One of the most overused word in sports is great. It seems these days that many athletes are great and people freely like to label these athletes as great. It happens in softball as in other sports. You hear fans talk and they mention that such and such is a great player. Not really. Maybe in their minds the player is great, but in reality there are very few great players.
Certain players may dominate an era or a period of years and they could be classified great for that period of time. In reality there are many players who are average, good and excellent. Not that many are great, but people forget that and unfortunately don't look at an athlete's career to determine if the athlete was dominate enough to be considered great.
In women's fastpitch softball, two athletes are generally considered the greatest or the greatest for their period of time. They are Joan Joyce, the current coach at Florida Atlantic University, and Lisa Fernandez, an assistant coach at her alma mater, UCLA.
Joyce and Fernandez each excelled as pitchers and playing a different position when not pitching. Joyce played first base and Fernandez third base. Besides playing another position, each was gifted on the mound. Joyce and Fernandez dominated inside the circle and certainly earned their distinction as the greatest players of their respective eras.
Unfortunately, as time passes people forget what each of these two athletes did in their career and their careers become only memories to many people. If you were fortunate enough to have watched either one of these two play–and this writer did–you didn't forget their dominance on the softball field.
Fernandez starred at UCLA and of course has the distinction of being the only player in the history of college softball to lead the nation in batting and ERA. In 1992, Fernandez batted .510 to lead all hitters and had an ERA of 0.25 against the nation's best collegiate players. She finished with a 93-7 pitching record and a .382 career batting average. She was a member of three USA Olympic teams and batted at a record of .545 in her last Olympics. Lisa is clearly the “total package” and could have excelled at whatever position she wanted to play instead of third base when she wasn't pitching. Her determination and work effort to be the best was unrivaled.
Who knows if an athlete in the future will duplicate this or surpass this feat, but I doubt it. It takes enough time, effort and preparation to be good at one phase of softball let alone another phase of the game.
Joyce, who excelled at other sports such as golf, basketball, and volleyball, was named an ASA All-American 18 times and shared or won outright the MVP award in the ASA Women's Major Fast Pitch Championship eight times. She is a member of nine Halls of Fame and had an overall pitching record of 753 wins and 42 losses, plus a .327 career batting average. In 1994, she was named the head coach at Florida Atlantic and has had only one losing record during that time. Joyce retired from ASA play after the 1975 season and then devoted her efforts to pro softball for the Connecticut Falcons.
So the next time someone says such and such is great, stop and think and remember that very few athletes are actually great in the overall history of their particular sport. For Joan Joyce and Lisa Fernandez, there wasn't any doubt. They were and still are the greatest.