Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Softball, 16-Inch
Softball, 16-Inch

Softball, 16-Inch

When former president Jimmy Carter, a softball enthusiast, was presented with a 16-inch softball during a 1998 Chicago visit, the unfamiliar object fascinated him. It's not surprising that he had never seen one before, because although thousands of games of 16-inch softball fill Chicago's parks every summer Sunday, the game is virtually unknown outside of the city.

Softball was invented in Chicago in November 1887. The exact dimensions of the first ball, crafted from boxing -glove laces by creator George Hancock, is unknown. A 14-inch ball was used, however, in 1933 when 70,000 people saw the first major tournament game at the Century of Progress Exposition.

Eventually the 12-inch ball became the national standard, but Chicago embraced the softer 16-inch or “mush” ball. While its smaller cousin can be pitched fast or slow, the always slow-pitched Chicago softball makes for easier contact by the batter. Also, the softness of the ball allows for the game to be played barehanded.

Claflin, Edward. The Irresistible American Softball Book. 1978.
Hevrdejs, Judy, and Mike Conklin. “A Convert.” Chicago Tribune, October 30, 1998.