Ty Stofflet is a man of many talents, not least of which, bowling. He also loves playing guitar, a devotion he carried over from his younger days playing in a band with his brother Larry.
But these are surface pleasures. His heart belongs to softball.
As a kid in the 70s I had the pleasure of watching Ty pitch softball when he played for the Reading Sunners. He pitched against his former team, the Allentown Patriots, at Patriots Park at 10th and Wyoming streets. I went to the games with my dad who then worked with Ty at Mack Trucks.
Calling Ty Stofflet a great softball pitcher is about the equivalent of saying Michael Jordan played basketball. It’s not wrong, but it ain’t right. Ty Stofflet is the greatest fastpitch softball pitcher ever to grace the game.
But don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone who was around at the time who saw the lefty’s windmill arm in action; they’ll tell you the same. And if they don’t, they’re lying.
So how fast of a pitcher was Stofflet?
In 1979, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, the 37-year-old hurler was clocked at 104.7 mph, a feat that remains in the record books as the fastest softball pitch ever thrown. It caught the attention of Sports Illustrated. That same year the magazine featured an 11-page article on Stofflet titled, “This Guy Can Rise It, Drop It and Pop It at 104 MPH.”
The August 11, 1985 issue of The New York Times Magazine featured an article declaring him, “The Fastest Pitcher in America.”
Here are the numbers: Over 1500 victories; 650 shutouts; 172 no-hitters; 58 perfect games. He could also hit the ball: Throughout 30-plus years of playing competitive softball he maintained a career batting average of .300.
Now here’s the man behind the numbers. I caught up with Ty last week at his home in Pennsylvania. We talked on the phone for almost two hours. At 69 years old he’s retired from both softball and Mack Trucks. He worked at Mack for 30 years. Eleven years ago, in Texas, he threw his last pitch in a 40-and-over tournament.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “When I walked off in the seventh inning it was all over.” He struck out 14, earning a 1-0 win. “That was it.”
He enjoys talking about the glory days, his “prime years” between 1970 to 1979. Sure, there is sadness in his voice as he remembers all that went before, but there’s no mistaking the pride he takes in knowing he was better than the rest.
“For about seven years I was the best pitcher in the world,” he says, quickly adding, “I do miss it, pitching, no doubt about it. But most of all I miss not seeing the people I used to see. The other players, the fans. Ninety percent of them I’ll never see again. It’s sad, but what are you gonna to do?”
He still gets a charge when someone recognizes him from his pitching days. “People will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you Ty Stofflet?’ That makes me feel good. I gave a lot of enjoyment to the people who saw me pitch.”
To think he almost gave it up for rock n’ roll.
In their teens and early 20s, the Stofflet brothers played in a band. Calling themselves The Koachmen, they played as much as four nights a week in clubs in and around Allentown. Ty played guitar, Larry played bass; both of them sang.
“We’d sing a lot of Everly Brothers, Righteous Brothers. We did a lot of harmony together,” said Larry, who lives in Whitehall. “We used to play the Italian Club in Allentown. It’s still there.”
After 13 years of harmonizing with his brother, all the while playing softball, Ty says he was faced with the decision of choosing one or the other. In 1970, he quit the band and joined the Allentown Patriots.
“I even thought of quitting pitching and going back to the band,” Ty said. “I really love music. I hated quitting the band. We had a really great sound.”
Larry, a year younger than Ty, is protective of his brother, as well as proud. Himself a lefty pitcher and a first baseman, Larry played for a while on the same Patriots team as Ty.
“He used his body like a bullwhip,” he said of Ty’s pitching style. “The better you move it, the better it cracks.”
But speed alone won’t do it, Ty says. “You gotta have something on the ball.”
Growing up in Coplay, Pa., the brothers learned to throw left-handed from their father Harold, a softball pitcher in his own right. “He was not a windmill pitcher like I am, he was a figure eight pitcher,” Ty said.
He credits his father for molding him into a formidable left-handed pitcher. “He was in the yard with me six, seven days, teaching me to throw. He would drive me to all my games. I wanted to be the best, nobody better than me. Guess it paid off.”
In 1976 it paid off, in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. The Reading Sunners were there to represent the United States in an International Softball Federation Tournament. Playing against New Zealand and their star right-hander Kevin Herlihy, Ty says he pitched the best game of his life.
The numbers are staggering.
Ty pitched a 20 inning no-hitter including a perfect game for 18 2/3 innings. “I hit a guy on the wrist,” he recalls. “It looked like he leaned into it, but what are you gonna do?” Then, in the bottom of the 20th, Ty drove in the winning run “God that was a great game.” He was voted Most Valuable Pitcher and Most Valuable Player in the tournament.
Today, he lives in a rural part of the state where he prefers his privacy. Still, there are people in the area who hear his name and think to ask, “Aren’t you Ty Stofflet?” He likes to show them the roughly 128 trophies he keeps on display. And why not? His name’s on all of them. A few years ago he put his name on a book about his life, “Softball’s Lefty Legend, Ty Stofflet,” which he co-authored with Steven Clarfield.
“Softball was my life,” he says. “I really loved it. It gave me so much.”