Origins of softball

The great game of softball has captured the hearts of many Americans and people all around the world from the day it was founded. Since the founding of the sport, softball has come a long way, and it is still growing rapidly nowadays.

The sport has undergone many rule changes and equipment changes throughout the years. I made it an Olympic sport in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, then it was dropped for the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics, only to be back for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The sport of softball had its fair share of difficulties throughout its history as any other sport in history, but it keeps growing all over the world and gives no sign to stop.

If you want to know more about its interesting history and why it is now played by 40 million Americans every year, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s dive in.

Founding and early years of the sport

Softball is a game that has a grand tradition in it and a very interesting history. It dates back to 1887, more precisely Thanksgiving Day in Chicago, Illinois, a city where softball originated. The Farragut Boat Club in Chicago was a host to a gathering to hear the winner of a football game between Yale University and Harvard University.

There were about 20 young men there, alumni, anxiously waiting to hear the result. When they finally heard the result of a Yale victory, one man, Yale alumni, threw a boxing glove towards a Harvard student, playfully and in joy because his team has just won.

The Farragut Boat Club In Chicago, USA (Chicagology)

The glove was balled up, and it was coming towards a Harvard supporter who hit it with a stick. There was a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade, a man named George Hancock who in-joke said “Play ball!”.

In those moments started the first game of softball using brooms and boxing gloves who served as balls and those alumni from Yale and Harvard didn’t know they have just created a new sport that will be played for generations to come, recreatively and professionally and bring joy to many people. That also made George Hancock the man who invented softball. The final result of the first-ever softball game was 41-40.

First rules and evolution of the game

In the next couple of weeks, George Hancock, the man who invented the sport, was so interested in the new game that he made a bat and a large ball for the exciting new sport. Softball was then called “indoor baseball” and it was meant to be played by baseball players during the winter season to help them be in shape. The game was firstly played only indoors and a year later was played outdoors as well.

During the first years since the founding of softball, there were no specific rules on how to play the game. No limited number of players, no specific ball size and material that it has to be made of and only the baseman and catcher used gloves. The Farragut Boat Club, two years later, in 1889, established rules and a first softball league.

The interest in the sport spread outside the city of Chicago and it was played in the rest of the Midwest, notably in Minneapolis and across the country. Softball was then called numerous names: kitten ball, indoor baseball, mush ball, pumpkin ball, and diamond ball. The name that this great game carries today, softball, was first heard in 1926, said by Walter Hakanson at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress representing YMCA.

By the 1930s the name has stuck and became official. During those days, the game of softball was like baseball, but it had a smaller field and fewer innings.

During the Depression Era, softball was a game of choice for many Americans because only a ball and a bat were needed to play the game. At that time, the 16″ size of the ball was used and now softball players use a 12″ ball. Nowadays, players have quality cleats, bats, softballs, and most importantly, protective gear. Chicago hosted the 1933 World’s Fair and a softball tournament was played there which has been watched by 70.000 people, making the sport more popular and helping it to grow even more.

Until the early 1930s, the game has been played by different rules, ball sizes, etc and in 1934 the Joint Rules Committee on Softball has created a set of rules. By then, the sport of softball was growing across the county and the rest of the world. The USA Softball (formerly ASA – Amateur Softball Association) was founded in 1933 and is now one of the largest governing bodies for softball in the USA having over 2 million players.

History Of Softball Infographic

Softball in the 1950s and 1960s

In 1952 the international governing body for softball was founded, the International Softball Federation (ISF) was founded. Slowpitch softball was recognized officially a year later, in 1953, when it was added in ASA (now USA Softball) softball program. The ISF now has 124 member federations and organizes world championship competitions in all versions of softball: slow pitch, fast pitch and modified pitch.

Wilson Official Rules Of Softball From 1950

1965 was an enormous year for softball; the first-ever Women’s Softball World Championship was held in Melbourne, Australia. Australia has been crowned World Champions with the runners-up being the United States. This tournament is still being organized; the most crowned country in the history of the tournament is the United States with 15 medals, 11 gold, and 4 silver. The second most successful country is Japan with 11 medals, 3 gold, 6 silver, and 2 bronze.

The men’s version of the tournament began a year later, in 1966. New Zealand is the most crowned country with 13 medals followed by the United States with 9 medals.

History Of College Softball

In the early 1970s softball was expanding and becoming more and more popular. In that time, colleges in the US started giving scolarships to help girls study and continue to play the sport they love. 1982 was another big year for softball, NCAA Women’s College World Series has started and has been played every year ever since. The first final was between UCLA and Fresno State with UCLA coming out as a winner.

The NCAA Division I Softball tournament is happening every year with 64 teams participating. The 8 best teams move on to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS). Oklahoma City is the host of WCWS, with the games being played in ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Omaha, Nebraska was a host in the first five years of the tournament and Sunnyvale, California was a host for the next two years.

Since 1990, the final was being held in Oklahoma City with an exception of one year, 1996, when it was held in Columbus. UCLA is the most successful team in the history of the WCWS with 12 titles, with Arizona and Oklahoma trailing with 8 and 4, respectively.

History of Softball in the Olympic Games

If you are a fan of softball, you have probably asked yourself: “when did softball become an Olympic sport?”

First efforts to place the sport of softball in the Summer Olympics started way back in the 1940s. Those efforts continued in the following decades: the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The biggest hope until then that a sport of softball could be included in the Olympics came with the 1984 Olympics held mainly in Los Angeles, USA.

Softball was finally included in the Olympics in 1995 for the 1996 Olympics hosted by Atlanta. That was the biggest success for the sport in its entire history. 8 countries competed for the medal then and that number of competing countries still stands today.

Softball was an Olympic sport for the upcoming three editions of the Summer Olympics: the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the 2004 Olympics in Athens, 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The United States has the most gold medals, 3, and the only country that has a gold medal in softball is Japan, a country where softball is extremely popular. The third-place belongs to Australia, which has 4 medals, one silver, and three bronze medals.

Softball was dropped from the Olympics in 2012 and 2016 in London and Rio de Janerio, respectively. But, softball will be back in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics along with baseball. Bringing back the sport of softball in the Summer Olympics is huge for the sport and it will surely be even more popular. In the next Olympics, there will be 6 countries that will be competing for gold medals: the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Italy, and Australia.

Below you can see the winners of gold, silver, and bronze medals from the 4 editions of the Summer Olympics in which softball was a part.

Team USA winning a Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics (FloSoftball)

Softball’s popularity across the world

As international softball tournaments took place, so began the increase in the game’s popularity all around the globe. Countries, where softball is extremely popular other than the US, are Japan, Australia, New Zealand. Japan is a gold medal winner from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, so there is no surprise that softball is so popular in Japan. To show you how much softball is popular in Japan–they held a game in Tokyo Dome in 2016 between USA and Japan, which had more than 30000 people in attendance.

In New Zealand, softball became popular way back in the 1930s and is played by men now. New Zealand’s woman’s national team has qualified for the Olympics once in Sydney 2000 and didn’t win a medal. In Australia, softball is a woman’s sport, and their national team in quite successful, winning 4 Olympic medals.

The game in the modern day

You can see now why softball is so popular around the world and why it just keeps growing. A sport that has been around for more than 130 years now has many tournaments across the world, both amateur and professional, and will also be featured in the next Olympics, which have all surely contributed to its growing popularity. It is just a lot of joy and fun to play this great game, so if you have time to play, you should try it.