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Governing body: International Softball Federation
Number of teams: 2
Players per team: 9-12
Game length: 1 - 2 hours
Country of origin: United States
Date of first game: 1887

Softball is a sport that sprung from the mind of George Hancock. The game consists of an oversized ball, eleven to 12 inches (or rarely, 16 inches) in circumference. This is thrown (pitched) underhand by a player called a pitcher and hit by an offensive player called a batter with a bat (usually wooden, metal or composite material). Softball is a direct descendant of baseball, which is sometimes referred to as hardball to distinguish it from softball, but differs from it in several ways.

The International Softball Federation (ISF) holds world championships, held every four years, in several categories. The ISF is the international governing body. The Amateur Softball Association is the National Governing Body of Softball for the United States pursuant to the 1976 Amateur Sports Act. Due to the popularity of the sport, there are a multitude of governing bodies such as the United States Specialty Sports Association and the National Softball Association.

Overview of the Game

In softball there is an offensive team, the team that bats to attempt to score, and a defensive team, the team that occupies the field. A "run" is scored when a member of the offensive lineup advances past first base, second base, third base, and crosses home plate. There are many ways to get on base. Types of hits include full swing, bunt, drag bunt, and slap hits. A batter can get on base through a walk, or when hit by a pitch, but these situations are not hits. Runners can only leave their bases after the pitcher releases the ball.

Both teams switch between offense and defense after the defensive team makes three outs. Outs can be made in many ways. A defensive player (a fielder) can catch a hit ball before it hits the ground, making an out. A fielder can also hold the ball while touching a base, when an offensive player (here, a base runner) is forced to advance, before the runner reaches that base. If the runner is not forced to advance, the runner must be tagged with the ball to be called out. A pitcher "strikes" out the batter, resulting in an out.

A strikeout is when the pitcher throws three strikes to the batter. A strike is given when there is a good pitch, which the batter does not hit, when the batter swings at the ball and misses it or when the batter fouls off the ball (although a foul ball cannot be strike three unless it is bunted). The batter is also given four balls. A ball is a bad pitch. If the batter receives four balls, the batter is awarded first base—this is known as a walk. Good and bad pitches are determined by the strike zone. The strike zone is a rectangular area that extends for the width of home plate and the length runs from the knees of the batter to just below the shoulders.

Softball has a set number of innings, usually seven or nine. An inning is one series of both teams playing offense and defense. At the end of the set number of innings the team with the highest score wins.


Indoor baseball player, 1907

The first version of softball was invented in Chicago, Illinois on September 16, 1887 by George Hancock as a winter version of baseball. It was intended to be a way for baseball players to keep in practice during the winter. At the time, the sport was called "Indoor Baseball."[1]

Yale and Harvard alumni had gathered at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago to hear the score of the annual football game. When the score was announced and bets were paid, a Yale alum threw a boxing glove at a Harvard supporter. The other person grabbed a stick and swung at it. Hancock called "Play ball!" and the game began. Hancock took a boxing glove and tied it into a ball. A broom handle was used as a bat.[2] The first softball game ended with a score of 44-40.[3] The ball was fielded barehanded rather than with gloves like those which had been introduced to baseball in 1882. Hancock developed a ball and an undersized bat in the next week. The Farragut Club soon set rules for the game, which spread quickly to outsiders. The game, under the name of "Indoor-Outdoor," was moved outside next year, and the first rules were published in 1889.[1]

In 1895, Lewis Rober, Sr. of Minneapolis, Minnesota organized outdoor games as exercise for firefighters; this game was known as kitten ball (after the first team to play it), pumpkin ball, or diamond ball.[2] Rober's version of the game used a ball 12 inches (305 mm) in circumference, rather than the 16-inch (406 mm) ball used by the Farragut club, and eventually the Minneapolis ball prevailed, although the dimensions of the Minneapolis diamond were passed over in favor of the dimensions of the Chicago one. Rober may not have been familiar with the Farragut Club rules. The first softball league outside the United States was organized in Toronto in 1897.

The name softball dates from 1926. (In addition to indoor baseball, kitten ball, and diamond ball, names for the game included mush ball and pumpkin ball.)[2] By the 1930s, similar sports with different rules and names were being played all over the United States and Canada. The formation of the Joint Rules Committee on Softball in 1934 standardized the rules and naming throughout the United States.[1]

Sixteen-inch softball, also sometimes referred to as "mush ball" or "super-slow pitch," is a direct descendant of Hancock's original game. Defensive players are not allowed to wear fielding gloves; however, a 16-inch softball is actually soft, and can be fielded safely with bare hands. Sixteen-inch softball is played extensively in Chicago.

