Softball is a very popular sport in North America. Millions of children and adults play
and enjoy this game. Softball has been played in the United States and Canada since thelate 1800’s. An International Softball Federation was formed in 1952. This organization
coordinates international competition and regular regional and world championship tournaments
for men and women. In 1996 softball was added as an Olympic sport. In that
same year the United States became the first gold medal winner of this new Olympic
The fundamentals of softball are the same as those of baseball.
Batting and fielding is similar in both games.
Softball is played on a smaller field, however, and
the game is seven innings long instead of nine.
In softball, the ball is pitched underhand,
whereas in baseball the pitch is overhand
or sidearm. Base stealing is permitted in
both games, but in softball the runner must keep
in contact with the base until the pitcher throws a pitch.
There are many variations to the game of softball; some are officially recognized and
others are not. In Chicago, for example, Windy City or Cabbage Ball is played with a 16-
inch ball and without gloves. In Maine and Alaska, people play softball in the snow. InCalifornia, a game has developed called Over the Line: OTL players don’t use glovesand they don’t run bases. These variations of the game exist in many regions, however,fast-pitch and slow-pitch softball are the two dominate the games in North America.
HISTORY OF THE GAME
The game of softball began in Chicago, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day in 1887. Several
young men at the Farragut Boat Club were waiting for a telegraph to see who won a
Yale-Harvard football game. While waiting, one man threw an old boxing glove at a
friend. He in turn hit it with a broom handle. Another friend, George Hancock, grabbedthe glove, tied it into a sphere and said, “let’s play ball!” The friends chose up sides, and
the first game of softball began.
After the game, Hancock created a crude ball that was larger than a baseball. He then
drew up a list of rules and decided that the game could be played in a field much smaller
than a regular baseball field. He thought an area like a school gym would be just right for
this new game of softball.
In 1887 several softball teams were formed in Chicago. It was not long before the game
spread to other parts of the country. Hancock wrote the first set of rules in 1889. As new
teams formed, they adopted new rules. One of the obvious differences between the teams
was the lack of a standard bat or ball size.
Eventually, a committee of the Amateur Softball Association was formed and met in
1933 to set standard rules. Today the game of softball is played worldwide with standard
sets of rules. There are still three sizes of balls in use: 12-inch, 14-inch, and 16-inch. The
12-inch ball is the most popular.
The first softball fast-pitch national tournament for both men and women was held in
1933 in Chicago. More than 350,000 people attended the three days of playoffs. In later
years the national tournament was held in a variety of large cities. Today the Amateur
Softball Association crowns national champions in both fast-pitch and slow-pitch, with
fast-pitch dominating international competition.
HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED
The game starts as the batter steps into one of the
batter boxes on either side of the home plate. Thepitcher then tries to throw the ball through the batter’s
strike zone using an underhand motion. For slow
pitch, the strike zone is between the shoulders and
the knees. For fast pitch it is between the armpitsand the knees.
If the batter doesn’t swing and the ball passes through the strike zone, the umpire willcall a“strike.” But if the ball pitched is outside the strike zone and the batter doesn’tswing, the umpire calls the pitch a “ball.” The batter can get a strike if he swings at a
pitch and misses. He can also get a strike if the ball is hit into foul territory. A batter
remains at the plate until she hits a ball into fair territory, takes four balls for a walk to
first base, or gets three strikes for an out. If the count is already at two strikes, a foul ballwill not be called a strike unless it’s a “three fouls and you’re out” league.
If the batter hits a fair ball, the defense can make a force-out by throwing the ball to first
base before the runner gets there. The umpire will call the runner out as long as the first
base player has control of the ball and a foot on the bag. If another runner is already on
base, the defense will often choose to pick offthe lead runner. It’s important to remember thatif the lead runner doesn’t have to run, a fielder
must tag the runner to get an out. For example,a runner on second base doesn’t have to go to
third if first base is empty. If the runner heads
to third, the person playing third will place the
ball in his glove and touch the runner with it to
get the runner out. The defense can tag an offensive
player who overruns second or third
The defense can also get the batter out by catching a fair or foul ball on a fly. After a fly
ball for an out, all runners on base must tag up (they must be touching their original base
until the ball is caught). When a fly ball is hit deep into the outfield, a runner may tag upand then run to the next base. Since the runner doesn’t have to run, he or she must be
The offense scores a run when a person makes it all the way around the bases without
being tagged or forced out. Each team bats until there are three outs. An inning is completed
when both teams have batted. The visiting team bats first. This is called the top of
the inning. The home team bats second, or in the bottom of the inning. Softball games
last seven innings unless there is a tie or the game is rained out. The team with the most
THE PLAYING FIELD
Softball is played on a diamond-shaped field with bases located at each corner of thediamond. The field is divided into an infield and an outfield.
The dimensions of the field vary with the type of softball being played and
the age and sex of the players. These differences ensure that the field is
appropriate for the strength and skill level of the players using it. Forexample, in a ten-year-old boys’ game the pitcher stands 35 feet
from the batter. In order to hit a home run the batter must hit the
ball over a fence 175 feet away.In a men’s slow pitch league, on the other hand, the pitcher
throws from 65 feet away and the outfield fence is 300 feet away.
