Why Is Softball Called Softball? (History, Theories & Facts)
I remember when I first heard about softball and saw some pictures and videos about it. I sincerely thought that the ball was soft as the word soft is in the name. Logical right? Well, as it turns out, softballs aren’t soft at all. In fact, they are very hard and can cause injuries.
This made me very curious about why softball is called softball. I imagine so many of you are making the same realization that I once was, so that’s why I wanted to create this resource. So, why is softball called softball?
Softball is called softball because, originally, the ball was soft. Even when softball was created in 1887, the name softball was first introduced and approved in 1926 by Walter Hakanson in the National Recreation Congress meeting.
To really grasp why softball is called softball and what parts plaid in the sports name and future development, we need to take a history trip.
The History of Softball
It all started in 1887 in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The first known and recorded softball game was played on Thanksgiving Day. It happened at the Farragut Boat Club when people heard the outcome of a football game between Yale and Harvard Universities.
At this point, one of the Harvard fans took a broom and a boxing glove that was tightened into a ball and struck the ”ball” with the broom. When a reporter George Hancock saw this, he yelled ”playball,” and the foundations of softball were created even tho they didn’t know it at that moment.
In the coming weeks, George Hancock developed a 17″ ball and a small bat compared to a baseball bat. Game rules were also set, and at this point, the word was spreading about the new sport.
A funny thing about the sport is that it was developed for baseball players to be played inside during winter. This generated the name ”Indoor Baseball” which it was called. As indoor halls weren’t as large as baseball fields, the field size was compressed, which is why softball fields are smaller than baseball fields.
After indoor baseball was a popular thing a couple of years later, in 1889, it was taken to outdoors in the summertime. New names popped up for indoor baseball, and many of them date back to 1895 and the outdoor games organized by Lewis Robert. Names such as kitten ball, lemon ball, and diamond ball were born.
It was as late as 1926 when the name ”softball” was first introduced by Walter Hakanson from the YMCA in a meeting of the National Recreation Congress. After that, and especially in the 1930s, the name softball was spread across the United States and Canada, and it was now the new and proper name for the sport. In 1936, the Hiubt Rkes Cinnuttee standardized the name and rules of softball to what we know today.
This is the most accepted theory of how softball and its name were born. However, there are some other theories, and the next popular theory is related to baseball’s influence.
The second theory of how softball’s name was born is related to baseball, and its early name was hardball. When softball as a sport was created, baseball was known as hardball for the people in the United States.
When a similar sport was created, but it isn’t hardball as it varied in rules, field size, and many other things, it couldn’t naturally be called hardball. Thus, it was considered a close relative, and the opposite name of softball was created.
What Was Softball Called Before Softball?
So, softball hasn’t always been called softball. What are the early and other names for it?
Softball was called by many names before softball, such as;
- Play ball
- Kitten ball
- Mush ball
- Diamond ball
- Playground ball
The most popular and widely used softball names before its name were indoor baseball and kitten ball.
Indoor baseball was its first widely known name as it was a way for baseball players to train baseball during winter. Kitten ball, however, was born in 1895 when Lewis Robert organized outdoor games as exercises for firefighters. This was called a kitten ball, and it stuck and spread across the United States.
When Did Fastpitch Softball Start?
During and after softball’s founding in 1887, it wasn’t categorized as slowpitch and fastpitch softball. Neither one existed yet as fastpitch wasn’t a thing yet, so softball was just softball. Well, before 1926, it was kitten ball, indoor-baseball, indoor-outdoor, and you name it.
So, when did fastpitch softball get discovered?
Fastpitch softball became popular in the 1930s and 40s. In a matter of fact, fastpitch became the dominant form of softball in the 1940s, and it is now the only form of softball at the professional level and the Olympics.
Fastpitch softball had gained such popularity by 1991, so the decision was to include it in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Want to see what it was like in the first fastpitch Olympics? Take a look at the video below.
A funny thing about fastpitch in the modern day is that there are no men’s professional fastpitch leagues, only women’s. This begs the question, why is softball considered a women’s sport even when it started as a man’s sport?
Why Is Softball Considered a Girl Sport?
Softball started as a man’s sport created for baseball training during winter. However, softball has been one of the world’s most recognized and competitive sport for women over the years. Why is that?
Softball is considered a women’s sport because in the 1930s, when softball started being played at a college level, colleges banned baseball from women and softball from men because of their similarity and funding issues related to rules regarding providing teams for both genders in a sport.
Thus, softball has had nearly a hundred years to evolve and gain popularity among girls because they haven’t had an opportunity to play baseball in most colleges.
The rule I am referring to is Title IX, which means equal rights and protection from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. This is what Title IX states;
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.U.S Department of Education: Title IX
For colleges and educational programs, this means that if they provide a baseball team for men, they must provide a baseball team for women and vice versa regarding softball. However, as baseball and softball are so similar, most colleges banned baseball for women and softball for men, overruling Title IX.
For this reason, softball has evolved to become a women’s sport, and you know what, I’m glad it did because now women can be proud of fastpitch softball and what opportunities it provides.
Slowpitch, on the other hand, has much more variation between genders. Many teams have mixed-sex teams as it isn’t taken as seriously as fastpitch softball.
Why Are Softballs Yellow?
There are many odd things about softball, such as the name if you are unfamiliar with its origins. However, to color yellow also makes you think why it isn’t just white as baseballs are?
Softballs are yellow because they are easier to see. Softball pitching distance is 25% closer than in baseball, so the players have less time to react, requiring faster visual contact on the ball. As it is easier to see the ball, it is safer as the players don’t get struck by it so easily.
However, it hasn’t been this way always. In fact, when compared to the existence of softball, softballs have been yellow for a very short time.
Before 1993 when the yellow ball was introduced, they were always white. In 1993, the first optic-yellow ball first appeared in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), and the color yellow has become the standard softball color for all levels of play.
To further understand why softballs are yellow, be sure to check my comprehensive article about it!
My Favorite Softball Equipment
Thanks for reading this article. I hope it brought you great value that you can implement into your own life! Here are my top softball equipment recommendations that I think will take your game to the next level.
- Bat: My favorite certified fastpitch softball bat is the Easton Ghost. This bat has a double-barrel construction which is incredible if you are looking for a great feel and are a fan of satisfying pop and sound. The handle is a great bonus as it’s great to hold on to and very thin. The technology used for this bat provides great durability and flexibility. This bat comes in various styles and sizes.
- Softball: The best softballs, in my opinion, are the Franklin Sports Official Softballs. These affordable yet official featured balls are perfect for practice if you want to train with a similar ball as in a real game. These balls have the official 12-inch circumference and weight. The yellow color makes it easy to spot, and the flat seams enable minimal air resistance so that they will fly consistently and far.
- Glove: Rawlings Liberty Advanced Fastpitch Glove should be introduced to every softball player. The 12.5″ size makes it a breeze to catch and secure softballs. The glove is very comfortable as it’s made from full-grain leather, and the pull-staps will perfect the fit. The design is breathtaking as well. Be prepared for a little break-in time tho.
- Fan Equipment: If you’re a fan more than a player, you don’t want to miss Fan Equipment by Fanatics. You can find items from various sports that bear your favorite team’s logo, such as jerseys, gift ideas, or other surprising things.