By the 1940s, fast pitching started to dominate the game. Although slow pitch was present at the 1933 World's Fair, the main course of action taken was to lengthen the pitching distance. Slow pitch achieved formal recognition in 1953 when it was added to the program of the Amateur Softball Association, and within a decade had surpassed fast pitch in popularity.[1]

After World War II, Canadian soldiers introduced softball to the Netherlands.[4] In 1939, softball was introduced to Australia.[5]

Softball was introduced to the United Kingdom in 1962 when the movie A Touch of Class was being filmed in London.[2] The first British women's softball league was established in 1983.[1]

In 1991, women's fast-pitch softball was selected to debut at the 1996 Summer Olympics.[2] The 1996 Olympics also marked a key era in the introduction of technology in softball; the IOC funded a landmark biomechanical study on pitching during the games.

In 2002, 16-inch slow pitch was written out of the ISF official rules, although it is still played extensively in the United States under Amateur Softball Association of America, or ASA rules.

The 117th IOC Session of the International Olympic Committee, held in Singapore in July 2005, voted to drop softball and baseball as Olympic sports for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Softball Leagues and Governing Bodies

  • Pony League

Pony Girls Softball (Protect our Nation's Youth), one of the organization’s flagship programs, has categories on fast pitch and slow pitch, and is based on an “and under” age concept. Specifically, Pony Girls Softball is divided into the following categories: Pinto League, age eight and under; Mustang League, age ten and under; Bronco League, age 12 and under; Pony League, age 14 and under; Colt League, age 16 and under; and Palomino League, age 18 and under.

  • World Softball League

The World Softball League is a coveted league in which the world's best men and women's softball players congregate and play for the WSL/Miken North American Championships in Florida. This league started with only 40 men's fast-pitch teams, but has progressed to over 5,200 teams in 75 qualifiers. In the World Softball League championship tournament, a total of 153 teams participated, signifying the popularity of the sport.

  • Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA)

Efforts to organize softball on a national basis didn't materialize until 1933, when Leo Fischer and Michael J. Pauley, a Chicago Sporting goods salesman, conceived the idea of organizing thousands of local softball teams in America into cohesive state organizations, and state organizations into a national organization. While it can't be said that softball was in a state of confusion, the formation of the American Softball Association certainly solidified the game of softball as a legitimate sport, one that had to be respected along with the likes of cricket, baseball, and other majors sports at the time. The support and stronghold that the ASA provided helped softball's popularity spread swiftly, as over 70,000 spectators flooded into stadiums to watch teams play in tournaments. Nowadays, the ASA is the main governing body of Softball, and hosts national championships annually.

  • USA Softball

When the Amateur Softball Association sent its first team to compete in the first ISF Women’s World Championship in 1965, it was its baptismal in national team play for all practical purposes.

Never before had a team from the United States competed in an international event of this caliber. The Raybestos Brakettes of Stratford, Conn., represented the United States after winning the ASA Women’s Major Fast Pitch National Championship in 1964. The Brakettes captured the silver medal with a record of 8-3 but it was what they did following the World Championships that helped the growth of the sport worldwide.

Following the World Championships, the Brakettes embarked on a whirlwind tour that covered ten countries in 37 days, where the players and coaches worked as ambassadors of the sport, holding instructional clinics in hopes of spreading the sport of softball across the globe.

The ASA sent its first Men’s National Team to a World Championship in 1966 as the ISF hosted its inaugural championship in Mexico City, Mexico. The Sealmasters of Aurora, Ill., who won the ASA Men’s Major Fast Pitch National Championship in 1966 to earn the right to represent the United States, captured the first-ever gold medal for the United States in any fast pitch world championship with a perfect 11-0 record.

The progress of softball did not end there, however. In 1991, softball was included in the 1996 Olympics, marking the first time that the sport would be showcased to the world on such a grand stage, and hence, engraving its name in history as one of the major sports of its time.

Like in the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, the committee decided to implement a World Cup of Softball, a yearly tournament showcasing the best softball teams throughout the world. The main incentive of this tournament was to get into shape and gauge the competition that they would be facing in the Olympics.

  • NCAA Women's Softball

Women's softball is played on a collegiate level, the NCAA.