Most field dimensions, including distance from the pitching rubber
to home plate, length between the bases, and distance to the outfield
fence, will be slightly smaller for a fast pitch game than for a game
of slow pitch.
THE VARIOUS FORMS OF SOFTBALL
Although the many games of softball have similarities, they also have some basic differences.
Each type has a number of rules that regulate the style and speed of pitching.For example, modified pitch eliminates two of the fastest and
most difficult-to-hit pitches (the “windmill” and the “slingshot”)that are used in straight fast-pitch softball.Slow-pitch rules require,
among other things, that the ball travel within minimum
and maximum limits of arc when pitched. One form of slow pitch
is played with a ball that is 16 inches in diameter, which is much
larger than the standard 12-inch ball.
Since slow pitch has a larger field, it uses more players than fastpitch. Fast pitch is played with nine people while slow pitch adds
an extra player to the outfield to make ten. Slow pitch, unlike
baseball or fast pitch, sets limits on the number of out-of-theparkhome runs allowed per inning. Depending on the league’s
classification, this number can range from zero to 12. The batter
will be called out for any home runs hit in excess of the limit.
Rules for the pitcher differ for each type of softball. An obvious reason for pitching rules
is to make certain that a certain speed of pitch is thrown to the batter. Another reason isto ensure that the pitcher doesn’t confuse the batter and base runners with “fake” pitches.Failure to follow the pitching rules will result in an “illegal pitch.” In fast pitch, the
penalty for an illegal pitch is a ball called for the batter and an extra base for any base
runners. In slow pitch, a ball is called for the batter but the runners do not advance
automatically.Men’s and women’s fast pitch softball have rule variations that
determine the stance of the pitcher. Both games require the
pitcher and the catcher to be in position before the pitcher is
considered ready to pitch. The catcher must stay inside thecatcher’s box until the ball has left the pitcher’s hand. Whenstepping up to the pitcher’s rubber, the pitcher should approach
with both hands separated. The ball may be held in either the
glove or the throwing hand. For men, one foot must be placed
on the pitching rubber and the other may be on or behind the
pitching rubber. Women must have both feet on the pitching
rubber. In either case, the shoulders should be squarely facing
the batter. Only at this time may the pitcher receive signals from
When the pitcher is ready, both hands must be brought together holding the ball still in
front of the body, for from one to ten seconds. The moment the pitcher takes one hand
off the ball, the pitch proper has begun.
The pitcher may use any windup, but it is illegal to reverse the forward motion of the
windup before the pitch is released. This will prevent the pitcher from throwing “fakes.”In men’s play, the ball must be thrown with an underhanded
motion with the hand below the hip. The wrist
may not be further from the body than the elbow. When
the pitcher takes a step forward, it must be taken at thesame time as the delivery of the ball. The pitcher’s other
foot must remain on the pitching rubber until the forward
stepping foot has touched the ground. Women start with
a different ready-to-pitch stance; the pitcher may allow
her pivot foot to drag forward, off the pitching rubber,
before her other foot touches the ground. She must make
sure that her pivot foot, in leaving the pitching rubber,
remains in contact with the ground.Unless there are base runners that may be stealing the
next base, the catcher should return the ball only to the pitcher. This eliminates wasting
time and the danger that a ball could actually be called for this infraction.The pitching in modified pitch softball is very similar to fast pitch, but the ball is released
a little lower, since the pitchers begin with both feet on the pitching rubber. In
modified ball, the pitcher may not use the windmill or sling-shot pitches.
Slow pitching regulations are a simplified version of the
fast pitch regulations. To start, a pitcher must simply pause
with the ball held in front of his body, keeping a foot on the
pitching rubber. When pitching, the pivot foot must be kept
in contact with the rubber but the other foot may step either
forward, or backward during the pitch. In slow pitch softball
the ball must not be delivered at excessive speed: two
such offenses could result in the removal of the pitcher fromthe pitching position. After leaving the pitcher’s hand, the
ball must arc at least six feet from the ground before crossinghome plate. A pitch’s maximum height off the ground in
slow pitch is 12 feet.
Bats come in a variety of lengths, weights and shapes. Usually a player has a good
chance of finding a bat that meets her needs. The bat used should be an official softballbat that is clearly marked “Official Softball” by the manufacturer.
An official bat must be round and can be made from wood, metal, bamboo, plastic or
laminated wood. It must not exceed 38 ounces in weight. Metal bats must be free of
burrs and any rough or sharp corners. Wooden bats must be made either from one piece
of hard wood or from a block of laminated wood.
An official softball bat must not be longer than 34 inches or have a diameter greater than
29/32 inches. All bats must have some type of safety grip of cork, tape, or composition
material. A batter can be called out for using an illegal bat and ejected for using an
altered bat.The official softball measures between 11 and 7/8 and 12 and 1/8 inches in circumference,weighs between 6 and 1/2 and 7 ounces. It has a center made of fiber kapok or of a corkrubber
mixture. The ball is covered in chrome-tanned horsehide or cowhide sewed in aseamless stitch with waxed thread. Cement applied to the underside of the covering
holds it to the ball.
