October 24, 2014

Ty Stofflet – The Fastest Pitch in the East

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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.”

Comments

  1. Jim Brackin says:

    Great article. I had the pleasure (?) of facing Ty several times from 1979 thru 1982, then I joined with Ty and the Sunners 1983-1986. Also played with Ty on the Pan American Games team in 1979 and 1983. Not only was he awesome in the circle, off the field he is one of the greatest guys I ever met.

    In the mid-80s, the Sunners toured Canada for a week or so. We played in Winnipeg, then took off on an 8 lor 9 hour bus trip to Saskatoon ….. basically farmland the whole way, with a house or two periodically …. half way there, we stopped to eat at a truck stop. As we walked to our table, a guy comes up …. excuse me, but aren’t you Ty Stofflet? And he proceeded to tell Ty that he was a “fastball” fan who had seen him pitch several times. That was amazing to me …. in the middle of miles and miles of Canadian farmland, a Canadian truck driver recognized the quiet Pennsylvania Dutchman from Coplay, PA.

  2. Ron Trede says:

    I never faced Ty but I faced some outstanding pitchers in California in the 70’s like Rich Balswick, Chuck D’arcy, Guy French, Bill Simoni, Roy Burleson and I could go on and on. I did see Ty pitch at the Open Nationals at Hayward, Ca. I believe it 1974. He pitched for a team from Reading, Pa. And, like I said I’ve seen and played against great pitchers, but I would honestly say Ty was the best. I believe he was pitching against Atlanta, Ga. And until the 4th inning, he had struck out every batter. No batter had even fouled one off. A batter finally fouled off a rise ball and believe it or not the crowd gave the batter a standing ovation. His team obviously went on to win the tournament with Ty as MVP. Never have I seen any pitcher throw that hard with so much movement of the ball. But what he had that is very seldom mentioned is an awesome change-up. By far I really doubt anyone was ever as good as Ty Stofflet.

    • Rick Banas II says:

      Ron Trede knows what he is talking about as he is a former teammate of mine as well as an opposing player on several teams I competed against. Trede is a Greater San Joaquin Metro ASA Hall of Fame player himself and I have faced many of the same pitchers he speaks of, including D’Arcy, Balswick and Simoni as well as Forney Bassham. Yet none of those guys can touch Stofflet, who was indeed the fastest pitcher I ever personally saw. The only hit I ever witnessed off Stofflet was when one batter unintentionally singled to right field…while attempting a bunt!

  3. Don Copple says:

    I will echo Mr. Trede’s comments. I have seen most of the greats from late 50’s on, and he was clearly the greatest. His riseball started low and came up like a rocket. Best riseball of all time as well as best change-up. It was devastating. Nothing wrong with his drop ball either. He could have been best fielding pitcher of all time. I have never seen any pitcher rifle the ball overhanded to second like he could. Of course he was an excellent hitter as well. Fine man also.

  4. Pete D'Amour says:

    I played against Ty in the ’86 men’s major Regional tournament in Wheaton Md. We lost the Championship game but I got a hit off him for our only run getting beat 2-1. Never forget the pitch I got my hit , a changeup. Took a picture of Ty and my son Pete ( Mizzou softball pitching coach) when Pete was just 6 years old, great memories of 2 great softball players.

  5. Joe Tucker says:

    Unhittable is the word that best discribes Ty. I will never forget facing Ty for the first time in ’81. I stepped in the batter’s box knowing he wasn’t going to throw it by me. When he unleashed that rise ball it came by me like a comet with a two foot tail on it. After his 3 pitch strike out I came back to the dugout and told my brother that I will not live long enough to hit Ty so I better start to learn how to pitch. After pitching in over 20 world and national championships I have to say thanks and you were the best I ever saw. Also too, it was an honor to pitch with and against him in my career.

    Joe Tucker

  6. Saw Ty pitch in World Tour. in the early 70’s in Kimberly-Never saw a player so intense with every pitch-He put 100% into every pitch-Never In my 50 years of watching fastpitch have I seen such a competitor-Also had an opportunity to talk to him-to sum it up he was a nice guy and truly a legend

  7. Pierre Clavet says:

    Watch him pitch against 3 L.A. Dodgers

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWK_AnfuYYM

  8. Mike Goodridge says:

    I have watched many ISC”s and many Canadian fastpitch championships. The two best I have seen areDarren Zack and Brad Underwood. Undy was probably the best fastball player because he was such a tremendous hitter.

  9. Joe Lopez says:

    I watch Ty Stofflet pitch in Rock Island,Il. For Sal’s Lunch of Pa. but, by that time Mr. Dick Brubaker was the dominate pitcher at the time. No doubt Ty was the best over the long haul worldwide.

  10. John Simpers says:

    I had the pleasure of umpiring Ty in Baltimore at the end of his career. It was one of the best games I ever had. He won the game and his inspiration led me to 3 National Tournaments. He was the best pitcher I had the pleasure of working.

  11. Daniel Shepler says:

    My dad used to take me to the Reading Ballpark where the Reading Phillies play everytime they had a softball tournament. I remember a guy facing him and this is a true story the first two pitches from Stofflet he never took his bat off his shoulder. He simply walked away to the dugout I heard the umpire say said hey buddy it’s only the second strike he turned around and said to the ump he can try to hit the next one cause I never seen the first two pitches.

  12. Dennis Turnage says:

    i faces Ty in the mid 80s in PA. I can say i never saw any of the 3 pitches. i swear the catcher just kept the ball and slapped it into the mitt. being a catcher, i would have loved to had the chance to catch Ty just once.

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