National Softball Hall of Fame

National Team Players Inducted Into The National Softball Hall of Fame

  • Men's Players
  • Avon Meacham
  • Dave Scott
  • Jeff Borror
  • Jimmy Moore
  • Bill Boyer
  • Ty Stofflet
  • Ted Hicks
  • David Grimes
  • Brian Rothrock
  • John Anquillare
  • Dennis Place
  • Jim Brackin
  • Al Lewis
  • Joe Lynch
  • Carl Walker
  • Bill Stewart
  • Ray Truluck
  • Chuck D'Arcy
  • Ray Phillips
  • Harvey Sterkel
  • Bob Barron
  • Mike Parnow
  • Vinnie Caserto

Women's Players

  • Peggy Kellers
  • Dot Richardson
  • Sheila Cornell Douty
  • Michele Smith
  • Michele Granger
  • Suzie Graw
  • Barbara Reinalda
  • Pat Dufficy
  • Gina Vecchione
  • Kathy Arendsen
  • Carol Spanks
  • Shirley Topley
  • Nancy Welborn
  • Joan Joyce
  • Nancy Ito
  • Donna Lopiano
  • Bertha Tickey
  • Diane Schumacher
  • Marilyn Rau
  • Rosie Adams
  • Sharron Backus
  • Willie Roze
  • Jackie Rice
  • Mickey Davis
  • Kathryn (Sis) Kin
  • Pat Harrison
  • Rosemary Stratton

Types of softball

There are three general forms of softball: slow pitch, modified pitch and fast pitch.

  • Fast Pitch softball is a very defensive, pitcher-oriented game. The pitcher delivers the ball at maximum speed with little to no arc. The pitch is very similar to that of one thrown by a baseball pitcher, but the two differ primarily in their throwing styles and release points: most baseball pitchers release the ball from a point higher than the catcher's glove (overhand), whereas fast pitch softball pitchers release at a point that is lower than or equal to the height of the catcher's glove (underhand). Speeds of 70+ mph (110+ km/h) are common at the women's professional level. Due to the increased difficulty in hitting the larger, less dense ball, fast pitch softball games are typically played on much smaller fields than their slow pitch counterparts (typically 200 feet [61 meters] from home plate to the center field fence).
  • Modified Pitch softball strikes a balance between fast and slow pitch. The speed of the pitches are limited by not allowing the pitcher to raise their arms above their shoulders.
  • Slow Pitch softball favors the batters by making it easier for them to hit the ball. The ball type in women's and youth competition is usually smaller and more dense than that of the fast pitch variety, making for a harder hit ball to the defense. This type of ball is often referred to as a "Green Dot," due to the green dot on the ball that marks its size range. Men's slow pitch ball type is very similar to that of the fast pitch ball type. Men's slow pitch softballs are often referred to as "Blue Dot," due to the blue dot on the ball that marks its size range. Typically, slow pitch softball fields are much larger (300 feet [90 meters] from home plate to center field) due to the slow pitch batter's increased advantage of range and power over their fast pitch counterparts. The increased hitting advantage to the batter combined with new technology in softball bat manufacturing has forced many softball leagues to impose rules on the number of over-the-fence home runs that may be counted during a game.
  • Slow Pitch Chicago Style softball is popularized by the use of a large 16-inch leather bound 'Kapok' core ball that is caught and thrown with bare hands. No mitt is needed or required or allowed in some leagues. The ball is softened by each hitter's strike and can carry long distances by the use of heavier bats. A 36-ounce bat is the limit in many regulation leagues. The most popular ball for the game is called a Clincher made by DeBeer Company and manufactured in Haiti. It weighs 9 ounces, 3 ounces more than a 12-inch ball which is also used in slow pitch softball, but the difference is a Clincher gets softer as the game progresses while a tightly wound 12-inch ball remains extremely hard and impossible to field with bare hands. This sport is popular in the cities of Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The field

Diagram of a softball diamond.

The playing field is divided into fair territory and foul territory. Fair territory is further divided into the infield, the outfield, and the territory beyond the outfield fence.

The field is defined by foul lines that meet at a right angle at home plate. The minimum length of the baselines varies classification of play (see below for official measurements). A fence running between the baselines defines the limits of the field; this fence is equidistant from home plate at all points.

Behind home plate is a backstop. It must be between 25 and 30 feet (7.62 and 9.14 meters) behind home plate.

Home Plate is a five-sided figure, a combination of a rectangle and triangle, 17 in (43 cm) wide. The sides are 8.5 in (22 cm) long. The triangle fits into the right angle formed by the baselines.

