Brakettes Softball: It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This!

When you talk about softball dynasties, there’s only one name that comes to mind - the BRAKETTES! The past seven decades have seen remarkable changes in all facets of life. The one constant, however, is alive and well on the softball diamond in Stratford, CT.

Brakettes softball has been the barometer for measuring the sport’s success. Sponsors names have changed, but the final product keeps getting better and better with age. It’s hard to appreciate the Brakettes’ overall history without putting it into its proper historical perspective.

Since the team, then known as the Raybestos Girl All-Stars, was formed in the summer of 1947, they have survived and thrived with the test of time. Think of it, during the team’s 68-year history: 12 different Presidents have occupied the oval office; men have walked on the moon; and communism came crashing down with a concrete wall in Berlin. Despite depressions, recessions and obsessions, the Brakettes remain synonymous with softball excellence.

It’s doubtful William S. Simpson, the General Manager of Raybestos Division who organized the company-sponsored (Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc.) team, could have imagined how monumental that decision would become. The first-year team that compiled a 16-4 record and lost in the state tournament quarter-finals 22-21 didn’t do much to warrant too many headlines in 1947.

That was the year when pilot Chuck Yeager became the first person to break the sound barrier in his X-1 test plane. Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood were getting rave reviews for the movie "Miracle on 34th Street." Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to debut in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And all major league ballparks said a sad farewell to a cancer-stricken Babe Ruth.

Since that time, however, it’s been difficult keeping the Brakettes out of the news. With 4,099 games played, 3,712 victories, 3 World Championships, 28 National A.S.A. Championships, 22 National Hall of Fame members, and 12 Olympians, the Brakettes are clearly the #1 name in women’s fastpitch softball. In 2014, the Brakettes organization celebrated their 68th season of competition.

Recognized as the greatest organized women’s sports franchise of all time, the Brakettes’ 28 National Championships are unparalleled, and only approached by Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees’ 27 World Series victories. The Raybestos Brakettes won eight straight titles from 1971 through 1978, a mark comparable to the Boston Celtics’ domination in the 1960's or UCLA basketball from 1964-73.

The Brakettes will be led into 2015 ASA Women’s Major play by veteran manager John Stratton, who enters his 38th season in the organization. He is the latest in a star-studded array of coaching talent to direct the team’s fortunes. Stratton has fashioned a 1,150-115 (90.9%) record in his 20 years managing the ASA Brakettes, which includes five of the club’s championships. Preceding Stratton were Bernie Kaplan (1947-56), Vin Cullen (1957-61), Vincent "Wee" Devitt (1962-67), and two-time Olympic team coach and Hall of Fame manager Ralph Raymond (1968-94).

In addition to great leadership on the field, the Brakettes were fortunate to have the likes of the late Joseph T. Barber, affectionately dubbed Mr. Softball, as its general manager for nearly 40 years. Barber, a past president of the Amateur Softball Association, was succeeded by the team’s current GM Bob Baird in 1988. But had it not been for the efforts of Connecticut resident David Olin Carpenter (deceased), who sponsored the team from 1996 through 2007, the greatest softball team in history would now be mentioned in the past tense.

Whether the team was called the Raybestos Brakettes, Hi-Ho Brakettes or Stratford Brakettes, the 345 or so players who have proudly worn the red, white and blue uniforms (and we mustn’t forget that set of green in 1987) have dazzled hundreds of thousands of fans with their flare for the dramatic, their workmanlike character and professionalism and their total commitment to continuing the world’s greatest softball tradition.

All who have played for the Brakettes have made a contribution and are part of this wonderful legacy. It’s safe to say that the best of the best is Joan Joyce, who also is considered by experts to be one of the greatest female athletes of all time.

Joyce, a native of Waterbury, CT, has to rank very close to Babe Didrikson Zaharias as the greatest woman athlete of all time. While she made her name as a softball player, Joyce was an accomplished basketball and volleyball player. The 5-foot-9 Joyce averaged 25 points per game in AAU basketball competition and was a three-time All-America. Three months after she took up bowling, Joyce won the Connecticut state championship. Following her amateur softball career with the Brakettes, Joyce played in the Women’s Professional League in 1976-79 until it folded. She then joined the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association tour where she was a solid player for years.

