Little did George Hancock know in 1887 that when he transformed a boxing glove into a ball and a broken broom handle into a bat that he would create a sport enjoyed by millions of followers worldwide more than 100 years later. First known as "indoor baseball," the All-American sport of softball has become an international phenomenon and has earned both its former Olympic status and its fandom among general sports enthusiasts.
Though softball is played by children and adults of all ages and genders, the sport has given women with athletic abilities the chance to shine. Since 1895, women's softball leagues have flourished; and the most famous softball players are women. Those women include:
- Vicki Schneider, a softball Hall of Famer in St. Louis, who played in the International Women's Professional Softball League during its 1976-1980 years.
- Jenni Finch, perhaps the best-known softball player, who pitched the United States softball team to gold during the 2004 Olympics. Like many softball legends, Finch got her start playing in California elementary and high school leagues before going to college. At the University of Arizona, she helped the Wildcats dominate softball in the state. In addition to her many television appearances and work as an ESPN correspondent, Finch has also lent her name to a line of popular women's softball equipment.
- Lisa Fernandez, an incredible pitcher who led the United States team to back-to-back gold victories at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Fernandez backed up her .22 ERA average with impressive offensive statistics, regularly batting .382 and in her junior year at UCLA, hitting for an NCAA-leading .510 average.
- Michele Smith, another famous softball player, has a pitching arm that has earned her fame not only in the United States, but on the international stage through her stunning Olympic performances and as a pitcher in Japan's Professional Softball League.
- Cat Osterman, born in 1983, may be the best-known of the young and famous softball players. She became the first of only two softball pitchers in NCAA history to have more than 2,000 registered strikeouts. She also helped Finch and the rest of the U.S. softball team earn Olympic gold in 2004. Her outstanding performances have also earned her not one, but two Sports Illustrated covers.
Other names include Dot Richardson; Crystal Bustos; and Joan Joyce, a softball legend who currently coaches the Florida Atlantic University Owls to impressive win records each year.