Home plate is one corner of a diamond with bases at each corner. The bases other than home plate are 15 in (38 cm) square, of canvas or a similar material, and not more than 5 in (13 cm) thick. The bases are usually securely fastened to the ground. The bases are numbered counter clockwise as first base, second base, and third base. Often, but not always, outside first base (that is, in foul territory) and adjacent and connected to it there is a contrast-colored "double base" or "safety base." It is intended to prevent collisions between the first baseman and the runner. The runner runs for the foul portion of the double base after hitting the ball while the fielding team tries to throw the ball to the regular first base before the runner reaches the safety base. However, not all softball diamonds have these safety bases and they are much more common in women's softball than in men's. The double base is required in ISF championships.

The infield consists of the diamond and the adjacent space in which the infielders (see below) normally play. The outfield is the remaining space between the baselines and between the outfield fence and the infield. The infield is usually "skinned" (dirt), while the outfield has grass in regulation competitions.

Near the center of the diamond is the pitching plate. In fast pitch, a skinned circle 8 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter known as the pitching circle is around the pitching plate.

A field is officially supposed to have a warning track between 12 and 15 feet (4 and 5 meters) from the outfield fence. However, if the game is being played on a field larger than required, no warning track is required before the temporary outfield fencing.

Located in foul territory outside both baselines are two Coach's Boxes. Each box is behind a line 15 feet (5 meters) long located 12 feet (3 meters) from each baseline.

Official baseline dimensions

Fast Pitch Baselines Slow Pitch Baselines
60 feet (18.29 m) 60 feet or 65 feet (19.81 m)

Fast pitch pitching dimensions

College and Adult Under 18 Under 15
Female Male Female Male Female Male
43 feet (13.11 m) 46 feet (14.02 m) 40 feet (12.19 m) or 35 feet (10.67 m) 46 feet (14.02 m) 40 feet (12.19 m) or 35 feet (10.67 m) 46 feet (14.02 m)

Slow pitch pitching distances

Adult Under 18 Under 15
Female Male Coed Female Male Female Male
50 feet (15.24 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 46 feet (14.02 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 46 feet (14.02 m)


Equipment required in softball includes a ball, a bat, gloves, uniforms and protective gear, including helmets for the offensive team and a helmet and chest protector for the defensive catcher.


Despite the sport's name, the ball itself is not soft. The size of the ball varies according to the classification of play; the permitted circumferences in international play are 12 in (30 cm) and 11 in (28 cm). The ball is most often covered in white leather in two pieces roughly the shape of a figure-eight and sewn together with red thread, although other coverings are permitted. The core of the ball may be made of long fiber kapok, or a mixture of cork and rubber, or a polyurethane mixture, or another approved material. In 2002, high-visibility yellow "optic" softballs were introduced. Yellow is the color of official NCAA and NAIA softballs. Yellow softballs are fast becoming the standard for all levels of play. White balls are also allowed use, but rarely will you use them in games.

In Chicago, where softball was invented, it remains traditional to play with a ball 16 inches in circumference. This larger ball is generally softer (sometimes called a mush ball). When using a 16-inch ball, the fielders do not wear gloves or mitts.[6]


The bat used by the batter is made of metal or composite materials (carbon fiber etc). It may be no more than 34 in (86 cm) long, 2.25 in (6 cm) in diameter, or 38 oz (1.08 kg) in weight. Also, in fast-pitch a "drop" of no more than 12 is allowed. The drop is calculated by taking the length of the bat in inches and subtracting the weight in ounces. If a person is using a composite softball bat it will take a good amount of swings before the bat can be classified as broken in.


All defensive players wear fielding gloves, made of leather or similar material. Gloves have webbing between the thumb and forefinger. The first baseman and the catcher may wear mitts; mitts are distinguished from gloves in that they have extra padding, and no fingers. Except for the pitcher, whose glove cannot be white or gray (this confuses the batter), gloves and mitts can be any color. Gloves used in softball are generally larger than the ones used in baseball.

In 16-inch softball, gloves are generally not worn. It will be determined by league whether gloves are permissible or not.


Each team wears distinctive uniforms. The uniform includes a cap, a shirt, an undershirt, tight sliding undershorts, and shorts or pants; these are the components for which standards are set. Sliding kneepads are also optional.

Caps must be alike and are mandatory for male players. Caps, visors, and headbands are optional for female players, and must be the same color if more than one is worn. A fielder who chooses to wear a helmet (see below) is not required to wear a cap.

Most players use "sliding shorts" otherwise known as compression short. These shorts help protect the upper thigh when sliding towards second, third, or home plate.

At the back of the uniform an Arabic number from 1-99 must be visible. Numbers like 02 and 2 are considered identical. Players' names are optional.

Jewelry, except for medic-alert-style bracelets and necklaces, cannot be worn during a game.

