Why is Softball Called Softball?

Softball has a rich history, with its origins dating back to the late 19th century. Despite its name, the sport is anything but soft, featuring fast pitches and intense gameplay. The misleading name often piques the curiosity of enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

Interestingly, the term “softball” stems from the early days of the sport when it was played indoors with a larger, softer ball. The initial purpose was to provide a safer alternative to baseball, especially during the winter months. However, the sport has evolved tremendously since then.

Delve into this captivating tale to uncover the rationale behind the name and the fascinating journey of softball’s transformation into the thrilling game it is today. Prepare to be enlightened and amazed by the chronicles of this beloved pastime.

A Brief History of Softball

Softball traces its roots back to 1887 when George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade, invented the sport as a casual indoor alternative to baseball. 

The first game was played inside the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago, where players utilized a boxing glove as a ball and a broom handle as a bat.

The Evolution of the Softball

The original softball was indeed softer than a traditional baseball. Early versions of the ball were made from soft materials such as bundled fabric, rubber, or even a boxing glove. 

However, as the game evolved and moved outdoors, so too did the ball’s construction. Modern softballs are now made from a core of polyurethane or cork, wrapped in yarn and covered with leather or synthetic materials.

Softball vs. Baseball: Key Differences

While softball and baseball share many similarities, there are some key differences between the two sports:

Ball size: Softballs are larger than baseballs, with a circumference of approximately 12 inches, while baseballs have a circumference of about 9 inches.

Field size: Softball fields are typically smaller than baseball fields. The distance between bases in softball is 60 feet, compared to 90 feet in baseball.

Pitching: Softball pitchers use an underhand windmill motion, while baseball pitchers throw overhand.

Game length: Softball games generally consist of seven innings, while baseball games last for nine innings.

The Reason Behind the Name “Softball”

The name “softball” was coined in 1926 by Walter Hakanson, a Denver YMCA director. He chose the term to differentiate the sport from baseball and to highlight its distinctive features, such as the larger, softer ball. 

Despite the fact that modern softballs are no longer particularly soft, the name has endured, reflecting the sport’s origins and its unique characteristics.

Modern Softball: Changes and Innovations

Over time, softball has undergone numerous changes and innovations, including:

Rule modifications: Rules have evolved to enhance gameplay, safety, and competitiveness.

Equipment advancements: Bats, gloves, and other equipment have improved, allowing players to perform at higher levels.

Increased popularity: Softball has expanded globally and is now played in more than 100 countries.

The Impact of Softball’s Name on Its Popularity

The name “softball” has likely contributed to the sport’s popularity by emphasizing its accessibility and recreational appeal. Its perceived “softer” nature may have made it more approachable for beginners and casual players, leading to increased participation and growth.

The Global Expansion of Softball

Softball’s global expansion has been impressive, with the sport now enjoyed in countries all around the world. The International Softball Federation (ISF) was founded in 1952, and the sport has been part of the Olympic Games since 1996, further increasing its worldwide visibility. 

Although softball was briefly removed from the Olympics after the 2008 Games, it returned to the program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, solidifying its status as a global sport.

Challenges and Future Prospects for Softball

Softball faces several challenges as it continues to grow and evolve. These challenges include:

Maintaining and expanding its Olympic presence

Ensuring that softball remains part of the Olympic program is crucial for the sport’s global profile and development.

Increasing competitiveness

Encouraging more countries to develop competitive teams will help to elevate the overall level of play and increase interest in the sport.

Addressing gender disparities

Historically, softball has been associated with women’s sports, while baseball has been linked to men’s sports. Breaking down these stereotypes and encouraging participation across genders is vital for the sport’s continued growth.


Why is it called softball when the ball isn’t soft?

The name “softball” originates from the sport’s early days when the ball was indeed softer than a baseball. Despite the fact that modern softballs are no longer soft, the name has persisted as a reflection of the sport’s history and unique characteristics.

When and where was softball invented?

Softball was invented in 1887 by George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade, as a casual indoor alternative to baseball. The first game took place inside the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago.

What are the key differences between softball and baseball?

Some key differences between softball and baseball include ball size, field size, pitching style, and game length. Softballs are larger and have a bigger circumference, softball fields are smaller, pitchers use an underhand windmill motion, and games typically consist of seven innings instead of nine.


The evolution of softball has been a fascinating one, with its name serving as a relic of its early beginnings. While it may not accurately represent the modern game, it remains an essential part of the sport’s identity and history.

Knowing the story behind the name not only enriches our understanding of the sport but also connects us to its vibrant heritage.

Next time you watch or play a game of softball, take a moment to appreciate its unique history and the enduring legacy it has created.

The name “softball” may not perfectly capture the essence of the game, but it certainly highlights the sport’s intriguing origins and its remarkable journey to becoming a favorite pastime worldwide.

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