Who Invented Softball? The History of Softball

Who Invented Softball? Softball is a variant of baseball and a popular participant sport, especially in the U.S. Approximately 40 million Americans play a game of softball in any given year. However, the game owes its growth to another sport entirely: football. 

Who Invented Softball? The First Softball Game

George Hancock, a news reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade, is credited with inventing softball in 1887. That year, Hancock gathered with some buddies at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago on Thanksgiving day to watch the Yale vs. Harvard game.

The buddies were a mix of Yale and Harvard alumni and one of the Yale supporters threw a boxing glove at a Harvard alumnus in triumph. The Harvard supporter swung at the glove with a stick he occurred to be held at the time. The game was soon on, with participants employing the glove for a ball and a broom handle for the bat.

Softball Goes National

The game fastly spread from the comfy confines of the Farragut Boat Club to other indoor arenas. With the advent of spring, it led outdoors. People started playing softball throughout Chicago, then all over the Midwest. But the game yet didn’t have a name. Some named it “indoor baseball” or “diamond ball.” True baseball fanatics didn’t think much of the game and their names for it, such as “kitten baseball,” “pumpkin ball” and “mush ball” reflected their disdain.

The game was first named softball at the National Recreation Congress meeting in 1926. Credit for the title goes to Walter Hakanson who represented the YMCA at the meeting. It stuck.

An Evolution of Rules

The Farragut Boat Club invented the preferred softball rules pretty much on the fly. There was little continuity from game to game during the earlier years. The number of players on a separate team could vary from one game to the next. The balls themselves were of various shapes and sizes. Yet, more official rules were set in place in 1934 by the newly-formed Joint Rules Committee on Softball.

The initial softballs were reported to be some 16 inches in circumference. They ultimately shrunk to 12 inches when Lewis Rober Sr. presented softball to a group of Minneapolis firefighters. Today, softballs are even more smallish, ranging from about 10 to 12 inches.

According to the International Softball Federation, which was created in 1952, teams must now be comprised of nine players manning seven positions on the field. This has the first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, pitcher, catcher, and outfielder. There are really three outfielders positioned in the center, right and left field. Slow-pitch softball, a riff on the game, provides for a fourth outfielder.

Most softball rules are identical to those for baseball, but there are typically only seven rather than nine innings. If the score is tied, the game will continue until one team wins. Four balls are a walk and three strikes indicate you’re out. But in some leagues, players go to bat with a strike and a ball already against them. Bunting and stealing bases typically aren’t permitted.

Softball Today

Women’s fast-pitch softball evolved an official sport of the Summer Olympics in 1996 but was dropped in 2012. Still, that hasn’t deterred millions of enthusiasts in the U.S. and more than a hundred different countries from pursuing the sport.

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