All players are required to wear shoes. They may have cleats or spikes. The spikes must extend less than 3/4 inch (19 millimeters) away from the sole. Rounded metal spikes are illegal, as are ones made from hard plastic or other synthetic materials. Detachable metal cleats are forbidden at any level of play.

Many recreational leagues prohibit the use of metal cleats or spikes in order to reduce the possible severity of injuries when a runner slides feet-first into a fielder. At all youth (under-15) levels, in co-ed (the official terminology for mixed teams) slow pitch, and in modified pitch, metal spikes are not allowed.

Protective equipment

All batters are required to wear batting helmets. Batting helmets must have two ear flaps, one on each side, and a protective cage. Cages are required at most age levels except the youngest level but are mandatory at higher levels of youth softball. The cage prevents balls from hitting the batter's face. Helmets and cages that are damaged or altered are forbidden.

In fast pitch, the catcher must wear a protective helmet with a facemask and throat protector. A female catcher must wear a body protector at any level of play. At the youth level, shin guards are required. Shin guards also protect the kneecap. Also, some third base players or players in other positions may be required to wear a facemask. This is to prevent damage to the face.

In slow pitch, the catcher must wear a helmet and mask at youth levels. At adult levels, there is no formal requirement for the catcher to wear a mask, although the official rules recommend it.[7]

Protective gear of any kind is generally not worn in 16-inch softball.


Decisions about play are made by umpires. They make the decisions like a referee in football. The number of umpires on a given game can range from a minimum of one to a maximum of seven. There is never more than one "plate umpire"; there can be up to three "base umpires," and up to a further three umpires positioned in the outfield. Most fast pitch games use a crew of two umpires (one plate umpire, one base umpire).

Official umpires are often nicknamed "blue," because of their uniforms; in many jurisdictions, most significantly ISF games, umpires wear navy blue slacks, a light powder blue shirt, and a navy baseball cap. Some umpires wear a variant of the uniform: umpires from the United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association (USSSA), for example, wear red shirts with black shorts. Canadian umpires can wear either a light blue or red shirt. Regardless of what uniform is worn, all umpires in the same game are required to have matching clothing. Decisions are usually indicated by both the use of hand signals, and by vocalizing the call. Safe calls are made by signaling with flat hands facing down moving away from each other, and a verbal call of "safe." Out calls are made by raising the right hand in a clenched fist, with a verbal call of "out." Strikes are called by the plate umpire, who uses the same motion as the out call with a verbal call of "strike." Balls are only called verbally, with no hand gesture. The umpire also has the option of not saying anything on a ball. It is understood that when he stands up, the pitch was not a strike. Foul balls are called by extending both arms up in the air with a verbal call of "foul ball," while fair balls are indicated only by pointing towards fair territory with no verbal call. All decisions made by the umpire(s) are considered to be final. Only decisions where a rule might have been misinterpreted are considered to be protestable. At some tournaments there might be a rules interpreter or Tournament Chief Umpire (TCU) available to pass judgment on such protests, but it is usually up to the league or association involved to decide if the protest would be upheld. Protests are never allowed on what are considered "judgment calls," such as calling balls and strikes, fair or foul balls, or whether runners are save or out.


A softball game can last anywhere from three to nine innings, depending on the league, rules, and type of softball; however seven innings is the most common. In each inning, each team bats until three batters have been put out (see below). The teams take turns batting. Officially, which team bats first is decided by a coin toss,[8] although a league may decide otherwise at its discretion. The most common rule is that the home team bats second. Batting second is considered advantageous because they have the last at-bat.

In the event of a tie, extra innings are usually played until the tie is broken except in certain tournaments and championships. If the home team is leading and the road team has just finished its half of the seventh inning, the game ends because it is not necessary for the home team to bat again.

In all forms of softball, the defensive team is the fielding team; the offensive team is at bat or batting and is trying to score runs.


The Play begins with the umpire saying "Play Ball." After the batter is ready and all fielders (except the catcher) are in fair territory, the pitcher stands at the pitching plate and attempts to throw the ball past the batter to the catcher behind home plate. The throw, or pitch, must be made with an underarm motion, often called a "windmill." A windmill motion is done by extending your throwing hand around your body backwards and releasing the ball at about hip level at maximum speeds. The ball must be released below the hip when the hand is no farther from the hip than the elbow. In adult leagues, speeds may top out at 70 mph, the equivalent of a 90 mph fastball in baseball.

The pitcher tries to throw the ball so that it passes through the strike zone. The strike zone is slightly different in different forms of softball. A pitch that passes through that zone is a strike. A pitch that the batter swings at is also a strike, as is any hit ball that lands in foul territory (unless it is fast pitch and two strikes have already been called).

