“A League of Their Own for the softball set” (Lily Koppel, bestselling author of The Astronaut Wives Club), Fastpitch is hidden history at its most intriguing—the tale of the forgotten beginnings of one of the most popular and widely played sports today.
Softball is played by tens of millions in various age groups all around the world, but the origins of this beloved sport (and the charismatic athletes who helped it achieve prominence in the mid-twentieth century) have been shrouded in mystery…until now.
Fastpitch brings to vivid 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 varied as it is fascinating. Though it’s thought of today as a female sport, fastpitch softball’s early history is full of 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 also allowed women to play competitively, it took on added importance for female athletes. Women like Bertha Ragan Tickey, who set strikeout records and taught Lana Turner to pitch, and her teammate Joan Joyce, who struck out baseball star Ted Williams, made a name—and a life—for themselves in an era when female athletes had almost no prospects. Softball allowed them to flourish, and they in turn inspired a whole new generation of athletes.
Featuring eight pages of captivating, vintage photos and compelling, well-researched historical commentary, this “fun and entertaining read” (Billie Jean King) chronicles softball’s unique history as well as 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 distinctively American game and the role it plays in our culture today, Westly has written “a must-read for anyone who loves the sport” (Jonathan Fader, author of Life as Sport).
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.