Chicago Style Softball Rules & History

Chicago-style softball is similar to the standard game of softball played competitively and recreationally around the country. However, there are some major differences in the rules and fabric of the game that make it very different. Players who are new to Chicago-style softball are usually taken aback and wonder why they are not playing standard softball. However, if you grew up playing the game, you couldn’t imagine playing softball any other way.

Ball Size

1.        The most notable difference between Chicago softball and standard softball is the size of the ball. The Chicago softball is 16 inches in diameter, compared with the 12-inch standard-size softball. The ball is huge by comparison, and those who have played a lot of 12-inch softball have a tough time making the switch. It’s difficult to throw and it can be difficult to hit for distance. OSSO will provide all balls for game play.

No Gloves

2.        Fielders are not allowed to wear gloves while playing Chicago-style softball. While the ball is large and can be caught with two hands, playing barehanded will punish infielders who have line drives hit at them in the first two innings. That’s because the ball is very hard the first two innings or so, but once it gets hit around for a while, it softens up. That’s of little comfort to a first baseman who has to catch a steaming throw from a shortstop who is trying to throw the batter out at first. Many players will suffer hand and finger injuries as a result of catching hard line drives or throws from infielders.


3.        Pitching in Chicago-style softball is also quite different than standard softball. Instead of pitching from the mound or the rubber, the pitcher is allowed to take a sideways or backward jump off the rubber and pitch from where he lands. He cannot be closer than the pitching rubber, but he can create a different angle to pitch from in order to confuse the batter. The pitch is a high-arching pitch that will be called a strike if some part of the ball crosses the plate between the batter’s shoulders and knees. If the pitch is over the batter’s head but drops sharply so a small part of the ball dips to shoulder level at the rear portion of the plate, the pitch is called a strike. This will occasionally cause problems for hitters, but the game is primarily noted for players who can drive the big ball tremendous distances.

Pitch Count

4.        A batter gets only 4 total swings in Chicago-style softball. If a pitch is a called or swinging strike and the second pitch is fouled off, the player gets one more foul before being declared out. You only get four opportunities to swing the bat, and if you can’t put it in play by the fouth swing, you are out. If a pitcher throws four balls, it’s a base on balls.

No Stealing

5.        Players are not allowed to steal bases and they are not allowed to take leads.


OSSO Coed 16 inch Softball Rules

  1. A “strike mat” will be used to determine balls and strikes. If the softball touches ANY PART OF THE MAT on a legal pitch (6’-12’ arc), it will be considered a strike. Pitches touching any part of the plate CAN BE considered a strike as well at the discretion of the Ref due to the arc of the ball (Because of the small size of the strike mat and the difficulty of pitching, the OSSO has increased the strike zone to include the plate to promote teams to swing more and give pitchers a larger target.) **IMPORTANT DISTINCTION** The strike mat is only used for calling balls and strikes. The strike mat is not home plate. Therefore, when a runner is trying to score, he or she must touch home plate in order to score. If he/she touches the strike mat and not home plate, and then is tagged, the runner will be tagged.
  2. All batters will start with a zero ball, zero strike count.
  3. If a batter is walked on 4 straight pitches, they get a two base walk. Runners on base can only advance if forced to. Any other walk with at least one strike is a one base walk.
  4. 4 Non-Balls instead of strikes & fouls being separate
    1. Called strikes, “Swinging” strikes & Fouls all count as a “Non-Ball”
  5. All games are seven innings or 50 minutes (warm up time included); the last inning will start 10 – 15 minutes to the hour. The ump will enforce this rule and will make the call at the top of the final inning. If a game is tied at the end of seven innings, extra innings will be played only if there is time. If there is not time (at least 10 minutes left in the 50 minutes), the game will end in a tie. Note: Due to differing circumstances in each and every game, some games will finish short on an hour in length, while others might run over the hour mark. Please respect your ump’s call in this matter. He/she must keep all games on time in fairness to teams playing later hours and due to facility permit restrictions.
  6. 10 players (at least 4 females) in the field at all time. (THERE ARE NO POSITION REQUIREMENTS of any players, i.e. there need not be 2 females in outfield and 2 in the infield) OSSO rules will allow a team to play with a minimum of 8 players (at least 4 females). If only 4 men & 4 women are present at game time, that team will only be able to have eight defenders. If a team has less than the minimum required number of players it is up to the opponent’s captain as to what is allowable during the regular season.
  7. Everyone bats; however, 3 players of the same sex cannot kick consecutively until all other players of the sex in the minority have had an at bat. (ex: M,M,F,M,M,F… until all Females have batted). Once everyone has batted through the order, there may be cases where multiple members of the same sex will bat consecutively because of the end of the lineup starting again at the top of the order.
    I.E.  M, M, F, M, M, F or M, F, M, M, F, M, Etc., etc., etc.
  8. All players in the field must be listed in the batting order. There are no designated hitters allowed. Any attempt at doing so must be brought to the attention of the umpire prior to game time and can only be deemed allowable by the opposing captain.
  9. Game mercy rule: 10 runs up after five complete innings at the discretion of the losing team captain and/or the Head Ref.
  10. Games start on time!!! Teams must be prepared to play.Forfeit rule: 10 minutes after game time. If one team has less than the minimum number of players (8 total-2 females) at ten minutes past the designated start time, the team that is short players will forfeit. If however, the opposing team wishes to allow the team to play with less than the minimum amount of required players, the game may be played as a pickup game. The Head Ref must be notified by the opposing team that they would like the game to be played as a pickup game.
  11. Base runner to defensive player contact will be closely watched by the ump. Any excessive contact or collision will result in an “out” and/or ejection. This includes contact with the catcher. Sliding is allowed. Any sliding into a base to break up a double play, or any intentional (in the eyes of the monitor) interference with the defensive player, the runner and the batter will be called out.Defensive players may not impede the progress of the runner and a base runner might be awarded a base instead of an out at the discretion of the Head Ref.
  13. A foul ball above the batter’s head may be caught for an out.
  14. All thrown balls are deemed out of play when:
    · The ball is thrown over the fence
    · The ball is thrown beyond the fence
    · The ball is thrown beyond the imaginary line extending from the end of the backstop (if there is no fence).
    · This imaginary line applies to overthrows and caught fly foul balls.
    · If the ball is overthrown and hits the fence behind the 1st or 3rd base lines but does not travel out of play, this is NOT considered out of play and the runner may advance, BUT at his/her own risk.
    · On overthrows out of play, the runner is granted the base he/she is going to (at the point of the throw) plus one more base. Note: in cases where a base runner runs past first base, he/she must make a clearly aggressive turn towards second base to be granted 2nd and 3rd in overthrow situations.
  15. On an infield fly (any fly ball within the infield with significant arc and deemed an “easy catch”) with less than 2 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd or 1st, 2nd and 3rd, the batter is automatically out and runners can advance, BUT at their own risk.
  16. In certain facilities a home run rule may apply. (consult with your Head Ref and/or OSSO)
  17. Bats will be provided by OSSO for Chicago Style Softball Leagues. No other bats may be used during gameplay.
  18. 5 innings will be considered a complete game for weather/darkness.
  19. If a game is called due to weather, and less than 5 innings have been played, the game will be restarted from the beginning.
  20. If a game is called due to darkness, and less than 5 innings have been played the game will resume from the exact point at which it was stopped. i.e. same count, same batter, same base running situation.
  21. OSSO Sports & Social reserves the right to change or modify these procedures on a case by case basis, if necessary.
  22. Agreements prior to game time between the captain and OSSO staff are allowed to modify a regular season game to allow for more social play. (Slap the bag, Slosh-ball, etc). Both team captains must agree on these rules and any player may opt out of participation if alcohol consumption is involved.
  23. All teams will make the playoffs and it will be a single elimination tournament that may or may not include BYEs awarded to the top seeded teams based on the number of teams in the league.



