If you've ever watched baseball or softball tournaments on TV, it may seem nearly impossible to figure out the differences between the two—other than the obvious fact that the balls themselves are different.
However, the two sports have many differences and, in this article, we’re going to answer the question—what is the difference between baseball and softball?
History of Softball
Softball was first introduced as a safer iteration of baseball. While baseball is one of the most popular sports in the world, it comes with its share of dangers.
Softball, initially, was offered as an indoor version of baseball in 1887. However, just one year later, the game started being played outdoors as well and quickly caught on.
The name of the sport has also gone through several different iterations. It was called mushball and kittenball before eventually, in the 1920s, settling on the moniker it has today—softball.
While the game started as a casual way for amateur players to experience the thrill of baseball, it quickly caught on and became an official sport. In 1933, the ASA (Amateur Softball Association of America) was formed, cementing the sport's place in history. This also led to women being included in the sport.
In 1965, the increasing popularity of the sport also led to the formation of the International Softball Federation (ISF). As national and international authorities started being formed for the sport, the differences between baseball and softball became more pronounced and official.
Softball and baseball fields, while similar in shape and design, are different in size. In baseball, the distance between bases is 90 feet. In softball, it is 60 feet. Meanwhile, the distance between the home plate to the outfield fence is typically 250 feet or more. In softball, that distance is typically less than 250 feet.
Another big difference is the pitcher’s mound. In baseball, it is a raised area in the center of the infield. In softball, the pitcher stands on a flat mound.
Because of the difference in the field of play and base distance, softball moves at a much faster pace than baseball. These smaller distances mean it takes less time to run between bases and throw the ball across the field.
As the name of the sport suggests, softball comes with a softer ball than baseball. The color scheme used in both the sports is also different. While baseballs are white with red stitching, softballs are yellow with red stitching.
Softballs are also bigger than baseballs. The circumference of a baseball is nine inches while a softball’s circumference is 12 inches. However, there is also a version of softball for younger players that comes in a 10-inch circumference.
While the exterior of a baseball is typically a cowhide leather, the core is made out of cork and rubber wrapped in yarn. The core of a softball can be made out of different materials like kapok fiber or polyurethane. The covering can be made out of synthetic, composite, or natural leather.
The reason why softballs are softer than baseballs is that softball players are mostly amateurs or casual players, often including women and children at a younger level. To prevent the risk of injury in players of a lower skill level, the covering of the softball is made softer for impact protection.
While the shape and design of the bats used in both sports is very similar, baseball bats are longer, thicker, and heavier than softball bats.
While professional baseball players are only allowed to use wooden bats, softball players can use bats made of wood, metal, or other materials.
Pitching Style Difference
If you're watching these sports, one of the most noticeable differences is the pitching styles.
In baseball, a pitch is thrown overhanded—i.e. the arm reaches back, then transfers momentum to the ball by slinging up and over. Softball requires underhanded pitches—i.e. the arm, in a circular motion, is swung up and backward, transferring momentum to the ball as it is released when the arm swings back toward the front of the pitcher’s body. Check out this video on beginner fastpitch for softball to learn more.
An interesting thing to note is that baseball players are not obliged to throw an overhand pitch. Underhanded pitches are allowed, but these do not deliver nearly the maximum velocity as overhand or sidearm pitches. Check out this video on how to pitch a baseball to learn more.
For this reason, and because of the difference in ball size and density, baseball pitches can reach speeds faster than 90 miles per hour. The fastest pitch recorded in Major League Baseball came in at a whopping 105.1 miles per hour, thrown by Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman in 2010. Softball pitches usually reach speeds of around 60 miles per hour. The fastest softball pitch recorded, thrown by Monica Abbott in a 2012 National Pro Fastpitch game, reached an impressive 77 miles per hour.
While there are many coed and female-only baseball associations out there around the world, professional baseball athletes are typically men. Likewise, softball leagues have different iterations, but—at the highest levels of competition—it is typically female players who populate this sport.
Softball is derived from baseball as a smaller and safer alternative, but both sports are wildly popular throughout the world. The differences between the two sports include the balls and bats used, the fields they're played on, the speed of the game, and the way the ball is pitched.
I hope that this article has helped you understand what is the difference between baseball and softball. If you're interested in similar topics, please feel free to check out our other articles as well.