Softball is a team game that is very popular in the USA. It is very similar to baseball which is not surprising given that softball is a direct descendant of baseball.
Softball shares itís origins with baseball and rounders, as a folk game that was popular throughout Britain and Ireland The earliest written reference to a bat and ball game being played in Britain was the game of stool ball which is widely attributed to being the ancestor of rounders, baseball and softball and was recorded as having been played in 1330.
Softball was actually invented in 1887 by George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago board of trade. He invented the game we now call softball, as a form of baseball that could be played indoors
The first softball game was played one afternoon at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago where Hancock was a member. Legend has it that Hancock got the idea when one of the members playfully threw an old boxing glove at a friend who then batted it back to him with a stick. For fun Hancock proposed a game of indoor baseball, drew out a diamond on the floor of the club, divided the club members into teams and they played this first ever game of softball until the score was 40 -41.
The following week, Hancock had developed the game further and bought an undersized baseball bat and a large 17 inch ball to the club. The Farragut club soon became very keen on this game and developed some new rules for it. This early softball game quickly spread to outsiders in the Chicago area, when the Farragut club challenged other sports clubs to play indoor baseball with them.
This original softball game was thought to be an excellent way for baseball players to train and play throughout the winter and the game was first called indoor baseball.
However the name was changed to Indoor- Outdoor in the following spring when this softball game started to be played outside in the warmer weather, on a much smaller pitch than a baseball field.
The rules to this softball game were further developed by George Hancock in 1889 when he created 19 rules that modified the game of baseball into this new form. These rules were officially adopted by the mid winter indoor baseball league of Chicago in 1889 and this early version of softball started to spread throughout the USA.
Softball found unexpected popularity in Minneapolis in 1895, due to the efforts of a Minneapolis fire department lieutenant Louis Rober, who saw the sport as being an excellent way to keep his firemen entertained and fit during stand by times. He used a vacant lot, next to the fire station and laid out the playing area with bases and a pitching (bowling) distance of 35 feet.
Roberís version of softball used a smaller ball than the ball size stipulated by the Farragut club. Rober used a 12 inch ball (30.5cm) instead of the 16 inch ball preferred by the Farragut club. Today the regulation size softball has been adopted from Roberís sized ball rather than the Farragut club version.
Early softball became instantly popular among other fire companies who all wanted to play. When Rober transferred to another fire company, later in 1895, and organised a team that he named the Kittens, the game became known as kitten ball until 1925 when the Minneapolis park board renamed it diamond ball.
Early softball then went through a rather chaotic period of itís development. There were many alternative names for softball, including mush ball, pumpkin ball, indoor baseball, indoor outdoor and cabbage ball among others.
Walter Hakenson of the YMCA, saw that the game was flourishing and being played throughout the USA and he realised if this new sport was going to become established then it had to have a standardised name. He came up with the name soft ball in 1926 and by 1932, the name softball had been accepted and had replaced all the previous names.
In 1933 softball was organised on a national basis by Leo Fischer and Michael Pauley both business men from Chicago who got the idea of organising the hundreds of softball teams in America to bring them into one organisation. They founded the ASA the Amateur Softball Association. The fledging organisation got their chance to show softball to a wider audience when they were approached by the organisers of the Chicago World Fair in 1933 and asked to stage a softball exhibition and competition.
55 softball teams participated in the tournament and softball was officially launched. The American sports pages promoted the World Fair softball tournament daily and interest in soft ball spread like wildfire. The Chicago World Fair Ė held in the middle of the great depression, attracted over 70,000 spectators to watch the first round of the softball tournament, attracted by the sport and by free admission.
Softball continued to be played throughout the following years developing different variations such as fast pitch and slow pitch softball, and becoming Americaís top participation sport.
When softball was included into the 1996 Olympics seemed as if softball was set to become a world sport. However by the 2008 Olympics, softball had become a women only sport (with the men playing baseball) and both baseball and softball have been dropped from the programme of the 2012 Olympics.
Despite the popularity of softball in the USA, the Olympic committee felt that softball was not popular enough elsewhere in the world to justify Olympic inclusion, because outside the USA, softball still remains a minority sport. However there are softball clubs and leagues throughout the UK and the game is steadily growing in popularity but there is a way to go before softball reaches the same level as interest as it achieves in America. Today softball remains one of the most popular sports played in the USA. Sometimes referred to as baseballís little sister, softball is played by thousands of people in casual games and by teams and leagues of both sexes and all ages.