The History of Softball
“Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever.”
The First Softball Game:
In 1887, a group of twenty young men had gathered in the Farragut Boat Club gym in order to hear the Harvard-Yale football game. After Yale’s victory, a man picked up a stray boxing glove and threw it at someone, who hit it with a pole. George Hancock, considered to be the inventor of softball tied the boxing glove so that it resembled a ball, chalked out a diamond on the floor, which gave it small dimensions than a regular baseball field to be able to fit in the gym, and broke off a broom handle to serve as a bat. Thus, a new version of baseball was born: softball.
Hancock was fascinated, and in the following weeks developed a large ball and small bat for the sportes. Rules and a league were established by the Boat Club in 1889, and the first league began in 1897 in Toronto.
Hancock’s game spread throughout the country and was especially popular in Minneapolis. Lewis Rober, a lieutenant at the local fire department, used a vacant lot to set up a small field for his men to play. When Rober was transferred to another department, he helped establish a team he called the Kittens, and his game was named Kitten Ball in the summer of 1900.
Lewis Rober, Back Row 1st on the right
The name softball was first used by Walter Hakanson, a Denver YMCA official, in 1926. He suggested it to the International Joint Rules Committee, and in 1934 it included the Amateur Softball Association.
Leo Fischer and Michael Pauley decided to organize softball on a more national basis. They brought thousands of softball teams together into state organizations and from there into one national organization. In 1934 membership on the Joint Rules Committee added the Amateur Softball Association. This helped to cement softball and its rules.
The formation of the ASA gave softball the foundation it needed to develop. Pauley and Fischer visited many of the states, inviting teams to participate in the tournament at the World’s Fair in Chicago. On the opening day of the 1933 tournament, the Chicago American said, "it is the largest and most comprehensive tournament ever held in the sport which has swept the country like wildfire."70,000 people saw the first round of play. Chicago teams won the three divisions of play with Softball Hall of Famer Harry (Coon) Rosen leading the J.L. Friedman Boosters to the men's title.
In 1935, the Playground Association Softball Guide, wrote: "the years of persistent effort, constant promotion and unchanging faith of believers in softball proved to have not been in vain, for in 1934 softball came into its own. All over America hundreds of leagues and thousands of players enthusiastically accepted this major team game.”"The promotional activities of the ASA played an important part in stimulating the interest that has been developing for many years. The battle for recognition of this splendid game is over. Softball has won a place among America's foremost sports."
A League of Their Own…
The All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League was founded by Phillip K. Wrigley. It was in existence from 1943-1954, and was started to keep the public eye on baseball after the majority of men were overseas fighting in WWII.
The first four players to sign with the AAGPBL:
L-R: Claire Schillace, Ann Harnett and Edythe Perlick.
Seated: Shirley Jameson. Photo courtesy of Northern
Indiana Center for History Collection.
The game started out as a cross between softball and baseball, but over the league’s existence the rules were modified to more resemble baseball. The league was ended in 1954, as the owners did not want to take fans away from Major League Baseball.
Over 600 colleges sponsor softball in the NCAA (Division I-III). It is considered an equivalency sport to baseball.
Softball became a sanctioned NCAA sport in 1910. It is one of only three sports sanctioned just for women (the other two being field hockey and rowing). The Women’s College World Series (The NCAA Championship for softball) began in 1982, and was played in Omaha, Nebraska. Now, the WCWS is held at the ASA Hall of Fame field in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The WCWS begins with thirty-two teams in eight different regions. The teams play a double elimination tournament within their region, with the eight winning teams coming to Oklahoma to compete in a second round robin double elimination tournament to determine the two finalists. The two finalist then play a best of three series to determine the champion.
1983: Texas A&M
1986: Cal State Fullerton
1987: Texas A&M
1998: Fresno State
2005: Michigan +
2008: Arizona State
* - UCLA’s 1995 Championship has been voided by the NCAA due to a recruiting violation.
+ - 2005 was the first year that the WCWS went to a best of 3 series to determine the champion.
In 1965, the International Softball World Championships made softball an international sport. Then in 1976, the International Women’s Professional Softball League was formed. Players made anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, but the league was disbanded only 4 years later due to lack of financial support.
Then, in 1997 the Women’s Pro Softball Leagues was formed, but it too folded four years later. However, it was revived in 2004 to form the U.S.’s only professional softball league: National Pro Fastpitch. It’s commissioner is former softball great and ESPN analyst Cheri Kempff. Currently the NPF has four teams: The Chicago Bandits, USSSA Pride, the Akron Racers, and NPF Diamonds. The NPF has recently announced that all games will be broadcasted in conjunction with MLB.com in an attempt to bring the NPF to a greater national stage.
Internationally the game is much bigger. In 1991 the International Olympic Committee decided to include softball as an Olympic sport at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA. The USA team campaigned hard to be one of the eight teams included in the Olympics.
The ASA established a national coaching pool and a national team selection committee. The selection committee was to field the best team that would represent the USA in all international events up until the 1996 Olympics.
The USA was a well coached and talented team that worked hard. They outplayed their opponents and the 1996 Olympic gold medal went to the United States, who won over China 3-0. They also won gold medals in both 2000 and 2004, dominating their competition. Team USA has also won seven World Championship gold medals. It was not until 2008 that the U.S. lost in the finals (to China), taking the silver medal.
The ASA created the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City in 2005. The cup would be an annual event, giving the top teams in the world a way to compete against each other, with talks of pulling softball out of the Olympics. The ASA was right, and in 2006 the International Olympic Committee voted to remove both baseball and softball from the Olympics in 2012. The World Cup has become the premier event for softball, as ESPN has begun to broadcast it and other softball events.
USA Softball Greats…just a few of the many great athletes to come to the sport. Click on the player’s name to learn more:
Meet the Coaches:
Meeting up with Coach Threehouse
and Coach Matz