A pitch which is not a strike and which the batter does not swing at is a ball. The number of balls and strikes is called the count. The number of balls is always given first, as 2 and 1, 2 and 2, and so on. A count of 3 and 2 is a full count, since the next ball or strike will end the batter's turn at the plate, unless the ball goes foul.

If the ball lands foul, it is a dead ball and no plays may be made until the pitcher receives the ball again, and the home plate umpire says, "Play ball."

Various illegal acts done by the pitcher, such as leaping or crow-hopping result in a balk. A ball is awarded to the batter, and any runners on base advancing to the next base.

In 16-inch softball, the pitch is lobbed. It must be thrown higher than the batter's head and pass through the strike zone. Umpires often will make calls based on where the ball lands behind the plate.


A batter awaits the pitch

The offensive team sends one batter at a time to home plate to use the bat to try to hit the pitch forward into fair territory. The order the players bat in, known as the batting order, must stay the same throughout the game. Substitutes and replacements must bat in the same position as the player they are replacing. In co-ed, male and female batters must alternate.

The batter stands facing the pitcher inside a batter's box (there is one on each side of the plate). The bat is held with both hands, over the shoulder away from the pitcher. The ball is usually hit with a full swinging motion in which the bat may move through more than 360 degrees. The batter usually steps forward with the front foot when swinging the bat.

Once the ball is hit into fair territory the runner must try to advance to first base or beyond. When she safely reached first (see below) she becomes a base-runner or runner.

A walk is when four balls are called. The batter gets to walk to first and if there is a runner on first the runner gets to advance to second.

A batted ball hit high in the air is a fly ball. A fly ball hit upward at an angle greater than 45 degrees is a pop fly. A batted ball driven in the air through the infield at a height at which an infielder could play it if in the right position is a line drive. A batted ball which hits the ground within the diamond is a ground ball.

Getting the batter out

The batter is out if: three strikes are called (a strikeout); a ball hit by the batter is caught before touching the ground (a flyout); the batter is touched by the ball or by a glove holding the ball while the batter is away from a base (tagged out); a fielder holding the ball touches a base which is the only base towards which the batter may run before the batter arrives there (a force out or force play); or in certain special circumstances. Unlike in baseball, where the batter is allowed unlimited foul balls, in many slow pitch softball leagues only one foul ball is allowed and additional foul balls are considered a strike.

The most common type of force play is made at first base. A batter that drives a ball forward into fair territory must run to first base. If the ball is thrown to first base (that is, to a fielder standing on first base and is holding the ball) before the batter can reach it, the batter is out. A double play is when two runners are put out during a single continuous action; a triple play is when three runners are put out.

In co-ed slow pitch, teams must alternate male and female batters. If a team is, for whatever reason, unable to do this, an out is recorded wherever two players of the same gender bat back-to-back. The missing player is recorded as being "put out."

Advancing around the bases

If the player hits the ball and advances to a base without a fielding error or an out being recorded, that is called a base hit. The bases must be reached in order counterclockwise, starting with first base. After hitting the ball the batter may advance as many bases as possible. An advance to first base on a hit is a single, to second base is a double, to third base is a triple, and to home plate is a home run. Home runs are usually scored by hitting the ball over the outfield fence, but may be scored on a hit that does not go over the fence when the batter is able to score before the fielding team is able to retrieve the ball and tag her out. A home run includes any ball that bounces off a fielder and goes over the fence in fair-territory or that hits the foul pole. If a batted ball bounces off a fielder and goes over the fence in foul territory, hits the fence, a fielder, and then goes over, or if it goes over the fence at a location that is closer than the official distance, the batter is awarded a ground-rule double instead.

If a runner becomes entitled to the base where another runner is standing, the latter runner must advance to the next base. For example, if a player hits the ball and there is a runner on first, the runner on first must try to advance to second because the batter-runner is entitled to first base. If the batter reaches first base without being put out, then that player can then be forced to run towards second base the next time a ball is driven into fair territory.

Runners may advance at their own risk on a hit by another player; after a fly ball has been caught, provided the player tags up, meaning that the runner was touching a base at the time the ball was caught or after; or on an error by a fielder.

Runners advance automatically by rule when a walk advances another player to the runner's current base; when a pitch is delivered illegally, or automatically in certain special circumstances described below.

Special circumstances

If there is a wild throw in which the ball goes out of the designated play area, each runner is awarded the base they were going to, plus one extra base.

