All Teams
All Teams

The story of the Ivy Leaguers who used their Thanksgiving to invent the sport of softball

main image
Library of Congress

There's no such thing as a baseball offseason -- at least not if you try hard enough.

As proof, we offer the story of the Harvard and Yale alumni who congregated at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago on Thanksgiving 1887. So badly did they miss our national pastime, so desperately did they need baseball back in their lives, that they went ahead and invented an indoor version -- a game that would eventually grow to become ...

Softball.

Below is an excerpt from a New York Times article that ran on Nov. 26, 1900:

News

After hearing that Yale bested Harvard, 17-8, on the gridiron, someone in attendance at the Boat Club rolled up a boxing glove and pitched it toward a friend in celebration -- who, naturally, swung at it with a stick.

Watching all of this unfold was George Hancock, then a reporter with the Chicago Board of Trade. While the alumni saw a makeshift contest among friendly rivals, Hancock saw an idea: "Say, boys," he's reported to have said in a quote that is possibly apocryphal but certainly awesome, "let's play baseball."

He grabbed a piece of chalk and quickly sketched out a diamond, marking off home plate, the bases and the foul lines. The room divided into two teams. That first match ended in a 41-40 slugfest, and it didn't take long for word to spread. The first official indoor baseball game ever played took place on Christmas Day 1888, at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. By 1891, Hancock had released has very own set of written rules.

The ball was nearly as big as that original boxing glove, measuring 17 inches in diameter, while the bat couldn't be wider than 1.75 inches. Those numbers were similar in concept to the dimensions of modern softball, as you can see in this photo from the Chicago Historical Society:

Softball

Finally given the chance to play baseball year-round, the game quickly grew, with modifications being made in local leagues all across the country.

Then, in 1933, sporting goods salesmen Leo Fischer and Michael J. Pauley decided to take it national: The two proposed organizing the local softball teams of America into the American Softball Association -- with a massive tournament at the World's Fair in Chicago (the same World's Fair that held the first Major League All-Star Game) to bring them all together.

Just one more thing to give thanks for tomorrow.


COMMENTS