History of the Game

Women playing softball

Softball was invented on a cold winter day in November, 1887 inside the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago, IL, where a group of Yale and Harvard and alumni were awaiting the results of the highly competitive Harvard-Yale football game. Upon the announcement of Yale's victory, one Yale supporter threw an old boxing glove at a nearby Harvard alumni, who tried to hit it back with a stick. This action struck George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade, with an idea. Suggesting a game of indoor baseball and divding the group of alumni into two teams, Hancock began to mark off base lines, home plate and a pitcher's box inside the gym. He tied the laces of an old boxing glove together and, after a final score of 41-40, invented a sport that would grow into the most popular team participant sport in the United States.

Hancock's invention eventually caught on in Chicago and spread throughout the city as the Farragut team began challenging other gyms to games. Hancock took the game outdoors in the spring and played it on fields that were not big enough for baseball. He dubbed his invention "Indoor-Outdoor" and Hancock thus became the recognized authority of the game.

Hancock added 19 special rules to adapt the outdoor game to the indoor game, and the rule were officially adopted by the Mid Winter Indoor Baseball League of Chicago in 1889. The game flourished in Minneapolis where Minneapolis Fire Department Lieutenant Lewis Rober, used the game to keep his men fit during idle time. Using a vacant lot near the station, Rober laid out bases and a pitching distance of 35 feet. The ball was a small sized medicine ball and the bat was only two inches in diameter.

The game caught on as other fire stations around the city joined in. Rober's version of the sport became known as "Kitten League Ball" in the summer of 1900 when his organized a firehouse team called the Kittens. The term was later shortened to "Kitten Ball."

Kitten Ball lasted until 1925 when it evolved into Diamond Ball and finally into softball in 1926 when Walter Hakanson, a Denver YMCA official, suggested the name to the International Joint Rules Committee. Softball wasn't organized on a national basis until 1933, when Leo Fischer and Michael J. Pauley, Chicago sporting goods salesmen, came up with the idea to organize thousands of local softball teams in American into cohesive state organizations and beyond.

Fischer and Pauely invited teams to participat in a tournament in conjunction with the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago and, with the backing of the Chicago American newspaper, invited 55 teams to participate in the tournament. Teams were divided into three classes - fastballers, slow pitch and women. A 14-inch ball was used during the single-elimination event. The Joint Rules Committee expanded in 1934 to include the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), giving softball the solidarity and foundation it needed to grow and develop throughout the U.S. under the network of associations proposed by Fischer and Pauley.

The International Softball World Championships in 1965 developed women's softball by making it an international game, a step towards the Pan-American games and the Olympics. In 1976, women softball players were given the closest equivalent to Major League Baseball wih the formation of the International Women's Professional Softball League. The league disbanded however in 1980 because of financial ruin.

The popularity of women's fastpich has grown steadily since the professional league's end in 1980. There is currently another professional fastpitch league called the National Pro Fastpitch League (NPF). According to ASA reports, the association annually adds over 260,000 teams combining to form a membership of 4.5 million. While these numbers don't all apply to fastpitch, it is enough evidence to prove that the popularity of the sport is continuing to grow.

© Jenna Harris 2009