In fast pitch, runners may try to get a stolen base by running to the next base on the pitch and reaching it before being tagged with the ball. Until recently, stealing was forbidden in slow pitch because a runner would get a huge head start while the slow pitch is making its way to the batter. As a result of rule changes initiated by the Independent Softball Association which later made its way to the Amateur Softball Association and the International Softball Federation in the 21st century, most levels of slow pitch permit stealing bases, provided the runner starts when the ball either touches the ground or crosses the plate. No matter what level of play, all baserunners must keep one foot on a base until the pitcher throws the ball.

In fast pitch, if the catcher drops strike three (a passed ball) with less than two outs, the batter can attempt to run to first base if first base is unoccupied. The catcher must then attempt to throw the ball to first base ahead of the runner. If he or she cannot, the runner is safe. With two outs, the batter can attempt to run to first whether or not it is already occupied.

Depending on the league in slow pitch only a foul ball with two strikes on the batter means the batter is out. In some leagues they allow 1 foul ball even when the batter has 2 strikes.

Stealing in 16-inch softball is severely restricted, as a runner may only steal the base in front of them if it is open, and if they are thrown at, à la pickoff move or snap throw. This results in many inexperienced players being thrown or doubled off when they attempt to advance on a wild pickoff at another baserunner.

Scoring runs

A run is scored when a player has touched all four bases in order, proceeding counterclockwise from first base to home plate. They need not be touched on the same play; a batter may remain safely on a base while play proceeds and attempt to advance on a later play.

A run is not scored if the last out occurs on a force out during the same play that the runner crosses home plate. However, if a runner crosses home plate before another runner is tagged out on a non-force play, the run does count.

Ending the game

The team with the most runs after seven innings wins the game. The last (bottom) half of the seventh inning or any remaining part of the seventh inning is not played if the team batting second is leading.

If the game is tied, play usually continues until a decision is reached, by using the international tie-breaker rule. Starting in the top of the eighth inning, the batting team starts with a base-runner on second base, which is the player who made the third out in the previous inning.

In games where one team leads by a large margin, the mercy rule may come into play in order to avoid embarrassing weaker teams. In fast pitch and modified pitch, a margin of 20 runs after three innings, 15 after four, or 10 after five is sufficient for a win to be declared for the leading team. In slow pitch, the margin is 20 runs after four innings or 15 after five innings. In the NCAA, the required margin after 5 innings is 8 runs. The mercy rule takes effect at the end of an inning. Thus, if the team batting first is ahead by enough runs for the rule to come into effect, the team batting second is given their half of the inning to try and narrow the margin.

A game may be lost due to a forfeit. A score of 7-0 for the team not at fault is recorded. A forfeit may be called due to any of these circumstances: if a team does not show up to play; if one side refuses to continue play; if a team fails to resume play after a suspension of play ends; if a team uses tactics intended to unfairly delay or hasten the game; if a player removed from the game does not leave within one minute of being instructed to do so; if a player that cannot play enters the game and one pitch has been thrown; if a team does not have, for whatever reason, enough players to continue; or if after warning by the umpire, a player continues to intentionally break the rules of the game. This last rule is rarely enforced as players who break rules after being warned are usually removed.

The plate umpire may suspend play because of darkness or anything that puts players or spectators in danger. If five innings have been played, the game is recorded as it stands. This includes ties. If fewer than four innings have been played, the game is not considered a regulation game.

Games that are not regulation or are regulation ties are resumed from the point of suspension. If it is a championship game, it is replayed from the beginning. Team rosters may be changed.

Modification of rules

One reason for the popularity of softball is the ease of modification of the rules, thereby allowing the game to be adapted to a variety of skill levels. For example, in some slow pitch softball leagues a batter starts at bat with a count of one ball one strike. In some leagues, the number of home runs that can be hit by a team are limited. In other leagues, stealing of bases is prohibited.

Some leagues require teams to use limited flight softballs. These softballs, when hit, will not go as far as regular softballs. Other leagues limit the number of runs that can be scored in an inning. Five is a common limit.

By allowing these and other modifications, softball can be enjoyed by children, teenagers, and adults. Senior leagues with players over the age of 60 are not uncommon.

An example of a rule modification is the "offensive pitcher" (or "self pitch") often found in informal games where the emphasis is on the social rather than the competitive aspects of the game. The pitcher aids the batter by attempting to give the easiest pitch to hit. There are no walks, and a batter is normally given a fixed number of pitches to attempt to hit (usually 3 or 4). The batter is considered to strike out if she fails to hit the ball into fair territory after the given number of pitches. The pitcher does not act as a fielder, and a rule is often made that if a batted ball touches the pitcher, the batter is out.

