If you think softball is just a “women’s version” of the great American pastime of baseball—well, think again.
Fastpitch softball is one of the most widely played sports in the world, with tens of millions of active participants in various age groups. But the origins of this beloved sport and the charismatic athletes who helped it achieve prominence in the mid-twentieth century have been largely forgotten, until now.
Fastpitch brings to 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 diverse as it is fascinating. Though it’s thought of today as a woman’s sport, fastpitch softball’s early years featured several 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 women were allowed to play competitively, it took on added importance for female athletes. Top fastpitch teams of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, such as the New Orleans Jax Maids and Connecticut’s Raybestos Brakettes, gave women access to employment and travel opportunities that would have been unavailable to them otherwise. At a time when female athletes had almost no prospects, softball offered them a chance to flourish. Women put off marriage and moved across the country just for a shot at joining a strong team.
Told from the perspective of such influential players as Bertha Ragan Tickey, who set strikeout records and taught Lana Turner to pitch, and Joan Joyce, who struck out baseball legend Ted Williams and helped found a professional softball league with Billie Jean King, Fastpitch chronicles softball’s rich history and 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 unique American sport and the role it plays in our culture today, Fastpitch is as entertaining as it is inspiring.
"A fascinating look at the little-known story of fastpitch softball, and the women who dedicated themselves to it for the love of the game. From the old industrial leagues to today's international competitions, here is the rollicking, unlikely, and totally absorbing story of an original American sport."
– Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd
“Every baseball player knows about Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, and every softball player should know about Bertha Tickey and Joan Joyce. I love reading about the history of our sport and about the legends of our game. The opportunities that I had playing this great sport are because of athletes like Bertha, Joan, Jeanne Contel, and others. Every softball player should read this book and learn about their sport. ”
– Laura Berg, Olympic gold medalist in softball and head softball coach at Oregon State University
“Fastpitch is hidden history at its most intriguing. Through the story of women’s softball, Erica Westly offers unexpected insights into business history, feminism, American social history, and the politics of sports. At the same time, she focuses on the competitive drive of women who wanted to excel on the playing field and the barriers that stood in their way. It’s a classic American tale.”
– Jack El-Hai, author of The Nazi and the Psychiatrist and past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors
“Erica Westly’s Fastpitch is a fun and entertaining read for people of all ages. Team sports were my first love, and Fastpitchimmediately brought back wonderful memories of playing softball at Houghton Park in Long Beach, California, winning the 15& Under championships on my softball team, and then later working with legends of the sport to start a professional softball league. The history is well documented and the storytelling is completely enjoyable!”
– Billie Jean King
“Fastpitch is A League of Their Own for the softball set. Erica Westly takes on the power plays and girl power moments on and off the field.”
– Lily Koppel, bestselling author of The Astronaut Wives Club
“Fastpitch whips through the surprising history of softball and the remarkable women who played it. From rival leagues to cringeworthy news coverage to incredible athletic feats to the shifting politics of playing the sport, Westly gives readers a thorough tour of decades of figure eight wind ups, rise balls, and fast pitches.”
– Rachel Swaby, author of Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World
"Fastpitch tells you the untold story of softball in a stunning and creative way. A must read for anyone who loves the sport!"
– Jonathan Fader, author of Life as Sport
“Fill[s] a yawning gap in the literature. It’s especially strong at conveying how popular, at times, the game has been as a spectator sport. . . . The author draws fine profiles of some of the sport’s legendary figures . . . its great teams . . . and, especially, a cultural climate that has often been unsupportive of, if not antagonistic toward, those gifted, dedicated athletes.”