|Fast pitch softball the name of his game|
|Wednesday, August 22, 2012|
Joe Lynch rocket fired ball at 105 mph
WATERTOWN -- Joe Lynch lives a quiet life of retirement on a quiet street in the quiet community of Watertown, but five decades ago he was making a big noise for himself in the world of fast-pitch softball.
A sportswriter once described the Nashville native as the “bear that walks like a man.” At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds in his prime, Lynch won 576 games and lost 94 in a career that spanned 1959 to 1981. Sixty-one of those contests on the diamond were either perfect games or no-hitters. And in four games, the Amateur Softball Association of America’s National Hall of Famer struck out every batter he faced.
The five-time All-American hurler won 53 consecutive games, and in 1965 had an unblemished record of 34 wins and no losses.
His weapons of choice? A 105-mile-per-hour rise ball and a drop ball.
In baseball the pitcher stands 60½-feet from home plate, but in softball the distance is 46 feet. That means when a pitch from Lynch came blazing in at a batter at super-human speeds, the hitter had about a second to decide whether to swing or not as well as decide where to swing.
Lynch grew up in West Nashville where he delivered newspapers for The Tennessean and Nashville Banner newspapers as a youth. His first love was playing ball: softball and baseball.
“I went to try out for baseball when I was 12. To play in the Babe Ruth league you had to be 13 to 16 years old. I made the team as the starting third baseman,” said the 70-year-old Lynch. “Before the first game, we were told we had to bring our birth certificate. I thought they wouldn’t even check me. The coach told me, ‘You got to bring your birth certificate or you won‘t play.’ I didn‘t go back since I was 12.”
Baseball’s loss proved to be softball’s gain.
“It turned out I had a little more luck in softball than baseball, so I stuck to it. By 17, I was playing for Nashville Transit Company and Mt. Pleasant Church. Then I went on to play with Nashville Sporting Goods and Wright Photo, who picked me up to go to the state tournament in 1959,” Lynch recalled.
After his days as a student at Cohn High School, Lynch was working for Purity Dairy, and when the local draft board called, he decided to go into the Navy as he knew they had an excellent softball program.
“They took me to see the coach of the softball team and had me throw some and asked, ‘How would you like to come back here after boot camp?’ I said, ‘OK,’ and they told me, ‘We’ll bring you back.’
“Sure enough. They got my orders changed and brought me back. I stayed and got to play softball. I was picked to go to the All-Navy team, and we won the All-Navy championship,” Lynch said.
The following year, three or four topnotch ball players who served on the USS Sperry, a submarine tender, asked Lynch to play with their team. The captain invited him to become part of the crew.
“Here I was a seaman recruit, and he brought me aboard to build a ball team around. My job was working the athletic gear locker. I ran it for three years,” Lynch said, and in the meantime, his team captured the All-Navy tournament title two out of three years.
After leaving the military in 1965, Lynch went to Aurora, Ill., to play ball five years for the Sealmasters and work in the quality control department for the Sealmaster Ball Bearing Company.
“We won two national championships and two international championships. I guess winning that first national championship in 1965 was the greatest thrill of my career. I pitched all five wins for the team in the national tournament,” he reminisced.
Indeed, during his first season with the Sealmasters, Lynch won 35 games, lost none. His earned run average was 0.24, while he struck out 477 batters. During the national tourney, he struck out 58 men in 35 innings and was named most valuable player.
After winning the national championship, the Sealmasters represented the United States in the inaugural International Softball Federation Men’s World Championship in 1966 and won the gold medal. Two years later, the team repeated as national and international champions.
“I had the pleasure of playing with Joe for five years from 1965 through 1969 and never have I seen anyone throw the ball harder or with as much break as Joe. He was awesome to watch and even more awesome to bat against,” former Aurora Sealmasters teammate and fellow Hall of Fame member HarveySterkel told Balls & Strikes, the official publication of the Amateur Softball Association.
From Illinois, it was on Clearwater, Fla., where the Bombers asked Lynch to join their team, so from 1970 to 1974 he pitched while working in plumbing and drywall work. With the Bombers, Lynch won another national championship.
As for his success, he simply said, “I was smart enough to surround myself with good ball players, and my brother (Billy Lynch, 22, of Pleasant View) was a big influence on me and taught me to play it right.”
For his mastery from the mound, Lynch explained, “It’s all with the timing and the routine. I had the rise ball. It came in and then started going up. It will rise up to 2 feet sometimes. And then I had the drop ball. I didn’t have much of a change-up.
“When I started out, I’d beat that poor old catcher to death, and the ball would go to the screen, but as time went on, the catcher would hold his glove, and I would hit his hand pretty good until at the end. I kept pitching and it come to me.”
“He had the disposition of a teddy bear off the mound. And he could bring it in. He could flat throw that softball,” Bill White, a former Clearwater Sun sportswriter who covered the Bombers in the mid-1970s, told Balls & Strikes.
Lynch was none too shabby with his bat, either. His lifetime batting average was .282.
“I could hit the long ball but did not have not much speed. I’d average six to 12 home runs a year,” the right-handed hurler said.
In 1975, Lynch and his family moved home to Nashville for two years where he played for country music singer Tammy Wynette’s softball team.
“We went to the world tournament one time and after that the team split up. I felt like I wanted to play some more ball, so we went back to Clearwater in 1977; and I played until I retired in 1981. The last year, I went 4-0 and was voted most valuable player in the tournament,” said Lynch, who left the game he loved at 40.
“It was easy to retire,” he said. “I pulled a bad hamstring in my leg and hurt my arm pretty good. I could see the writing on the wall and knew it was time to hang it up. I didn’t want to stop but was wise enough to do so.”
Softball was not the only sport in which Lynch excelled. He took up skeet shooting, competed in the world championships and won the Class A 12-gauge championship in 1989. He also played golf to a 10 handicap.
Lynch and his wife, the former Gail Revis of Dayton, Tenn., have been married for 51 years and have three daughters: Terri Davis, Tammy Cox and Joellen Grooms, who live in the Watertown area.
He made the acquaintance of his wife to be at a softball game in the late 1950s. “She came to see a game when I played for Nashville Transit Company. We met. That’s where we started, on a ball diamond,” said Lynch, whose parents, Dallas and Clara (Trammel) Lynch were Watertown natives.
Lynch’s mate has compiled three scrapbooks filled with photos and newspaper clippings of the fast-pitch star’s career. His collection of memorabilia includes a 1965 softball signed the by the members of the national championship team, his Softball Hall of Fame plaque, a Softball Hall of Fame bat with his name engraved upon it and more than 20 miniature baseball bats that represent national tournaments and all-star teams on which Lynch participated.
These days, Joe and Gail Lynch watch television, baby-sit their grandkids and spoil Chico, their Chihuahua.
“We just try to take care of each other and spoil the grandchildren. We made lots of good friends in softball,” said the master of the underarm fast pitch who sent thousands of hitters back to the dugout shaking their heads.