During the regular season games are to be played within time allotted (warm up time is included).


A Head Ref will be provided by OSSO Sports & Social to supervise the game. It will be the umpire’s responsibility to coordinate and run the games, which include the following tasks:

· Starting games on time.

· Calling outs, making final calls on any disputed balls or strikes.

· Settling all disputes or disputed calls.

It is understood that Refs will assist in the tracking of the score (i.e. Announcing it between innings) and assist in any discrepancies with regards to the coed line-up ratios. However, it is the responsibility of both teams to maintain their respective line-ups and scores each inning.

Each team must provide at least two base refs each week to help the head ref with Out/Safe & Fair Foul calls. The base refs will need to pay attention, but the Head Ref has the right to overrule any base ref on a call they see clearly.




A version of softball that originated in Chicago, IL.

It is played just like regular softball with a few exceptions:

•        The ball is considerably larger and a bit softer than a normal softball.

•        The ball is stitched together much differently than a normal softball.

•        Since the ball is so large, gloves are not permitted (the ball is so big, it would never fit in a glove anyway) and the ball must be caught with your bare hands. According to a friend from Chicago (who introduced me to the game), this is because the people who invented the game could not afford to buy gloves.


The greatest game ever created, and one that anyone can play. Essentially the same rules as regular softball, but the addition of the larger 16″ ball changes the game dramatically. The role of the pitcher is almost nullified, essentially reduced to serving up meatballs for the batters to hit. Because anyone can get a hit, the ball is always being put into play and a strikeout is truly the sign of a talentless hack.


The other main departure is the fact that gloves are not to be worn, under any circumstances. This may be a little tough on the hands, but it is seriously more fun. The original reason that no gloves are used were to make the game as cheap to play as possible. To many poor Chicago families the cost of gloves and other equipment would have been impossible to pay, so

Chicago softball reqires only a ball and a bat. To many old-school Chicagoans wearing a glove while playing softball is an absolute cardinal sin.


Chicago style softball was so popular in the 1930s that the Windy City Softball League was formed and the games drew thousands of people from around the city. In 1977 for the first time the Chicago Park District allowed players to use gloves in the summer league that played in Grant Park. Columnist Mike Royko was so incensed that he sued the city. Royko claimed that allowing people to wear gloves “runs contrary to the spirit of 16-inch softball and unfairly penalizes those with talent and calloused hands and gives an unfair advantage to those with tender and well-manicured hands.” Apparently the judge hearing the case was old-school too because he ruled in favor of Royko and gloves were not allowed.