). It didn't matter what sport she attempted, Joyce could perform them all at an incredibly high level.

Joyce died last March 26 at the age of 81. According to The New York Times, she was elected to as many as 19 Halls of Fame. Jane Blalock, the LPGA athlete who had first brought Joyce into golf said, "Joan was the greatest female athlete in sports history. Actually, she's one of the greatest athletes of all time — male or female" (via The Waterbury Observer).