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The Intriguing History of Softball

Gaynor Borade Apr 17, 2019
Softball is a baseball variation that is played with, as the name suggests, a softer ball. Underhand pitches are delivered by two teams of nine players each. The reaction and retort to a random pitch in 1887 resulted in the development of one of the most popular indoor and outdoor team sports of all times.
Softball is a popular US field sport; a descendant of baseball. The game differs from baseball more in application than in regulations.
The rules of both these field sports are quite similar. The commonly observed differences between the two are:
  • Baseballs are smaller and harder than softballs.
  • Softball pitches are thrown underhand, unlike the overhand throws displayed in a game of baseball.
  • Softball is commonly played by women, more than men.

The History

The history of softball dates back to 1887, Chicago, Illinois. The first game was played with a broom handle for a bat! The first version of the game was played on Thanksgiving Day, by George Hancock. He intended the game to be a winter version of the American favorite field sport, baseball. Way back then, the game was referred to as 'Indoor Baseball'.
History reveals that, in the winter of 1887, when a Yale alumnus pitched a boxing glove at a Harvard supporter on hearing the score of the annual football game at the Farragut Boat Club, the latter grabbed a broom and swung it right back. George Hancock yelled 'Play ball', and the first ever game of softball began.
Hancock had knotted the boxing glove into a ball and used a broom handle as a bat. With a score of 44-40, the first softball game came to an exciting end. The impulsive improvisation made that day was the barehanded fielding of the softball.
In time, Hancock developed a special softball and bat, and set down rules for the game in 1889. Under the name of 'Indoor-Outdoor', the game was an instant favorite.
The first outdoor version was developed by Lewis Rober, Sr., in the year 1895. The outdoor game, developed for the Minneapolis firefighters, went by the name of 'Kitten Ball'. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, softball was also referred to as Pumpkin Ball and Diamond Ball.
The outdoor version developed by Rober introduced a 12-inch ball, as opposed to the 16-inch ball used earlier. In 1897, the first softball league was organized outside the United States, in Toronto. The game was officially coined as 'Softball' in 1926, by Walter Hakanson.
By the 1930s, softball had made its way across the United States and Canada. The Joint Rules Committee on Softball was established in 1934, to standardize the game's rules and regulations.
By the 1940s, softball was characterized by fast pitching and a lengthened pitch distance. However, in 1953, the Committee officially made slow pitching compulsory, under the Amateur Softball Association program.
The game swept across Europe by 1972. While the American Professional Slow Pitch League or APSPL became the first professional softball league to play (1977-1982), the Detroit Caesars were the first winners of the professional softball World Series in 1977. Today, softball remains a popular sport in elementary and high schools across the globe.

Rules and Regulations

The game of softball is played on a large field, comprising a distinctly demarcated grass infield, running areas, and an outfield. The field is divided into four bases: first base, second base, third base, and the home plate.
The bases are set at a distance of approximately 45 to 65 feet from one another. The pitcher's circle is marked equidistant from the four bases.
The objective of softball is to score more runs than the opposing team, by hitting the ball 'into play' and covering all the bases. While running counterclockwise around the bases, the player is expected to physically touch each one in the order of succession.
The softball used today is around 12 inches in circumference. It is covered with leather or any light, synthetic fabric.
The rules on the field are adhered to in the presence of one or more umpires. Each one of the official seven innings involve both teams playing 'offense' and 'defense'. Each inning comprises a 'top half' and 'bottom half'. While the offense bats to score runs, the defense team fields and attempts 'run-outs'. The teams switch roles at each declared 'half'.
Equipment includes a softball, bat, gloves, and protective gear such as a helmet, shin guards, and a chest protector.
The nine players on the field at a time include:
  • Pitcher
  • Catcher
  • First baseman
  • Second baseman
  • Third baseman
  • Shortstop
  • Left fielder
  • Right fielder
  • Center fielder
The popularity of softball lies in the scope to further modify the rules with each game. This allows different groups to display and develop expertise in a variety of field skills.
Some of the widely accepted variations include one-ball-one-strike, limited home runs, prohibited stealing of bases, and the home-plate-force-out. In the latter, scoring is greatly reduced.
Today, the International Softball Federation hosts world championships every four years. The game is now played extensively by men and women across the globe, competitively, as well as for recreation.