In some leagues the number of pitches to walk or strikeout can be reduced. For instance, one strike is an out, and two balls is a walk. This is common in leagues where doubleheaders are played, or in late season leagues when reduced daylight is an issue. It results in shorter games, as players are more apt to swing, even at marginal pitches, rather than risk striking out on one pitch.

Many leagues also include a second first base immediately adjacent to the main one. This is usually orange and the batter running through first base is supposed to run straight through it. This minimizes the chances of a collision with the first baseman. By the same token some leagues have an alternate home plate and rule that plays at home are always force plays. In these cases there is typically a white line drawn approximately 1/3 of the way down the baseline that is considered a point of no return. This is designed to reduce the "Pickle," in which the runner is caught in between bases and is chased back and forth by the two baseman in an effort to tag her out. This can put a great strain on the ankles and knees of older baserunners.

Indoor play

Despite the fact that it was originally intended to be played indoors, softball is usually played outdoors. The indoor form is sometimes called Arena Softball. It is most similar to slow pitch. There are no "official" rules for the indoor form, but some general conventions are given below.

Only the wall behind the batter is considered foul territory. The other walls are considered fair. If a ball hits a wall and is caught before it lands, the batter flies out. Usually, there is a small area on one of the walls that results in a home run being awarded if the batted ball hits it.

Pitching is generally of the slow form. The count starts at 1 ball, 1 strike.

The placement of the fielders is different. The pitcher also acts as the second baseman. There is no catcher.

There is no limit to the number of batters a team may have available.

International competition

The ISF holds world championship tournaments in several categories. The tournament in each category is held every four years. The most recent tournament was XI Women's World Championship in late August, early September, 2006. All World Championships use a Page playoff system[9] and are in fastpitch. There are also several World Cups held at four-year intervals in different categories.[10][11]

New Zealand is the current Men's World Champions, having won the last three tournaments.[12] The current Junior Men's World Champion is Australia, which has won the last three championships.[13]

In the Women's World Championships the United States is the most dominant team, having won all three Olympic tournaments and the past six World Championships.[14][15] The current Junior Women's World Champion is the United States.[16]

Popularity and participation

Softball is the most popular participant sport in the United States.[1]An estimated 40 million Americans will play at least one game of softball during a year. It is played by both genders socially as well as competitively.

Softball is played, at some level, in over a hundred countries around the world.[5]. The ISF has 113 member countries, (excluding dependent territories).[17]

In many United States cities, adult softball teams are organized by pubs, hence the popular term "beer-league softball." The teams are almost always co-ed, and skill levels can range from novice to elite, with league composition reflecting the level. These leagues are almost exclusively slow-pitch.

Softball is also popular in Japan, Australia, Canada, China and New Zealand.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 (1996) in David Levinson & Karen Christensen: Encyclopedia of World Sports. London & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195127781. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 ;The History of Softball. International Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  3. Chicago History Museum, "Wait Til Next Year" display
  4. William Humber. Baseball. Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 About Softball. Australian Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  6. Wynne, Sharon Kennedy (2005-07-27). A kinder, gentler softball. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  7. Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specifiedInternational Softball Federation Playing Rules Committee. (Adobe Acrobat (pdf)). International Softball Federation.
  8. Official Rules of Softball, ISF. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  9. Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified (PDF). International Softball Federation (1952-2003).
  10. Past Results. International Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  11. Events Calendar. International Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  12. Andrea Blackshaw (2004-02-09). New Zealand Three-peats at Men's World Championships. International Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  13. Pat Healey (2005-07-03). Australia Claims Jr. Men's World Championships. International Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  14. USA Wins 2006 Women's World Championship. International Softball Federation (2006-09-05). Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  15. Four Teams Qualify for 2004 Olympic Games. International Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  16. Japan Dethroned as World Champs. International Softball Federation (2007-06-30). Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  17. Directory/Member Countries. International Softball Federation. Retrieved February 5, 2009.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Canadian Encyclopedia. Baseball. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  • Chicago History Museum, "Wait Til Next Year" display.
  • International Softball Federation. The History of Softball.
  • International Softball Federation Playing Rules Committee. Official Rules of Softball (Adobe Acrobat (pdf)). International Softball Federation. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
  • International Softball Federation. Technical & Venue Manual for Olympic, World Championships, Regional, and Multi-sport Competitions (PDF).
  • Levinson, David, and Karen Christensen (eds). Encyclopedia of World Sport: From Ancient Times to the Present. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0195127782
  • Wynne, Sharon Kennedy. A kinder, gentler softball. St. Petersburg Times, July 27, 2005.

External links

All links retrieved January 30, 2023.


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