1965 SOFTBALL INDUCTEE
Fresno Rockets manager, Dutch Chandler is quoted as saying during a team reunion in 1979, “I’ve never known a greater woman athlete than Kay Rich.” Unfortunately, Rich was unable to make that occasion. Rich was present, however, in 1963 when the Rockets gave her a surprise testimonial dinner in Fresno. In her humble way, Rich capped her remarks by saying, “I have been rich all my life and softball has given me most of my wealth.”Rich lives in the small mining town of Jackson since retiring after twenty years as director of the Catholic Youth Organization in Fresno. “It’s beautiful up here,” Rich said when contacted by telephone. “The people are very friendly, I have a nice home with plenty of room. I still feel good. I was fortunate in twenty-one years of softball I never had a broken bone or even an injury. I always had my body in good condition.”
Rich was the sixth woman to be inducted into the Amateur Softball Association National Hall of Fame. How good was this 5’10 1/2″, 145-pounder with a fluid throwing arm and deadly bat? Teammates and opponents rank her as one of the best all-around players in softball history. Rich had it all. She had a sprinter’s speed, powerfully hit with a high average, and always batted cleanup. She played first base until Gloria May joined the team and then moved to shortstop. In eight national championships, she made only five errors. Chandler always said she could’ve played any position and early on, she did and became an All-Star, but most of her career was spent at shortstop. Rich was so steady, she never had a bad national championship series. It didn’t matter if the pitching distance was thirty-five or thirty-eight feet or if she was facing some of the greatest pitchers in ASA Hall of Fame history such as Reagan Tickey from Dinuba, Joan Joyce, Law, or Betty Evans. Rich led the Rockets to three ASA world titles, but one of her greatest individual performances came in 1955 when the Rockets finished second. May, noted for her fielding rather than hitting, had a big series batting .444. That would have been tops in most years, but Rich’s average was an eye-popping .611. She had ten hits and ten RBIs. It is difficult to get Rich to talk about herself; she prefers rather to talk about the great team chemistry of the Rockets, how everyone got along and just had a lot of fun. “I know I played in the greatest years of women’s softball,” Rich said. “We played in the best league in the country and against the best players.
My only regret is that none of us got to play in the Olympic Games. That would have been the supreme honor to play for your country. Our team just loved to play softball. We made the nationals for the first time in 1951. We didn’t win, but we agreed we had what it takes to win.” Rich talked about the wild cross-country trips with thirteen players stuffed into two automobiles. It was uncomfortable, but no one complained. Good pitchers and high average hitters, especially in the national championship series, were rare, but Rich was an exception. Three times, she averaged .400 or higher in the nationals. Rich’s overall average for eight nationals was .371. In 1952 when the pitching distance changed, she batted .400 with six of the eight hits for extra bases and a tourney leading seventeen total bases. In the same tournament, her fielding average was 1.000. She was named All-American eight times.
When Betty Schlegel retired as catcher, Rich took over that position. On the night of her surprise testimonial dinner, her remarks included: “Being associated with a team such as the Rockets was-and still is-something money can’t buy. We laughed a lot and we cried a little through many years. I think Dutch Chandler had one of the keenest softball minds there is.” What was Fresno’s best team? “Probably 1953 [first national title]. We had one of the best infields in softball history.” Rich said Fresno also had a list of top pitchers. “Ginny Busick was one of the best in softball history, but she went pro for two seasons and only played on one national championship team. Vera Miller was incredible. She didn’t have a lot of velocity, but she had great control.” After she retired in 1958, Rich never played competitively again.