OLYMPIC GAMES | SOFTBALL AND BASEBALL

What are the differences between baseball and softball? rules, players, position, game duration

Although the two games are quite similar in many respects, they have some differences beyond throwing the ball overhand versus underhanded. Here’s a look...

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What are the differences between baseball and softball? rules, players, position, game duration
Issei Kato REUTERS

Baseball pre-dates softball by more than a century, although it wasn’t until 1845 when Alexander Joy Cartwright would codify the rules to America’s favorite pastime. Softball is believed to have originated as an indoor version of the game, first played in Chicago in 1887.

Baseball and softball have been absent from the Olympic Games since 2008 when they were pulled from the Olympics list of sports. However, being that both are highly popular sports in the host nation, Japan successfully pushed for their re-inclusion in the program.

The most obvious difference, how the ball is pitched

The can’t-miss difference between baseball and softball is how the pitcher throws the ball toward the batter.

In baseball the pitcher stands on a mound in the center of the diamond and fires off the ball using an overhand throw. The pitched ball often travels much faster in baseball reaching speed normally over 90 mph, with the fastest recorded pitch at 105.1 mph. The distance between the mound and home plate is longer in baseball, measuring 60 feet and 6 inches.

Softball pitchers on the other hand throw the ball from a circle in the center of the diamond using an underhand throw. Softballers can pitch the ball at over 60 mph, with the fastest pitch recorded at 77 mph. The ball covers a shorter distance of just 43 feet between pitcher and batter.

Other differences in the diamond and field

Like the distance between where the ball is pitched and the batter, the field size for each sport is different with the softball field being smaller. Both games use a diamond shape for the placement of the four plates. Players in both sports cover the same positions around the field and have the same purpose. There are a total of nine positions on the field that are always played by the defensive team.

The softball field measures 200 feet at the farthest point from the home plate. The distance between plates is two thirds that of baseball, measuring 60 feet from plate to plate. It has been argued that softball is harder than baseball due to the tighter quarters the field provides players.

Baseball players must slug the ball twice the distance of their softball counterparts to get the ball beyond the fence. The outfield fence is generally 400 feet from home plate at its farthest point. Players must also cover 90 feet to get from one plate to the next.

Bats and balls

Softball uses a bigger, heavier and “softer” ball than baseball. The ball’s circumference measures about 12 inches. The ball has a mass between 6 1/4 and 7 ounces. A softball, for the uninitiated who don’t have the two balls side by side, can be differentiated by its yellow stitching as well. Batters use a slightly shorter bat measuring at most 34 inches.

Baseballs on the other hand have red stitching. The circumference is 9 to 9 1/4 inches and with a mass of 5 to 5 1/4 ounces. A baseball bat can measure up to 42 inches long.

The number of innings differ in baseball and softball

Regulation baseball games are nine innings. But in the event of a tie at the end of the ninth the game continues into extra innings until one team has a numerical advantage at the end of an extra inning. Softball games go for seven innings with extra innings if there is a tie at the end of the seventh. For the Toyko Games, the additional softball innings will be played under the tie-breaker rule, where innings begin with a runner on second base.