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What Are the Major Differences between Baseball and Softball?

We all know that baseball and softball are two different games. But only a few know that softball was inspired by baseball. Even fewer know the basic differences among the two sports. Those who have nothing to do with sport activities consider them similar games. And they are not entirely wrong. There are many similar rules between baseball and softball, but there are definitely many differences too. After all, they are two completely different sports.

Abstract colorful background with black baseball player silhouette training and hitting some balls far away

Abstract colorful background with black baseball player silhouette training and hitting some balls far away

Softball was born in 1887 Chicago by George Hancock. One of his friends threw a boxing glove and another person hit the glove with a stick. Hancock screamed, “Let’s play ball,” and this was actually the very first softball game ever played. At first, it was only played indoors and it wasn’t until one year later when it was first played outdoors. In 1889, Hancock wrote down the first softball rules, which have been modified since then. Today, softball is not just a completely different sport from baseball, but it’s also distinguished in slowpitch and fastpitch games.

5 Basic Baseball and Softball Differences

1. Pitching

The pitching technique among the two sports is completely different. In baseball, the player stands in a mound with a nine-foot radius and throws the ball overhand. In softball, the ball is thrown underhand from a flat pitching area which covers an 8-foot radius. The pitching distance from the mound to the plate in baseball is 60 feet and 6 inches. In softball, the pitching distance ranges from 35 to 43 feet.

2.Equipment

The basic equipment for both sports is bats and balls. Though, they are both completely different. Usually the bat for both sports has the same length and reaches up to 34 inches. In some rare occasions, baseball players might use 42-inch long bats.

One common thing in both sports is that the difference between the bat’s length and weight makes the bat’s drop. With the bat length estimated in 34 inches and its weight at 24 ounces, the bat’s drop will be 10. Those who engage in these sports refer to the bat’s drop as “-10” or “drop-10”.

Baseball and softball bats differ as to their weight and that’s why their drop is different too. Maximum drop for softball bats is 12 ounces and cannot be heavier than -8. When it comes to baseball bats used by players from high school age and older, they usually have a drop of -3.

The shape of the bat is also different. Softball bats are slender and their maximum diameter is 2 ¼ inches. The sweet spot diameter of baseball bats is up to 2 ¾ inches.

Baseballs and softballs are also different. Baseballs have a 9-inch circumference whereas softballs have a 12-inch circumference and they are not as dense as baseballs. Sometimes, slowpitch softballs may have 14 (and rarely 16) inch circumference. The color of the ball differs too. Softballs are yellow and baseballs are white. Young softball players use a 10-inch white ball.

Baseball Game

3. Game

  • Innings – The number of innings in baseball is nine whereas in softball is seven.
  • Tied games – Tied games are played differently. When it comes to baseball, in the event of a tied score after the 9th inning, the game continues till one team manages to lead after a completed inning. Although softball is played in a similar way, there is an extra element missing from baseball. It has to do with the runner. So if the game is tied after the 8th inning, the offensive team continues the game at bat with the player who was supposed to bat ninth in the half inning placed on second base. Each inning starts with a runner on second base and the game continues till there is a winner, but the teams can substitute their runners based on their related rules.
  • Mercy rules – There are mercy rules for both games. In baseball, a team can use the mercy rule to end the game if a team wins by 10 runs after 7 complete innings of 9-inning game.

The small difference with softball is that the mercy rule can be used when a team is ahead by 8 runs and after five complete innings.

The baseball and softball high school rules follow a slightly different mercy rule. They can use the mercy rule if a team is leading with 10 runs after five complete innings or when it wins with 15 runs after four complete innings.

  • Lead-offs – the rules applied in each sport are completely different. The runner in baseball is allowed to lead off or steal the ball when it is live. In softball, the only time the runner is allowed to leave the bag is when the ball is already released. In a different case, it is an automatic out.

4. Field

The baseball baseline is 90 feet whereas the softball baseline is 60 feet. It can go up to 65 feet for slowpitch softball. The short base distance creates two fields of different sizes. In baseball, the home run fence is 250 feet minimum. Today, some stadiums put fences approximately 400 feet away from the center field and 325 feet further from the foul lines. When it comes to softball, the minimum size is 220 feet in centerfield.

5. Professional Baseball and Softball

People mostly talk about the Major League Baseball and only a few bother with the National Pro Fastpitch. When it comes to softball, slowpitch players usually play for leisure. But even those who engage in professional fastpitch softball, they often have other jobs and dedicate their free time to play professional softball. Most softball professional players only dedicate two years of their lives. And these things are not strange if you consider that average National Pro Fastpitch players get $2,000-$5,000 per season whereas players for Major League Baseball get $3.27 million per season.

Softball professional players engage longer only if they get endorsements or are offered coaching jobs. One rare case was with Jennie Finch who got a $10,000 annual contract with the Chicago Bandits in 2004. After the Beijing Olympic Games, Finch got endorsements and managed to accumulate $400,000 per year from softball.

Softball might not be as popular as baseball, but it has definitely grown from its infant stage. There are several similarities among the two sports but as shown here there are also many differences. They both have fans and they are both great sports. What we tried to do here is to draw the lines between the two sports so that everyone can understand the basics. In spite of their differences, between baseball and softball, choose both to either learn how to play or watch.

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