Origin of Softball

As George Hancock saw someone hit a boxing glove with a broom handle inside the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago, he yelled "let's play ball". He had just had a vision - this was indoor baseball. The main adjustment had to come with pitching. In 1884, Baseball had just turned to overhand pitching, but indoors, it had to be done underhand.

Hancock was a reporter for The Chicago Board of Trade. On Thanksgiving Day 1887 he was waiting for the result of the annual football game between Yale and Harvard Universities. The man who threw the boxing glove was a Yale alumnus and intended to celebrate a 17-8 victory. The hitter was a Harvard alumnus and intended to return the glove. But he hit it hard enough to send it well above the head of his friend from Yale.

George Hancock
George Hancock

Hancock was quick to grab a piece of chalk and mark a home plate, the bases and a pitcher's box. He tied the boxing glove with its own strings to get something close to a sphere and confirmed the broom handle as a bat.

The teams were formed in a matter of minutes and ended up playing all day. Over 80 runs were scored.

First Rules

Hancock went on to publish an Indoor Baseball Guide and in the following summer took the game outdoors. Indoor/Outdoor was played on fields not big enough for baseball. By 1889 Hancock had created a set of rules.

According to author Erica Westly, the rules were "vague" enough to leave room for interpretation, mainly on the size of the ball and the distance between the bases. Indoor Baseball became nonetheless very popular in the Chicago Area. By 1892 Amateur Leagues featured over 100 teams and had been introduced into the Cook County High School League, that involved all the public High Schools in Chicago and its suburbs. Indoor Baseball was played with a 17-inch ball (over 43 centimetres) and a narrow bat. As the game moved outdoors, the size of the ball was reduced to 16 inches (almost 41 centimetres).

The first girl's team was formed in 1895 by the West Division High School (then McKinley; it closed in 1954) and it took four years to find some competition. By 1889, Medill High School, that had opened in 1898, had an Indoor Baseball team for girls.

Women's sport wasn't too popular in the late nineteenth century. The Victorian notion that "strenuous physical activity" could put women at risk of "infertility and premature death" was far from being challenged.

Kitten Ball

In 1895 Lieutenant Lewis Robert Senior thought the Firefighters of the Minneapolis station needed some exercise while waiting for an alarm. He created an Indoor/Outdoor field in a vacant lot outside the station. The Firefighters played using a ball of yarn wrapped in leather. The game became known as kitten ball in the Minneapolis area. Competition between Firefighters attracted up to 3,000 spectators.

The game was also known under the names of mush ball, big ball, town ball, recreation ball or playground ball. By 1897 it had expanded to Canada.

Albert Spalding

In 1907 Albert Spalding published his guide to what he kept calling Indoor Baseball. A rule book published in 1908 stated that the first batter in each inning determined in which direction to run after hitting the ball. 

Indoor Softball Team
Indoor Softball Team

The new game had different versions with two constants: the ball was bigger then a baseball and the pitching was underhand.