In Athens in August, Olympic Softball reached a new level for players and spectators with various rule changes and innovative ideas new to the game. Although the game of softball was enjoyable to watch already, it was suggested that possibly the game could include more offense and to initiate new ways to speed up the game.


Rules to add more offense included moving the pitching plate from 40 to 43 feet, allowing the batters more time to adjust to the pitch following the release by the pitchers; instituting an intentional walk whereby the pitcher could notify the plate umpire to award the batter first base without pitching; the number of warm-up pitches between innings for a pitcher was reduced from five to three (in the first inning or when new pitchers entered the game, five warm up pitches were still allowed); the tiebreaker was moved up to take effect at the top of the eighth inning (instead of the top of the 10th as was the case in Sydney), and outfield fences were moved from 200 to 220 feet, which spread the outfielders and allowed more balls to fall between them. Home runs still prevailed, but the addition of more doubles and triples added to the excitement of the games.


But probably the most visible new innovation used at the Olympic Softball competition was the 25-second clock. Two were located on the field – one behind the home plate area for the pitcher and fielders to follow, and the other on the centerfield scoreboard where the batter, catcher, and spectators could observe. American football has a clock to limit the offense in the time used between plays, basketball has a clock whereby the offense has to shoot the ball within a period of time, so why not softball?


International Softball Federation (ISF) President Don Porter came up with the idea and I devised the rules governing its operation. During the Olympic competition the clock was administered at the Umpire-In-Chief’s table behind the home plate area by Deputy Director of Umpires Henry Pollard.


The rulebook states that a pitcher must release the ball within 20 seconds from the time they receive it. Although the 25-second clock is an increase of five seconds, time had to be allotted for the offense to provide a signal to the batter and any runners (10 seconds), and this leaves 15 seconds for the pitcher to release the ball.


During the offensive time allotment, the pitcher can be taking the signal from the catcher and be ready to step onto the pitcher’s plate, once the plate umpire signals that they can step. This signal will not be provided until the batter is ready. If the batter exceeds the ten seconds, a strike will be assessed without a pitch being thrown. The batter must leave one foot in the batter’s box, and the coach giving signals must remain in the coach’s box during this same ten seconds. If the coach steps toward the batter without time being called, an offensive conference will be charged. During the last five seconds of this ten-second period, the offense cannot call “time,” and if requested, it will not be granted by the umpire. Time can only be granted during the first five seconds, unless there is an emergency such as dust or dirt in the eye, a ball from another softball diamond comes on the playing field, etc.


The average time between pitches at the Olympics was 17-18 seconds, which was actually below the original 20 seconds allotted the pitcher by rule. No violations were called at the Olympics, which indicated that the pitchers had practiced with the clock prior to arriving at the games. The clock was used at the Jr. Women’s World Championship in Nanjing, China last year and will continue to be used in all men’s and women’s World Championships in future years.


Yes, you can say this new innovative idea was a success, just like the Olympic competition was a success in 2004.


Merle Butler is the ISF’s Director of Umpires and a member of the ISF Hall of Fame.


(This article appeared in the Sep.-Dec. 2004 edition of World Softball magazine, Volume 32, Number 3)