While millions of people enjoy playing softball, not many know why exactly the sport is called the way it’s called and how it got its name in the first place.
Many assume that it’s got something to do with the ball the game is played with.
However, if you’ve ever in your life picked up a softball, this may be a bit confusing.
While softer than baseball, the ball used nowadays for softball is not that soft at all.
As a matter of fact, it’s rather hard.
So, who is softball called softball?
In this article, I’ll explain the reasons behind the softball’s name and go all the way back to the beginnings of the game to explain its origins.
So, let’s dive in!
Why is Softball Called Softball?
Understanding how softball got its name is impossible without getting familiar with the history of the game and its origins.
So, I’ll start by explaining what circumstances led to softball becoming a sport that we know today.
The Origins of Softball
The origins of the sport go all the way back to the late 19th century. The first known mention of the game dates to 1887 and Chicago, Illinois.
It happened as Harvard and Yale’s alumni were waiting to hear the result of the football game between the two schools at the Farragut Boat Club.
As the news of Yale’s victory broke through, one of the students picked up a boxing glove and gleefully threw it toward a Harvard supporter who swatted it back with a broomstick he was holding.
A reporter by the name of George Hancock took note of this interaction and came up with the idea for a new sport.
He took a couple of gloves, tied them up with a string, and suggested a game of baseball with this makeshift ball.
The mound, plate, and bases were drawn with chalk and the first softball game ever was played.
What was the Game First Called?
The first game proved to be a big hit among the club members and they quickly decided that it will not only be a one-time thing and started playing regular games.
The word of this new version of baseball quickly spread and the game became more widely popular.
In the following weeks, Hancock developed a bat for the game, smaller than in baseball, and a 17-inch ball.
His initial idea was that the sport would be played indoors, on a smaller field, so those who enjoy baseball can have something to do during winter break.
Hence, the first known name for the game was “indoor baseball.”
As the spring came, Hancock and other enthusiasts brought the game outdoors and renamed it “indoor-outdoor baseball.”
By 1889 and the Mid-Winter Indoor Baseball League of Chicago, a set of 19 rules was adopted, including a smaller diamond than in baseball.
Spreading of the Game
The new, light, and looser version of baseball quickly gained many new fans and began to spread outside of Chicago.
Depending on the region where the game was played, some rules were altered and adjusted and different variations of the ball were used.
The most notable development happened in Minneapolis, where Lewis Rober, the lieutenant of the Minneapolis Fire Department, found that the game was a perfect way to keep firemen fit during their off time.
Rober built the field for his colleagues next to the fire station, with a mound at a distance of 35 feet from the home plate.
Commonly, they used a small medicine ball to play with. When he moved to the new station,
Rober founded another team, naming it The Kittens.
This, and the fact that they started using the yarn ball wrapped in leather, led to the new name for the game – “kitten ball.”
New names for the Game
Over the next 20-30 years, the game became a big thing beyond just the Midwestern area.
The balls used for games were different in size and material, but the 12-inches circumference was rapidly becoming a standard. It was another thing first introduced by Lewis Rober.
The sport spread across the country, taking on different regional names.
Some of those many names are diamond ball, pumpkin ball, diamond ball, army ball, lemon ball, mush ball, playground ball, night ball, recreation ball, and big ball.
So, the name we know the sport by today was still not in sight.
When was the Game First Named Softball?
It wasn’t until 1926 that this version of baseball was first called softball.
The first person to coin and use this term was Walter Hakanson, the YMCA official from Denver.
At the National Recreation Congress held in 1926, Hakanson proposed that the congress recognizes the game and suggested a dedicated name for it – softball.
By the 1930s, the sport was being played all over US and Canada, and in 1934, the Joint Rules Committee, a national sports authority, approved the Amateur Softball Association (ASA).
At the same time, the rules of the sport and its name were standardized on a national level.
The ASA still exists, under the name USA Softball. Obviously, the name has caught up and remains what we called the sport to this day.
This is despite the fact that the modern balls are nowhere as soft as the ball the game was originally played with.
Not knowing why softball is called the way it’s called certainly won’t diminish your experience of playing or watching the sport.
However, it’s always nice to know the origins and some history behind the game you enjoy so much, especially since it’s one of the most popular sports in the world, with a tendency to grow even more in the future.
The name of the game may not make much sense today, as modern balls are harder than the ones used at the very begging of the sport.
Still, it’s a great reminder of how the game used to look and how it was played, representing the road it has traveled to the version we know and play today.