History of Softball

What’s the history of softball? It seems like many sports fans and players have some familiarity with the James Naismith peach baskets start of basketball and the controversy surrounding Abner Doubleday’s baseball roots. But, despite softball being an extremely popular sport in the U.S. and around the world, not many folks know how the game began.

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Jennie Finch pitching for Team USA

History of Softball

The history of softball goes back to the Thanksgiving Day in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago, Illinois. After the score of the football game between the Harvard University and Yale University was announced, a Yale alumnus threw his boxing glove at Harvard supporters. On supporter hit the glove with a stick and George Hancock called out “Play ball”. It didn’t stop at that and they continued playing by rolling the glove into a ball and using a broom handle as a bat. The score at the end of this first game was 41-40.

George Hancock became the softball’s founder, as he went on to develop a ball and a bat within a week. Soon the Club also created the rules of this new game, and in time it started spreading to those outside the club.

Soon softball began to be seen as a method for baseball players to keep practicing through the winter. Due to this it was given another name – “Indoor Baseball.” Interestingly, the sport was not called softball yet. It was referred to as “Indoor-Outdoor” and became widespread in a year. In 1889, the game’s rules were published.

History of Slow Pitch Softball

The slow pitch, also referred to as the super-slow pitch or mushball is played using 16-inchy softball. It descends from the original game founded by Hancock. In this game, the defensive players don’t wear fielding gloves. This version of the game is widely popular in Chicago and New Orleans.

Slow Pitch Softball in Chicago

In fact, many in Chicago, including the late Mike Royko, believe that it is the ‘real’ version of softball and are highly dedicated to it.

Kitten Ball In Chicago

Softball continued to be called “outdoor-indoor baseball” for some time. But soon the game came to be called “Kitten Ball” after The popular Minneapolis team, The Kittens started calling it so. The sport continues to be called so until this day. Even in Minneapolis, the high-scoring game was reduced to 7 innings. The game came to be called “kitten ball” even before it was termed “softball” in 1926.

Soft Pitch Softball in New Orleans

Here, slow pitch is known as “cabbage ball”. It is widely played in high schools and area elementary schools.

Slow pitch was formally recognized only in 1953. It was then included into Amateur Softball Association’s program.

The Founder of Softball – George Hancock

George Hancock, when he founded the game, was a reporter with the Chicago Board of Trade. He was the one to shout “play ball” when the boxing glove was first used to play the game in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago. He then tied the glove tightly to create a ball out of it. When his game became widely popular, he published the rules in 1889.

The history of softball and the YMCA

Softball in the early days

The YMCA and the History of Softball

The YMCA also has a close connection to softball. In fact, the modern name of the game, “softball”, was created by Walter Hakanson of YMCA. He coined the name in 1926 at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress. At the time, the game was called by many names including:

• Kitten Ball
• Indoor Baseball
• Diamond Ball
• Mush Ball
• Pumpkin Ball

Within the next 4 years, the name ‘softball’ became the common name for the game in the United States.

History of Fast Pitch Softball

Soft pitch may have been the earlier version of softball, fast pitch began to become popular during the 1940s. The history of softball for slow pitch began in the 1933 World’s Fair, but there was a big push for increasing the length of the pitching distance. Women’s fast pitch softball was first introduced into the Summer Olympics in 1996 when the decision was taken in 1991.

25 Fun Facts About Softball

As interesting as softball’s origin is, there are many fascinating and intriguing facts about this sport. Here are 25 fun facts that make this sport even more out of the ordinary:

