I’ve played softball since I was 19 years old; I’m still playing at 57 in a C-D level co-ed recreation league.
As the athletic supervisor for Gloucester Parks, Recreation and Tourism in Virginia, I have also set up many leagues. I absolutely love the game. After all this time, I’m curious as to why such a great sport has turned into a homerun derby and a dangerous one at that.
The game (at least for mid-level players and teams) used to be beautiful, with a few legitimate “power hitters.” The rest of the team tried to get hits or go the opposite way with a runner on first--many strategies came into play.
Now, during a men’s league game, everybody plays for the three-run homerun, and nobody is thinking strategy. Guys who were never homerun hitters are now blasting them at a very high rate with their $365 double-wall, composite super bats.
Protection For Self-Preservation
Last summer, I ventured into the men’s league for a few games and was surprised to see a few changes--the pitching rubber is back to 53 feet, the bases at 70 feet and many guys I know who are good pitchers won’t play the position.
One pitcher was wearing a mask and shin guards for self-preservation.
When the third baseman and first baseman were playing in the outfield to be safe, I realized that strategy was gone from the game, and players were constantly worried about getting hurt.
I myself had second thoughts about going out there to pitch. I’m still a good pitcher in our Sunday co-ed rec league. I had survived 39 years of playing without getting decapitated, but I said I would catch.
In talking with crossover players--those who previously used the pure single-wall bat and now swing the super bat--each player said it was much more fun in the “old days.” One guy who averaged only two homeruns during a season said he now hits about 27 a year.
So, my question is, why did we ruin a good thing? The bats were good enough. Just because technology allows for increased speed and power, is that better? Is it safe?
Steroids increase muscle mass and make a person stronger. Is that better?
We allowed the bat companies to take over the sport. They dictate the game. Everybody buys $365 bats now that will be obsolete in two years. When do we take back the game?
Create A New League
As a result, slow-pitch softball is on a rapid decline. Our most popular league is the parks and recreation co-ed league. Guess what? Composite and multi-wall bats are not permitted--only pure single-wall bats are allowed.
Men’s leagues are going to have to take a stand. Players are not going to voluntarily use a single-wall bat when others are using a super bat. It is like the use of steroids in baseball. If an opponent or a teammate you’re competing with for playing time is getting bigger and stronger, you might likely follow suit to remain competitive--even if it means your long-term health will suffer.
Many serious injuries and even deaths have been attributed to the new-age bats.
A game that is already great really doesn’t need improving. The players in the co-ed league are having a blast. Every now and then two very good teams have an exciting 5-4 game.
Golf is having a similar problem because of technological advances. Some courses are becoming obsolete because the newly manufactured clubs can produce drives 75 yards farther. And those clubs will be outdated in two years also.
The only difference between softball and golf is you’re not hitting the ball at anybody (OK, if you see me play golf, sometimes it may appear I’m hitting the ball at someone).
My suggestion to the folks setting up softball leagues is to try a pure single-wall bat league or even a wood bat league. You will have to weed out a few cheaters and hear some complaints for a while, but then something surprising may happen. You will get more of the average players back who had dropped out. There may even be a few upsets where the next-to-last place team knocks off one of the top teams in a low-scoring game.
But you will also see more players having even more fun. Most of all, that type of play may avoid a serious injury, or even save a life.
Let’s take back the game.
Billy Moore is the athletic supervisor for Gloucester Parks, Recreation & Tourism in Virginia. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.