Fastpitch softball is one of the most widely played sports in the world, with tens of millions of active participants in various age groups. Read more...
Fastpitch softball is one of the most widely played sports in the world, with tens of millions of active participants in various age groups. But the origins of this beloved sport and the charismatic athletes who helped it achieve prominence in the mid-twentieth century have been largely forgotten, until now.
Fastpitch brings to life the eclectic mix of characters that make up softball's vibrant 129-year history. From its humble beginnings in 1887, when it was invented in a Chicago boat club and played with a broomstick, to the rise in the 1940s and 1950s of professional-caliber company-sponsored teams that toured the country in style, softball's history is as diverse as it is fascinating. Though it's thought of today as a woman's sport, fastpitch softball's early years featured several male stars, such as the vaudeville-esque Eddie Feigner, whose signature move was striking out batters while blindfolded.
But because softball was one of the only team sports that women were allowed to play competitively, it took on added importance for female athletes. Top fastpitch teams of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, such as the New Orleans Jax Maids and Connecticut's Raybestos Brakettes, gave women access to employment and travel opportunities that would have been unavailable to them otherwise. At a time when female athletes had almost no prospects, softball offered them a chance to flourish. Women put off marriage and moved across the country just for a shot at joining a strong team.
Told from the perspective of such influential players as Bertha Ragan Tickey, who set strikeout records and taught Lana Turner to pitch, and Joan Joyce, who struck out baseball legend Ted Williams and helped found a professional softball league with Billie Jean King, Fastpitch chronicles softball's rich history and its uncertain future (as evidenced by its controversial elimination from the 2012 Olympics and the mounting efforts to have it reinstated). A celebration of this unique American sport and the role it plays in our culture today, Fastpitch is as entertaining as it is inspiring.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-04-11
- Reviewer: Staff
This well-researched book on softball history underscores the fact that present-day women’s sports face all the same hurdles they did a century ago. Though softball was invented in 1887, the fastpitch version only became a spectator sport in 1933 at the Chicago World Fair. In the 1930s, softball was one of the few sports women were allowed to play. The sport mainly grew via amateur leagues where companies sponsored teams. Though games were well-attended, teams were not profitable because tickets were cheap; the teams with the richest sponsors won most of the championships because their players could live on their softball salaries and focus on sports. The late 1960s saw the first push to get softball into the Olympics after Australia hosted a five-country international tournament. Still, women in sports continued to be treated as a novelty. Title IX became law in 1972 and created new opportunities in college sports for female athletes and coaches. An unexpected result was the fall of the adult leagues; as Westly explains, by the early 1980s, “fastpitch was now primarily a college sport.” At present, “to actually make a living playing softball, most players have to go overseas.” This, along with other ongoing battles for equity, shows the importance of Westly’s historical account. (June)