Victoria teams have had memorable rivalries against individual players over the years, such as New Westminster’s Barry Beck in hockey against the Cougars, lacrosse enforcer Ward Sanderson of the Burrards against the Shamrocks and Calgary’s King Karl Tilleman in basketball against UVic. But perhaps the most monumental rivalry was in softball against the legendary Ty Stofflet.
Victoria bats swung many times against the lefty Stofflet, considered the greatest pitcher in softball history. Stofflet died over the weekend at age 79 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and is being remembered with unhesitating respect by his former Victoria opponents.
Stofflet’s meetings as part of the U.S. national team against Island teams are part of softball lore. Victoria was a national-championship dynasty in Senior A softball in an era when the national champion would represent Canada internationally. Victoria Bate Construction, in Canadian colours, tied the Stofflet-led U.S. and host New Zealand for the 1976 world championship after the playoff round was forced to be cancelled due to a near typhoon.
Victoria Budgets, again sporting the Maple Leaf in Canadian livery, defeated Stofflet and the U.S. 1-0 in the dramatic gold-medal final of the 1979 Pan Am Games in Puerto Rico.
In club play, Stoflett’s U.S.-champion Reading, Pennsylvania, Sunners beat Canadian-champion Victoria three games to one in a heralded four-game exhibition series in 1977 as a total of more than 12,000 fans crammed into Royal Athletic Park over the two doubleheader nights.
“I see there is the GOAT [greatest of all time] thing going online. I didn’t see the earlier guys, so I can’t say. But what I can say is that I never saw a better pitcher in my time than Ty Stofflet,” said former Victoria slugging star Harvey Stevenson, who vividly recalls his swings at the plate against the U.S. icon.
“Stofflet was a master. He only had two pitches – a rise ball and change-up — but still nobody could hit them. He was a hell of a competitor and a great hitter, too, which people forget.”
The 1979 Pan Am Games gold-medal final is considered a classic with Stofflet and Victoria ace Rob Guenter matching each other pitch for pitch over 14 scoreless innings before Alden Govenlock slid home for the winning run in the 15th inning to give Canada gold. (Also part of that Victoria pitching staff at the Games was Mark Smith, now head coach of the Tokyo Olympics-qualified Canadian women’s team).
The Stofflet-Guenter duel in the Pan Am Games was surpassed only by Stofflet’s epic 20-inning battle against New Zealand great Kevin Herlihy in the 1976 worlds – considered the best game in softball history — as Stofflet struck out 33 Kiwi batters and then batted home the winning run.
“Stofflet was an outstanding player and true gentleman,” said Stevenson.
The fact Victoria went 2-1 against Stofflet in the extended round-robin at the 1976 worlds is a source of great pride for the former Island players, who only wish they could have met him again in the final before the typhoon had the final say. Victoria and the U.S. were 11-2 atop the table and New Zealand 10-3 when play was wiped out. The world governing body declared the Canadians, Americans and Kiwis the co-champions.