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Baseball and Softball

Learn what differences separate baseball and softball.

Both baseball and softball use balls, bats and gloves. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Both baseball and softball use balls, bats and gloves.

While baseball and softball have much in common, they are two very different sports. Softball is not baseball for girls with a smaller field, as many people believe. The Olympics and court rulings have distinguished baseball and softball as separate sports, explains the Women's Sports Foundation.

How Baseball and Softball are Similar

According to Baseball-Rules.org, baseball and softball are both games played on fields with a home base and three other bases. In both games, a pitcher throws the ball toward the batter, who stands at the plate. Foul lines divide the field, so players can determine whether the ball is in play. The equipment to play baseball and softball is also similar. Both baseball and softball use balls, bats and gloves. The players strike the ball with the bat to advance around the field to home base. Players attempt to catch the ball using gloves.

Pitching Differences

In general, baseball pitches are harder and faster than softball pitches. Softball players can throw the ball at about 65 miles per hour, compared to 90 miles per hour for baseball pitchers. Baseball has only a fast pitch, while softball has three types of pitches: fast, slow and modified. Softball players often pitch underhanded with a windmill-style motion. Baseball players are only allowed to pitch over-handed. The ball often arcs into the air in softball. It does not do so in baseball. However, both sports can contain different types of pitches. For example, softball pitchers may pitch curveballs and drop balls, similar to baseball players.

Female softball pitchers stand closer to the plate -- 40 feet away for a fast pitch and 50 feet away for a slow pitch. Men's soft pitch is the same as women's soft pitch, but men pitch 46 feet from the play in fast pitch softball. Baseball pitchers stand 60 feet, six inches away from the plate

Pitchers leave the pitching rubber in softball, but not in baseball. Because softball players step toward the plate when they pitch, batters have little reaction time. Still, the force of the bat hitting the softball has actually been measured as greater than the force of the bat hitting a baseball.

Field Differences

Softball fields differ from baseball fields in the following ways:

  • Field dimensions. Softball was originally played inside. Thus, the softball field is smaller than the baseball field. The bases are 60 feet apart in softball, a shorter distance than in baseball, which has a distance of 90 feet between bases.
  • Infield ground. Softball players play on fields made of crushed clay. Baseball players play on grass.
  • Outfield fence length from home plate. Baseball outfield fences are 100 to 200 feet farther from home plate than softball outfield fences.

Equipment Differences

While both baseball and softball use a ball and bat, these key pieces of equipment have different dimensions, depending on the sport.

  • Size of the ball. Softballs are roughly 12 inches in circumference and weigh between six and seven ounces. Slow pitch softballs are even larger. Baseballs are nine inches. The baseball is denser in composition than the softball.
  • Shorts versus pants. Olympic softball players wear shorts while baseball players wear pants. However, softball is sometimes played in pants in other levels.
  • Bats. Softball bats are typically lighter than baseball bats, but they can be longer. Baseball bats range from 31 to 34 inches long, whereas softball bats range from 32 to 34 inches long. Baseball bats can weigh 28 to 31 ounces while softball bats range from 23 to 30 ounces. Baseball bat barrels are thicker than softball bat barrels.

Other Differences

  • Governing bodies. According to the Women's Sports Foundation, baseball and softball are governed by different international and national bodies. Those governing bodies set rules for the sports.
  • Number of innings. Softball games have seven innings, while baseball games have nine innings. As a result, softball games are usually shorter than baseball games.
  • Team size. Softball uses 10-member teams for some soft pitch leagues. Baseball teams have nine members on the field.
  • Reentering game after substitution. Softball players can reenter the game after a substitution. This is not allowed in baseball.
  • Leaving base. Softball players can only leave the base after the pitcher releases the ball. This is not true of baseball players, who are free to leave the base.
  • Mercy stops. In fast pitch softball, games can be stopped under certain conditions when a team is losing by 10 runs or more. This is not true of baseball.

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