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Since the inception of softball in 1887, the rivalry between the earlier-established baseball (known then as hardball) and its younger sports sibling in baseball. The debate between which sport is more difficult lasts until this day, as does the bantering back and forth to which one is physically harder. The answer is not as simple as you may think.
Softball and baseball balls are incredibly similar in almost every way. Because of the differences in their core material and their sizes, the softball is technically softer than the baseball. This is mainly due to the force used to compress the ball compared to the ball’s diameter.
Do not let the name or that fact fool you, however. Though technically softer, the softball is still very hard. It is also bigger in diameter and able to travel far and fast, so being hit by one will not feel any better than being hit by a “harder” baseball.
The Basics – Softball and Baseball Construction
Softballs and baseballs are both made of multiple components. A baseball generally has four parts and a softball three. They have three similar features – a center, cover, and seams. The additional feature within a baseball is the winding – which is an extra layer of material surrounding the center.
The components themselves are the most significant contributors to the hardness of the balls. Of course, the way the balls are formed and compressed adds to the ball firmness, but the materials set the stage for the differences between these two similar pieces of sporting equipment.
Let’s get into what exactly those components are.
- Center – Sometimes with a baseball, the center is also known as “the pill.” The core of the baseball will always be round and is made of corks covered in rubber. In the Majors, the cork is surrounded twice by rubber coverings.
- Windings – As it sounds, the windings are a softer material that is wrapped around the center. The material quality or the amount of the winding is often higher in baseballs that cost more. The windings can be made of materials like cotton, poly-cotton, or wool. The different layers of the windings are of varying thickness levels. There are generally four layers in even the most bargain of balls, and the first layer is always the thickest. The layers get thinner, the closer to the surface you get.
- Cover – On the outside of the baseball, the material often differs depending on what it will be used for. Game balls are usually made with a covering of two separate pieces of leather (likely cowhide) colored white and cut into figure-eight strips that are then stitched together. Practice balls often have a different material coating them, like rubber or synthetic leather.
- Seams/Stitches – Due to their sphere shape, the seams are all made by hand, and the seams come in either raised or flat grading. The raised seams are more accessible to grip. Though not always the same number of stitches across the board, all MLB baseball balls have 108 stitches to hold together the 9-inch ball.
- Center – Softballs do not usually have a cork center but a polyurethane one. This core gives the ball a more hollow sound when hit off the bat. It also makes the ball more bouncy and flexible, causing deformities when hit hard enough. On certain occasions, the center could be made by cork.
- Cover – Softballs are covered by one of three types of material – leather, synthetic, or rubber. The chosen covering is then glued or cemented (with rubber cement) to the ball’s core. The ball’s color varies depending on the use of the ball, the league being played in, and the manufacturer. The greenish-yellow color most associated with softballs is generally used for NCAA and similar competitive leagues.
- Seams/Stitches – As with baseball, the stitches hold the separate parts of the softball covering together. They also use different colors for the seams of other leagues. The seams are also available in raised and low-profile seams. What is known as slow-pitch softballs have flat seams and are easier for players to throw further and more accurately. Fast-pitch softballs are those with raised seams. They have better grip potential, which allows for better control.
Coefficient Of Restitution (COR)
The COR is best described as the bounciness of the ball. This is the ball compression rating and is what determines the hardness of each ball. The COR value is assigned when the balls are compressed into their spherical shape. The different diameters are what makes the ball different degrees of stiff and rigid. Because baseball is small and has extra layers, the compression makes the ball a harder piece of equipment.
Softballs seem softer because they have a high COR value due to their bigger diameter. Essentially, the COR measures the speed the object can retain after hitting a more substantial object. The bigger the ball, the higher the COR value combined with the compression value, and bam – you have the ball’s elasticity/hardness.
The balls’ compression can also change with temperature and humidity, as can the number of times it encounters a solid object. This is one of the reasons why so many balls are used during higher league games.
Which hurts more – a baseball or a softball?
Please make no mistake about it. A softball hurts when it hits you. Though they more technically are softer than a baseball – that is the science and not an invitation. The answer depends much on outside factors, and frankly, if the two balls are thrown at the same speed, angle, and all other factors being equal, they will be a comparable pain. Being bigger, the difference is that the softball will leave a more significant mark.
Does a baseball or softball go further?
Because of its makeup and general size, baseballs will go further than softballs. Due to the tighter compression, the core, and its COR values, baseballs explode off the bat in a way that a softball never can.