Indoor-outdoor, diamond ball, or whatever you chose to call it, took on the moniker “softball” in 1926 after a Denver YMCA official suggested the name. The newly christened sport made a giant leap in 1933 when a Chicago reporter and sporting goods salesman organized a softball tournament in conjunction with the world’s fair. Leo Fischer (the reporter) and Michael Pauley (he would be the salesman) invited 55 teams to compete in three tournament divisions: men’s fastpitch, men’s slowpitch and women’s. More than 350,000 spectators watched tournament games at the ball field inside the world’s fair grounds. This tournament was the catalyst for the spread of softball. Teams, leagues and tournaments began to spring up in nearly every US town and in many parts of the world. During the next seven years, historians estimate that more than five million people played softball.

Organizing the Game
The success of the tournament spurred the founding of the Amateur Softball Association in the fall of 1933. The Association brought much-needed standardized rules to the game. The ASA has always believed that softball is a game for all ages of participants, so it has set rules for different age groups. A 12-inch ball is now the standard with many youth leagues using an easier to handle 11-inch size. Some leagues play a variation of softball using a 16-inch ball.

The size of the field varies with age and between the fastpitch and slowpitch games. The pitching rubber is anywhere from 35 to 50 feet from home plate and the distance between bases ranges from 55 to 65 feet.

Local, regional and even national competition among men’s and co-ed slowpitch softball teams is highly competitive but it is the fastpitch game that has caught fire internationally. The windmill motion of a fastpitch softball pitcher can send the ball to the plate at speeds equal to major league baseball pitchers.

Since 1951, the International Softball Federation has governed worldwide softball competition. The first women’s fastpitch world championships were played in 1965 in Melbourne, Australia. The host team won the five-team competition. The first men’s world championships were played a year later in Mexico City. The US men’s team won the 1966 title. Since 1970, softball world championship tournaments have been played every four years. Click here to see a list of winners.

World Softball Champions (Women)

YearFirst PlaceSecond PlaceThird Place
1965AustraliaUnited StatesJapan
1970JapanUnited StatesPhilippines
1974United StatesJapanAustralia
1978United StatesCanadaNew Zealand
1982New ZealandTaiwanAustralia
1986United StatesChinaNew Zealand
1990United StatesChinaAustralia
1994United StatesChinaAustralia
1998United StatesAustraliaJapan
2002United StatesJapanChinese Taipei
2004United StatesAustraliaJapan
2006United StatesJapanAustralia
2008JapanUnited StatesAustralia

World Softball Champions (Men)

YearFirst PlaceSecond PlaceThird Place
1966United StatesMexicoNew Zealand
1968United StatesCanadaMexico
1972CanadaUnited StatesNew Zealand
1976Canada, New Zealand,CanadaBahamas
United States*
1980United StatesCanadaUnited States
1984New ZealandNew ZealandCanada
1988United StatesNew ZealandUnited States
1996New ZealandJapanUnited States
2000New ZealandCanadaAustralia
2004New ZealandNew ZealandCanada
2009AustraliaNew ZealandCanada
2013New Zealand

The Women’s Game Excels
In 1996, women’s fastpitch softball reached the pinnacle of sports when it became an Olympic medal event. The US women’s team has won all three softball gold medals awarded in the sport. The strength of the US team reflects the popularity of fastpitch softball among women in the United States. In 1982, the National Collegiate Athletic Association began holding championships in women’s softball. This championship tournament is now called the Softball World Series. UCLA has dominated the competition and won the title 11 times. A women’s professional softball league formed in 1976 and lasted four years.

 More than 25 million people in the United States alone now actively play the game that began in a boating club with a boxing glove and a group of football fans.