However, it was her 17 years on the softball diamond at Raybestos Memorial Field where Joyce became a legend. In that span she pitched 3,397 1/3 innings and won 429 games against just 27 losses. She struck out 5,677 batters, hurled 105 no-hitters and 33 perfect games. She surrendered only 102 runs in 476 games for an ERA of 0.21. Her 20-year amateur career also included three seasons in the mid-1960's with the Brakettes’ arch-rival, the Orange, CA, Lionettes. Named to the ASA All-America team 18 straight years, Joyce was chosen MVP eight times. And when she was not on the mound, the versatile Joyce compiled a lifetime batting average of .327 and until recently, she held most of the Brakettes’ season and career hitting records.

Joyce became the women’s softball coach at Florida Atlantic University in 1994 and has built the team into a perennial NCAA tournament team.

The following is a chronology of the organization since its inception:

1947 Raybestos Girl All-Stars were formed by William S. Simpson, General Manager of the Raybestos Division.
1948 The tag "All-Stars" was dropped and the team assumed the name "Brakettes," as the Stratford, CT-based plant produced brake linings for automobiles and trucks. With an 18-2 mark, the team captured the Eastern Coast Women's Softball championship.
1950 Brakettes won their first National Tournament game, edging the host Thompson team of San Antonio, TX, 2-1.
1956 Pitcher Bertha Ragan comes East and combines with 15-year-old Waterbury phenom Joan Joyce to usher in a new era. Brakettes finish fourth in Nationals in Clearwater, FL.
1958 National Tournament makes its first appearance in Stratford at Raybestos Memorial Field and the Brakettes (52-5) capture their first of 28 titles.
1960 Team ties all-time record by winning third consecutive National Championship.
1961 In Portland, OR, Brakettes finish third, as they lose a 2-1, 19-inning marathon to eventual champion Whittier, CA, Gold Sox as Joyce pitches 32 innings on final day with 67 K’s.
1965 Representing the United States at the first international Women’s Softball Tournament in Melbourne, Australia, Brakettes finish runner-up to host team.
1966 Brakettes set a club record with 74-4 mark.
1967 Considered by many experts the greatest women’s fast-pitch softball team ever assembled. They win their 6th national championship, the National All-Star Series, and the Pan American Games all in the same year.
1968 Ralph Raymond debuts as manager and team ties Orange Lionettes with their 7th National title. Bertha (Ragan) Tickey makes her final appearance, throwing a 13-inning no-hitter with 19 strikeouts in win over Fresno Rockets.
1969 Catcher Mickey Stratton becomes the first Brakettes player to be inducted into the National ASA Hall of Fame. Brakettes win 1,000th game in team history.
1971 Brakettes finish season undefeated at 57-0, the first of an unprecedented eight straight ASA crowns.
1973 Five straight wins in the loser’s bracket propel the Brakettes to National Championship, but more importantly earned them the role of host in the 1974 World Championships at Memorial Field. Joyce (8-1) allowed only one run in 69.2 innings of play.
1974 The team becomes the first ever to win four consecutive ASA championships and the first USA team to capture the Women’s World Championship, which was held in Stratford.
1976 John Stratton steps in for Raymond, sidelined for the year with a heart attack, and leads an entirely new team to their most unlikely ASA crown in Stratford. Newcomer Barbara Reinalda embarks upon her Hall of Fame campaign for the 44-11 Brakettes.
1978 Brakettes continue to dominate the decade and capture their 8th consecutive National title, while arrival of future Hall of Famer, Kathy Arendsen, enables Brakettes to repeat as World Champions in El Salvador. Team finishes with 78-8 record.
1980 Pitcher Arendsen hurls five consecutive no-hitters during season and Brakettes annex National crown in East Lansing, MI.
1981 Team misses out on one of greatest comebacks in ASA history as Orlando, FL, Rebels, led by future Brakettes shortstop Dottie Richardson, win 2-1 in "if" game and earn berth in World Championships in Japan.
