There’s nothing soft about the 6 or 7 ounce, 11- to 12-inch ball at the center of the sport of softball. But, if it’s not soft (which it isn’t), why is a softball a softball?
It actually all goes back to the “ball” that the game began with. In 1887, a group of Harvard & Yale alumni were socializing inside a club in Chicago, IL, keeping tabs on the football game that was being played between the two schools. After Yale won, one of the Yale’s supporters picked up a boxing glove & playfully threw it at a disappointed Harvard guy, who, in turn, swatted it away with a stick.
At that moment, a light bulb went off in the head of a reporter who also happened to be there watching the horseplay. George Hancock was his name, and he cinched up the boxing glove to make it more aerodynamic & then encouraged other club members to start up a baseball game there inside the club.
That softer version of baseball actually caught on & eventually made its way from the inside of a club to the great outdoors, while other versions of the game developed with people using a small medicine ball. The game, itself, had various different names along the way, including “indoor ball”, “diamond ball”, “playground ball”, and even “kitten ball” (because the ball was sometimes made of leather-wrapped yarn). In 1926, at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress, an official of the YMCA officially recognize the game. And it was at that time that the game received its now official name…“softball”. And by the 1930s, there were hundreds of softball leagues enjoying the new sport across the country.
Earlier versions of the game may have featured softer & more cushioned balls, almost all softballs today are usually made with polyurethane or kapok fiber or some other similar firm material (or cork for youth league balls) and covered with either a synthetic or natural leather skin. So, from those soft yarn-stuffed balls, improvised by some guys in a club, to our hardened modern softball, the centerpiece of the sport simply adopted the name of the game itself.