Congratulations to Louisville softball for appearing on national television for two games this past weekend in the NCAA Tucson Regional. The temperature for both games was over 100 degrees but that didn't seem to bother any of the women participating. Unfortunately the Cards lost both games and came home earlier than they hoped.
Coach Sandy Pearsall has taken the softball team to 11 straight NCAA tournaments, but has yet to advance to the Super Regional. To this observer there is one reason for the teams annual shortfall in the postseason, pitching. The teams that end up at the top at the end of the season are the ones with the dominant pitcher. I must admit that I have seen this before.
In my early years, I played baseball and fast pitch softball. We won a lot of games and tournaments simply because we had a dominant pitcher. But in the late 50s and early 60s, fast pitch interest began to wane as slow pitch became more popular due to the ability of more people to participate. It was simply too difficult for many to hit a ball traveling 60-70 miles per hour thrown from 46 feet. It was also very painful to get hit with a softball moving at that speed. At that distance, it was difficult to move out of the way in time.
In Louisville, fast pitch disappeared quickly as players opted for the more action-oriented slow pitch. The last fast pitch league in town was managed by former Louisville basketball star Jadie Frazier at the old Buechel school. Frazier himself was the last of the great pitchers in town. While the boys moved toward slow pitch, the girls moved in the opposite direction.
In 1992, a lawsuit was filed in the state of Kentucky under Title IX demanding that the KHSAA offer fast pitch softball for girls. The reason was that colleges offered scholarships for fast pitch, and not for slow pitch, therefore denying Kentucky girls an opportunity for an athletic scholarship. The Sixth Circuit of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and, as a result, the Kentucky legislature passed a law that stated that if the KHSAA had to choose between two sports they must choose the one that offers more college scholarships. As a result, the KHSAA agreed to sponsor fast pitch softball.
That was good for scholarships, but bad for participation. It takes much more skill to play fast pitch than slow pitch.
There were other things besides overwhelming pitchers that hurt fast pitch softball. Left-handers had a distinct advantage because of the closeness of the bases (60 feet). I notice the girl's game has the same left-handed 'slap' hitters that were present when I played. They were (and are) so fast that they can hit the ball into the dirt, and beat the throw to first. In the college game, the fences are too close. A pop-up to the outfield sometimes results in a homer because 190 feet is not far enough, in my opinion, for an outfield fence.
I'd prefer if we go back to slow-pitch softball. Heresy you say! I know it will never happen, but think of the fun we'll have watching a slugfest between two good women's teams. Move the fences back, move the pitcher back, spread the bases and sit back and enjoy. You would be surprised at the skill some slow-pitchers have to move the ball. It would allow more girls to play, and reward hitting and defense, not just a good pitcher.
After all, how many women have a career in softball? The new professional softball league in the U.S. is paying players between $5,000-15,000 per year. I don't expect too many to find this as a legitimate opportunity in life. Let's spice up college athletics. My next idea is an intercollegiate flag football league.