Apr 27, 2022 - Things to Do

16-inch softball is back in Chicago this week

Photo of 16 inch softballs in a bag.
A bag of 16-inch softballs. Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Baseball is already in full swing, but soon Chicago's real game will be taking over park district diamonds.

Flashback: "16-inch softball started in Chicago over 130 years ago at The Farragut Boat Club," 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame spokesperson George Bliss tells Axios.

  • Back then, Bliss says, "Chicagoans used broomstick handles as bats and a boxing glove as a ball."

For beginners: The game uses a bigger, softer ball called a Clincher.

  • The pitcher throws an underhand slow pitch with a 6-to-12-foot rainbow arc.
  • There are 10 defensive players. Four of them are usually in the outfield.
  • The rest of the rules are similar to baseball, but with one glaring difference: there are no gloves. "Anytime you use gloves, it's baseball. Softball is a no-glove concept, pure and simple," Bliss says.

For old-timers like Bliss, 16-inch is the only way. Don't ask him about the 12-inch hardball variety played in other parts of the country.

  • "It's just a watered-down baseball game for weaklings that can't catch a simple ball," he says.

Go deeper: A city-wide tournament finally returned to the parks last year after a 10-year hiatus. Although the sport is great for amateurs, it also attracts some of the best softball players in the country to Chicago for tournaments like:

Of note: The 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame just announced their 2022 inductees.

What's next: The Kup Media League starts on May 16 at Mozart Park on the northwest side. Both Justin & Monica play for the Axios/Chicago4Real team. Since there are only two of us, we are officially accepting ringers (ahem, freelancers).

  • But we'll only let you play if you have a big Chicago mustache.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say the arc on a pitch is 6 to 12 feet (not inches).


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