1. The first softball used to play the game was not a ball but a boxing glove.
2. The bases are 90 feet apart in baseball, but 60 feet in softball.
3. You can pitch slow or fast in softball. The Amateur Softball Association has recognized two versions – slowpitch and fastpitch.
4. Mushball, aka “Kitten Ball” is a 16-inch softball and it is still played in Chicago.
5. There are 197 softball players in the sport’s Hall of Fame. But there’s only one 16-inch softball player in it. That player is Eddie Zolna.
6. The U.S. has had a record 22-game winning streak in softball international play. This winning streak lasted between 2000 and 2008.
7. The first softball no-hitter was by Lori Harrigan in 2000 Summer Olympics against Canada.
8. A Supreme Court justice has also played softball when she was teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. It is Justice Elena Kagan who was appointed to the Supreme court in 2010.
9. Softball may have been invented in 1887, but it took another 8 years before it began to be played outdoors. Until then it was played indoors. The history of softball is an interesting one.
10. Despite its invention in 1887, softball made it to the Olympics in 1996.
11. Dot Richardson who hit the winning home run to win the 1996 Olympic gold medal is an orthopedic surgeon.
12. All the softball fast pitch games in the 1996 Olympics had their tickets fully sold out.
13. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that softball is one of the safest sports for both adolescents and children. The injury rates for the sport are lower compared to other sports.
14. Can you guess which is the No.1 team sport in the country? With over 40 million people playing it every summer, softball is the top team sport game.
15. Canada entered the qualifying rounds in three Olympic Games. This was the only time they could play the games but they never won a single medal.
16. The softball is larger, harder and heavier than the baseball.
17. Slowpitch and fastpitch have 7-inning games.

Interesting Sayings

Besides these fun facts, there are some interesting sayings in this sport:

18. A morning game on Sunday means you had a nasty Saturday.
19. If you are not dirty after a softball game, it means you didn’t play hard.
20. Cheers are an essential evil. Cheering in softball is like a gruesome job. It wears you out, it takes away all your dignity, and yet you have to do it.
21. When there is a perfect hit with the ball, it feels like the most powerful thing in the world.

Weird Things They Call in Softball

Then there are some weird things that players call in softball:

22. If a player says “that’s ice cream”, it means that the pitch is too high.
23. “Good eye” is called when a player doesn’t swing at the ball – an acknowledgment that the batter didn’t swing at a bad pitch.
24. They would call it “now you have seen it” when a strike is pitched. It is used to remind the player what a strike is like and to ensure that the player doesn’t miss it again.
25. “Swing at anything close” is intriguing. Most of the time players are trained to not swing at balls. But, with 2 strikes, the dynamic changes.

Most Famous Softball Players

There have been many great players in the history of softball. There are some names that stand out for their contributions and achievements. To best represent the history of softball, we would like to introduce three such big names in softball and their achievements:

Jennie Lynn Finch

Born in 1980, Jennie Finch is a former All-American, right-handed hitting softball pitcher from California, who played for the Arizona Wildcats, the national softball team, and Chicago Bandits. She won the 2001 Women’s College World Series. She led Team USA to win the 2004 Summer Olympics gold medal. According to Time magazine, Jennie Finch is the “most famous softball player in history.”

Lisa Fernandez

Born in 1971, Lisa is a right-handed softball pitcher who set the Olympic record in the spot with her 21 strikeouts in a single game. She played for the U.S. Women’s team. She is the winner of a gold medal at the 1990 ISF World Championship. She was the Sportswoman of the Year in 1991 and 1992. She won the gold medals at many Olympics including 1996, 2000, and 2004.

Eddie Feigner history of softball image

The King – Eddie Feigner

Eddie Feigner

Eddie Feigner, more popularly known as Eddie “The King” Feigner (born in 1925) was an American softball legend. He assembled his team in 1946 and went on tours across the Pacific Northwest and then the entire U.S., taking on all comers. His team was called “The King & His Court” and they played more than 10,000 softball games in over a 100 countries. The legend won 9,743 games, played 238 perfect games, and held 141,517 strikeouts.
Washington Post rightly called Eddie Feigner “the greatest softball pitcher who ever lived.”

Softball’s Popularity Lives On

Softball has an unorthodox origin. Although it developed on the sidelines of an already existing sport, it has built its own identity after more than a century of its invention. That it’s the most played team sport in the country tells a lot about softball.