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Newcomers to the games played on diamonds may be unaware that the bats are very different in baseball and softball.
No respectable league would allow use of a baseball bat in a softball game. In fact, all recognized youth, college and adult softball leagues follow strict rules regarding the size and types of bats used ~ and baseball-sized and -shaped bats are never among those allowed for use in softball.
Perhaps there are rogue leagues that allow baseball bats to hit fastpitch or even slowpitch softballs; but we are unaware of them. There are unorganized, sometimes casual leagues with weird or different rules, though.
There are many reasons for the differences, which we examine below.
The key difference between baseball and softball bats is the barrel size. If you could only judge what type of bat it is from a distance, if it has a barrel much thicker than the handle, it’s a baseball bat.
Softball bats are shaped more like longneck beer bottles ~ where the barrel is still larger than the thin handle, but the thickened barrel part is consistent throughout the length. That is, the entire barrel is cylindrical.
Baseball bats continue to enlarge from the top of the handle, almost to the end of the barrel, kind of like an elongated funnel. This is especially true of metal bats, which sometimes have barrels looking oddly oversized.
However, all baseball leagues have limits to the size of the barrel, by circumference. (The biggest MLB barrel can be 2.75 inches in diameter; adult softball bat barrels cannot exceed 2.25 inches).
Softball bats also tend to be lighter in weight, though in terms of lengths and weights, softball bats don’t have to be much different than their baseball counterparts. Typical adult softball bats are 34 inches long, maybe 28 to 30 ounces in weight. Basically, a little smaller than baseball bats overall, but large, strong softball players can go up in weight.
Baseball bats have evolved much since their first appearance in the mid-1800s, starting as pretty much a long stick, and slowly being crafted into the version we see today. The changes are because players wanted help hitting a small round object coming at them at a high rate of speed, with a round bat.
So the barrels got bigger. There were other improvements, too, like thinner handles, tape for handles, and a knob at the very end to help with control, but overall the baseball bat’s barrel grew to help with the very hard sports act of hitting a fast-pitched little ball.
Softball came along much later than baseball, and when fastpitch was invented, game creators found that it was best for the pitcher to be closer to home plate compared with baseball (in high school and college softball it’s 43 feet, compared with 60.5 feet for baseball). Because of the nearness, softball batters must react very fast to strike the oncoming ball.
So the bats tended to be lighter. Because softballs were so much bigger, the big barrel was not needed to help with contact. The key for softball was bat speed, not slugging for distance (though today’s top softball players certainly can do that; their hitting styles have developed much like top baseball players today).
So basically it’s a matter of this:
- The smaller the ball, the bigger the bat barrel.
- The bigger the ball, the smaller the bat barrel.
- Then shave off a little weight also, and you have softball bats ~ even those used in adult softball leagues.
Anyone who’s tried to hit a softball with a baseball bat will realize, there’s hardly a benefit to it. Baseball bats tend to be more end-loaded, or heavier toward the end of the barrel, so they are harder to control through the hitting zone. The bigger barrel does not help much, except maybe to help prevent missing a pitch entirely.
Vice-versa, using a softball bat for fastpitch baseball is ill-advised. Not only is it much harder to do, considering the smaller barrel, but they are not manufactured to withstand the hardness of a baseball and therefore are very prone to damage. They are called “soft” balls for a reason; the interior string inside baseballs are wound tighter, so the ball is much harder.
As long as the league allows it, you can use a baseball bat for softball. However, we’re not sure a league exists with such rules. Basically, both types of bats are carefully designed for their particular games. Baseball bats have larger barrels, and are generally heavier in weight. They are not necessarily good to use in softball play, even if the rules allow it.
Question: Why don’t they change softball rules to allow use of baseball bats?
Answer: See above. A problem with baseball bats for use in softball is that bigger barrel size, and the closeness of the pitcher (and maybe even infielders). Broadly, it’s a safety matter. Generally, allowing bigger bat barrels could dramatically shift the balance between offense and defense. Fastpitch softball is a pretty cool game all to its own; why fuss with it?
Also, it might be noted that many fastpitch softball enthusiasts want the game to be different than baseball. A lot of people would oppose rule changes to make softball more like baseball in terms of the play.
Q.: What about wood baseball or softball bats?
A.: Wood bats are very rarely used in softball games, both fastpitch and slowpitch. For wood baseball bats, the same rules and concerns outlined above apply whether the bat is wood or metal.