Rounders/Townball Research Documentation

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Quoted from "Fun and Games in Old Europe"
by Walter Endrei and László Zolnay;
Corvina Kiadó, Budapest, 1986 (ISBN 963 13 2386 2); pp. 110-111

Rounders and Other Ball Games with Stick and Bats

A common feature of team ball games described so far is that the two opponents strove to reach for identical but opposite goals. An ancient, often involved operation is concealed behind another family of games, which perhaps originally was not even played with a ball. Gyula Hajdœ sees the origin of round games as follows: "Round games conserve the memory of ancient castle warfare. A member of the besieged garrison sets out for help, slipping through the camp of the enemy. The destruction (overthrow) of the courier to whom the task had been entrusted entails the surrender of the castle (change of positions). The person entrusted with the servant's role (server) is the spy of the enemy who wants to further the overthrow of the besieged garrison."*

We may be of the opinion that these "hitting" ball games, which were universal in the Middle Ages, have disappeared entirely. This is far from true; in the Balkans they are still played by children, and in the USA baseball has become a national game, as cricket in England. In Hungary several variants of rounders exist in the countryside. In the Middle Ages, however, there was hardly a country where it is not certain or highly likely that some version of it was practised. The English head the list: they can pride themselves on the first picture of club-ball (thirteenth century). According to Strutt, cricket, to which we shall return, probably derived from this game. Trap-ball, on account of its start-similar to tip-cat which is known to have existed from the fourteenth century- can be considered a secondary development. American baseball is, in the last resort, a variant of rounders, which survived almost unchanged until the last century.

One of the Dutch games, kaatsspeel probably got its name from the chasse, or sections marked out on the ground in tennis (see page 100). Among the several types of Dutch kopfspeel there is one like rounders, and another has become a game played in couples, and it is in connection with that game that the word golf was first mentioned.

German Schlagball ("hit the ball") is also similar to rounders. The naive claim that these games "have remained the games of the Germanic peoples, and have won no popularity beyond their countries" quite obviously does not accord with facts. It is enough to quote the conclusion of a description of "hit the ball" by H. Guarnoni, who had a medical practice in Innsbruck around 1600: "We enjoyed this game in Prague very much and played it a lot. The cleverest at it were the Poles and the Silesians, so the game obviously comes from there." Incidentally, he was one of the first who also described the way in which the game was played. It was played with a hard leather ball and a club four-foot long. The ball was tossed by the bowler who threw it to the striker, who struck it with a club rounded at the end as far into the field as possible, and attempted to make the circuit of the bases without being hit by the ball. If "one of the opposing players catches the ball in the air, a change of positions follows".

A more exact, although later description of rounders is also available. "Home" base was in one corner of the regular pentagon where the ball was hit and the running started. The "bases" were in the other four corners and formed refuges for the runner, which later gave the name of baseball to the game. The player who threw the ball stood in the centre of the five-cornered court and the player receiving the ball or striker, could refuse it three times. If he hit a catch he did not need to be hit while running, as he had lost a point in any case. If he reached one of the bases safely, he stayed there while the bowler could then throw the ball to the next striker or batsman, but-since he himself belonged to the team that was fielding-he was entitled to try and hit the previous player when he ran to the next base. The game was complicated by the rule that two batsmen could not enjoy the safety of the same base at the same time: one was out, or if one of the fielders hit the post of the home base towards which a striker was running. A number of special rules also existed, for instance that the bowler was allowed to run into the home base if all the players in the other team were still on the way round and the first had not yet returned to the home base.

The hitting of the home base was a special element in this game, and it became the central feature of the most refined of the medieval rounder games-cricket.

* Hajdü, Gyula, "Magyar népi játékok gyüjteménye" [Collection of Hungarian Folk Games]; Budapest, 1971.

Townball Rules
codified in 1858 in Dedham, Massachusetts

Dedham Rules

  1. The ball must weigh not less than two, nor more than two and three-quarter ounces, avoirdupois. It must measure not less than six and a half, nor more than eight and a half inches in circumference, and must be covered with leather.
  2. The Bat must be round, and must not exceed two and a half inches in diameter at the thickest part. It must be made of wood, and may be of any length to suit the striker.
  3. Four Bases or Bounds shall constitute a round; the distance from each base shall be sixty feet.
  4. The bases shall be wooden stakes, projecting four feet from the ground. Sliding into the stakes is not permitted. If this occurs, the player will be called out, and sides will change.
  5. The Striker shall stand inside of a space four feet in diameter, at equal distance from the first and fourth stakes.
  6. The Thrower shall stand 35 feet from, and on a parallel line with, the striker.
  7. The Catcher shall not enter within the space occupied by the Striker, and must remain upon his feet in all cases while catching the ball.
  8. The Ball must be thrown - not pitched or tossed - to the Bat, on the side preferred by the Striker, and within reach of his bat.
  9. The Ball must be caught flying in all cases.
  10. Players must take their knocks in the order in which they are numbered; and after the first inning is played, the turn will commence with the player succeeding the one who lost on the previous inning.
  11. The Ball being struck at three times and missed, and caught each time by a player on the opposite side, the Striker shall be considered out. Or, if the Ball be ticked or knocked, and caught on the opposite side, the Striker shall be considered out. But if the ball is not caught after being struck at three times, it shall be considered a knock, and the Striker obliged to run.
  12. Should the Striker stand at the bat without striking at good balls thrown repeatedly at him, for the apparent purpose of delaying the game, or of giving advantage to the players, the referees, after warning him, shall call one strike; if he persists in such action, two and three strikes. When three strikes are called, he shall be subject to the same rules as if he had struck at three fair balls.
  13. A player, having possession of the first base, must vacate the base when the Ball is struck by the succeeding player, even at the risk of being put out. If two players get on one base, the player who arrived last is entitled to the base.
  14. If a player is running the bases and is hit by the Ball thrown by one of the opposite side before he has touched the home Stake, and while he is off a stake, he is considered out.
  15. A player, after running all the bases, and on making the home bound, shall be entitled to one tally for his team.
  16. In playing all match games, when one is out, the side shall be considered out.
  17. In playing all match games, one hundred tallies shall constitute a game. The team scoring one hundred tallies shall be declared the winner.
  18. Not less than ten or more than fourteen players from each Club, shall constitute a match in all games.
  19. A person engaged on either team shall not withdraw during the progress of the match, unless he is disabled, or by consent of the other party.
  20. The Referees shall be chosen as follows: One from each Club, who shall agree upon a third made from some Club belonging to their Association, if possible. Their decision is to be final, and binding upon both parties.
  21. The Tallymen, or scorekeepers, shall be chosen in the same manner as the referees.

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