Softball. Encyclopedia of World Sport

Softball is the United States’ number one team sport
and favorite pastime, played at many levels by people
from all walks of life—doctors, lawyers, insurance
agents, accountants, and whoever else finds time to
play. After playing comes time to discuss the game and
why the team won or lost; plays become famous as they
are retold the next day at work. For the millions who
play softball, it’s easy to play but hard to forget.
George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago Board of
Trade, invented “indoor baseball” on Thanksgiving Day
1887, as he and 20 or so young men gathered inside the
Farragut Boat Club at the edge of Lake Michigan in
Chicago, awaiting the results of the Harvard-Yale football game. Hancock made the pickup game a sport by
drawing up a set of rules, creating a bat and a ball,
painting permanent foul lines on the gymnasium floor,
and calling his game “indoor baseball.”
By midwinter the game was played in gymnasiums
and lodge halls throughout Chicago, as a way to fill the
void between football and baseball and ease the monotony of the exercise and calisthenics often held inside gymnasiums.
In the spring of 1888, Hancock moved his game
outdoors. It was played on a smaller diamond and was
called “indoor-outdoor.” Hancock published the first
set of indoor-outdoor rules in 1889. The popularity of
the sport continued to rise.
In 1895 Lewis Rober Sr., a lieutenant in the Minneapolis Fire Department, augmented Hancock’s game
by inventing a game eventually known as kitten ball.
Businesses and athletic associations favored the game
because it could be played in a small amount of space
with minimal equipment.
The basic game spread to the rest of the country, but with different rules, names, and ball sizes. In his 1940
book Softball, Arthur T. Noren best summarized softball in the 1920s and early 1930s: “Softball was being
played all over the United States and in many foreign
countries. The Great Depression, when thousands of
the unemployed became involved in the game, brought
more people to softball, who continued to play once the
job market improved.”
Leo Fischer, a sportswriter for Chicago America,
and M. J. Pauley, a Chicago sporting goods salesman,
promoted the game further with a softball tournament
at the Century of Progress Exposition, or the Chicago
World’s Fair. They succeeded in getting 24 teams, 16
men’s teams and 8 women’s teams from 16 states. More
than 70,000 people attended the first round of play,
350,000 during the entire event. Divisions included for
fast pitch, slow pitch, and women. They then formed a
national organization—the Amateur Softball Association (ASA)—of state and metropolitan organizations.
The formation of the Joint Rules Committee on Softball
(JRCOS) in 1934 brought a consistency as the game
continued to grow in popularity. In the 1930s and
1940s, fast-pitch softball was the dominant game
played, and pitchers of both teams would have doubledigit strikeout totals. The JRCOS eventually changed
the rules of the game to offset the balance between the
batter and the pitcher by increasing the pitching distance from 37 feet, 81/2 inches to its present distance of
46 feet in 1950. The women’s pitching distance also
kept pace and was increased to 40 feet in 1965. In U.S.
colleges women pitch from 43 feet.
Slow pitch had been part of the 1933 World’s Fair,
but did not develop further until it was added to the
ASA’s championship program in 1953. By 1960, it had
surpassed fast pitch in popularity because more players were involved, older players could play, spectators
got more action, and games could be played in less than
one hour.
Today, games in the men’s super slow-pitch division
can take three to four hours. Recreational softball is
still limited to one hour because so many teams play,
and many localities prohibit playing past a certain
hour. Many national tournaments are played.
Softball was first on the Olympic program in 1996.
Teams from eight countries—Australia, Canada,
China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, the Netherlands, Puerto
Rico, and the United States—entered the competition.
Softball is now played in more than 90 countries.
Bibliography: Meyer, Robert G. (1984) The Complete Book of
Softball: The Loonies Guide to Playing and Enjoying the
Game. New York: Leisure Press. Zolna, Ed, and Mike
Conklin. (1981) Mastering Softball. Chicago: Contemporary Books.