Each player normally would furnish his own shoes and glove. Metal shoe spikes may be
used if the spikes are no longer than three-fourths of an inch. Rounded metal spikes,
such as track or golf spikes, are not allowed.A ball player’s glove or mitt is her most important personal
furnishing. A good player keeps her glove or mitt in fine condition,
keeping it free from dirt. Only the catcher and the first
baseman are allowed to wear a mitt. The other players wear
The rules require a catcher to wear a mask in fast pitch and recommend
one for slow pitch. Other catching equipment includes a chest protector and shinguards. In most cases the team sponsor will furnish the catcher’s equipment as well as
the batting helmets. Batting helmets must be worn in fast-pitch games, not only by the
batter but also by the base runners and the on-deck batter as she warms up.
Uniforms for all players must be identical in color, trim and fit. Undershirts that are
exposed to view and worn by more than one team player should be of the same color.
Ragged or torn sleeves on uniform shirts or undershirts are not permitted. Caps are also
part of the official uniform.
SOFTBALL NOTES AND NEWS
The Amateur Softball Association registers over 260,000 softball teams annually. Today
there are also more than 73,500 Junior Olympic Youth Softball Teams.
One of the greatest victories for softball enthusiasts occurred in 1991 with the additionof women’s fast pitch softball to the program of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta,
Georgia. In fact, the USA defeated China 3-1 tocapture softball’s first Olympic Gold Medal. On
that July 30, day a capacity crowd of over 8,700
witnessed the USA win behind the pitching of
Michele Granger of Anchorage, Alaska and Lisa
Fernandez of Long Beach, California.
Dot Richardson played shortstop for the 1996
U.S. Gold Medal Team. Dot was fully committedto this team since she was willing to put her
medical training on hold for a year. By profession Dot is an orthopedic surgeon. She is
no stranger to international competition after playing on three Pan Am Games teams and
in three International Federation world championships.
Dot started in baseball but switched to softball when she was ten. She jumped directlyinto a women’s softball league. Three years later she became the youngest player to jointhe national Women’s Major Fast Pitch League. Since then, she has won seven Golden
glove awards and is considered the best female shortstop in the world.
Canada also had a strong showing at the 1996 Olympics. They defeated Cuba 2-0 in the
Bronze medal game. In the 1999 Pan American Games Canada brought home Gold inthe Men’s division and Silver for the Women.
Fifteen women represented the United States at the 2000
Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. The United States
rebounded from a three-game losing streak to repeat
as softball gold medalists, beating Japan 2-1. The
United States had an overall record of 7-3 in Sydney.
At age 39, Dot Richardson saw Olympic action again.
She was the oldest member of the USA 15 member
team. Catcher, Stacey Nuveman, 22, of LaVerne, California
was the youngest team member. Japan won the
Silver Medal and Australia earned the Bronze at the
Sydney Summer Olympics.
Watch for developments concerning the next Olympic Games to be held in Greece in
2004. This web site will help keep you informed:
In college softball, Arizona won the softball title for the 2001 season by defeating UCLA
1-0. Jennie Finch pitched a four-hitter to finish a perfect season (32-0).
There are softball leagues and organizations all over the world, including many excellent
high school and college softball programs. There are, however, still many people
who play the sport informally just to have some fun and get a little exercise. This is thecase with the Amateur Softball Association’s Junior Olympic Program that was developed
to foster softball interest, skills and desire in a new generation of softball players.
This Junior Olympics emphasize fun and gives players a chance for fellowship, sportsmanshipand a feeling of belonging.
WHAT TO DO:
The following questions will help you to have a greater appreciation and understanding
of softball. Write your answers in the spaces below the questions. If there is not enough
room, write on the backs of these sheets. Be neat, spell correctly, and write in complete
1. How is softball different than baseball?
2. How did the game of softball get started?
3. Describe the strike zones in softball.4. What are the official regulations for a bat?
5. What are the official regulations for an official ball?
6. In fast-pitch games which players must wear helmets?
7. What is considered to be one of the greatest victories for softball enthusiasts?
8. When were standard rules for softball developed and by whom?
9. What are the three sizes of balls that are used in softball?10. What are the ways a batter can get a strike called on her?
Short Answer Questions:1. The city where softball began2. Where “Over the Line” softball was developed
3. Each team bats until there are this many outs
4. This team bats first in a game5. Number of called “balls” before a player walks to first base
6. The team with the most number of these wins the game
7. The player who wears a mask
8. The shape of a playing field
9. The person who wrote the first set of rules for softball
10. In 1993 this softball association set standard rules
11. The fundamentals of softball are the same as this game
12. The boat club where softball is said to have started
13. The most popular size softball in inches
14. A 1996 gold medal winner in softball
15. How a softball is pitched
16. The zone where the pitcher tries to throw her pitches
17. These are considered part of the official uniform
18. These come in a variety of shapes, lengths and weights
19. This team bats in the botton of an inning
20. The team that is fielding is playing _______