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The Evolution of Softball

iStock Photo/Sports Moms Illustration

The sport actually started in 1887. During a Yale versus Harvard football game, on Thanksgiving Day, alumni were sitting and waiting to hear who had won the game. When Yale was announced as the winner, a Yale alumnus jokingly threw a boxing glove at a Harvard alumnus. Thinking quickly, the Harvard alumnus swung the boxing glove with a broom stick so as to not get hit. An onlooker yelled out, “Play ball!” And the rest is history.

This scene was set in Chicago, Illinois, at the Farragut Boat Club. Because of the game that commenced after the Yale versus Harvard football game, the Farragut Boat Club devised it’s own set of rules. And the rest of the Midwestern United States caught wind.

People referred to the game as indoor baseball, diamond ball, pumpkin ball, and many more names. It wasn’t until 1926 that a man named Walter Hakanson coined the term, “softball,” while in a meeting representing the YMCA. Four years later, the term stuck as the sport’s official name.

In 1934, the Joint Rules Committee on Softball gathered to established standard rules for the sport. Like baseball, up until this point, there were endless variations of the game with different player positions and ball sizes. The major discussion during the meeting was about the size of the softball. The Farragut Boat Club used a ball 16 inches in circumference. But, the man responsible for creating softball games in Minneapolis had been using a ball 12 inches. The committee determined on a 12-inch ball as the official softball and that’s what is used today. Many Chicagoans, however, still play with a 16-inch ball, naming the game cabbage ball or mush ball. In this game, players do not have fielding gloves.

Softball originated as an indoor sport, but baseball players during off season often played the game to work on their dexterity. This created such popularity that it became its own official sport. In 1991, women’s fast pitch softball was added to the lineup for the 1996 Summer Olympics. While it was dropped in the 2012 Summer Olympics, the game is still one of the most popular participant sports in the United States.