1983 Seven Brakette players are named first-team All-America, the most selected from one team in one year. Brakettes lost second game of the four-day tournament in Salt Lake City and they had to win 9 games in 48 hours to repeat as champions for 18th time as Trumbull’s Pat Dufficy earns MVP laurels.
1985 Following decision by Raybestos-Manhattan to drop its sponsorship, primarily because it had closed its Stratford plant, local industrialist F. Francis "Hi-Ho" D’Addario assumes control and the team regains ASA crown in East Lansing, MI. Brakettes also won the World Games title in London and the International Tournament in Haarlem, Holland. Arendsen pitches a team-record 162 consecutive scoreless innings. Brakettes also win their 2,000th game in team history.
1986 The Brakettes win the World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, marking the final time a club team would represent the United States. During the summer season the Brakettes win gold medal in U.S. Olympic Sports Festival and Challenge Cup II in Vancouver, Canada, before finishing runner-up in ASA tourney in Pekin, IL.
1990 D’Addario Industries drops its sponsorship and Stratton and Baird are left scrambling to find another. Enter Raymark of Trumbull, CT, the parent company of Raybestos Products of Crawfordsville, IN, who come to the rescue through the 1995 season. Team responds with the first of three straight championships, two of them in Redding, CA.
1991 Down to their last strike in Decatur, IL, the Brakettes stage another miraculous comeback to annex the title. Through this year, a total of nine Brakettes have been named to the ASA Hall of Fame.
1994 Brakettes score team-record 631 runs, but the season ends in disappointment at Borg Warner Field in Decatur, IL with an uncustomary 7th place finish. Raymond resigns to concentrate on his new role as Team USA mentor.
1995 John Stratton leads the club to a 57-3 record and third place finish at Decatur.
Raybestos leaves Connecticut and David Olin Carpenter, a Connecticut resident, takes over as the main sponsor of the team. Also, five ex-Brakettes help the USA Olympic Softball team take the Gold Medal.
Olympic team visits Stratford and Brakettes play them tough, losing a pair of 2-0 games in front of 3,300 fans.
2002 Brakettes go 78-1, winning their 24th ASA National Championship, their first since 1992. It was Brakettes’ first home tournament title since 1976. Team sets new home run record with 44. Team wins 3,000th career game.
2003 While establishing a new home run record with 65, the Brakettes win their 25th ASA National championship with a 65-5 record and finish fourth in the Canada Cup, highest finish for a club team.
2004 Brakettes win their third consecutive ASA National championship, and 26th overall, with a record of 50-4, despite losing 13 members to the fledgling National Pro Fastpitch league.
2005 Brakettes play 20 games against NPF teams during its 51-17 campaign, which ends in a runner-up finish at Nationals in Stratford.
2006 Brakettes field two teams – an amateur ASA team, which wins its 27th National Championship and fourth in five years, and an NPF entry (2006 only), which finishes runner-up in the playoffs. NPF team features Most Valuable Pitcher, Sarah Pauly, who leads the league in wins and ERA; Offensive player of the Year Jessica Merchant, who tops the league with 12 home runs; and Kelly Kretschman, who eclipsed all NPF batters with a .410 average. ASA team takes two of three from the Dominican Republic in mid-season showdown, battles the NPF Brakettes in two fierce matchups, (1-0 and 2-0 losses), and only has one loss to an amateur team en route to a 46-4 record and a five-game sweep through the Nationals.
2007 Brakettes win 28th ASA National Championship, South Bend, IN
2008 Brakettes finish 3rd at ASA Nationals, Amherst, NY
2009 Topton July 4th Tournament runner-up; Brakettes host inaugural Women's Major Softball Championship, finishing fourth.
2010 Linden, NJ and Lyons, PA 4th of July Tournament Champions; WMS Champions
2011 Brakettes go undefeated for only the second time in their history at 63-0: Lyons 4th of July Champions; WMS Champions.
2012 FCI Champions, Henderson NV; WMS Champions
2013 USSSA World Series Champions, Rockford, IL; WMS Champions; Undefeated at 68-0
2014 Exciting matchup against Bridgeport Bluefish baseball team, losing 2-1; WMS Champions