Irish Rounders (Burman's Report)
Irish Rounders (Burman's Report)
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(Note: On trips to Ireland in 2012 and 2012, Howard Burman gamely accepted the job of doping out Irish Rounders for Protoball. This is his report.)
Irish Rounders is one of the four official Gaelic Athletic Association sports. Along with Gaelic Football, Hurling and Handball, Rounders was included in the original GAA charter created in 1884. Knowledge about the history of pre–1884 Irish Rounders is vague. There are no known texts available which describe the game. Likely one of the reasons that there is so little known about the game’s origins is that all of the newspapers in Ireland were controlled by the English who were wont not to comment on things Irish.
Of the men directly involved in the codification of the rules of Irish Rounders, the Gaelic Athletic Association had this to say: The GAA was created as “a powerful bulwark against the inroads of alien influences and ideas of existence so as to preserve the dignity and vindicate the prestige of native athleticism and rescue it from humiliating alien influences.” T.W. Croke, one of the founders of the Association in 1884 wrote:
One of the most painful, let me assure you, and at the same time, one of the most frequently recurring, reflections that, as an Irishman, I am compelled to make in connection with the present aspect of things in this country, is derived from the ugly and irritating fact, that we are daily importing from England, not only her manufactured goods, which we cannot help doing, since she has typically strangled our own manufacturing sciences, but together with her fashions, her accents, her vicious literature, her music, her dances and her manifold mannerisms, her games also, and her pastimes, to the utter discredit of our own grand national sports, and to the sore humiliation, as I believe, of every genuine son and daughter of the old land.
Ball playing, hurling, football–kicking according to Irish rules, 'casting,' leaping in various ways, wrestling, handy-grips, top-pegging, leap frog, rounders, tip-in-the hat, and all such favorite exercises and amusements amongst men and boys may now be said to be not only dead and buried, but in several localities to be entirely forgotten and unknown. And what have we got in their stead? We have got such foreign and fantastic fields sports as lawn tennis, polo, croquet, cricket, and the like–very excellent, I believe, and health–giving exercises in their way, still not racy of the soil, but rather alien, on the contrary, to it, as are indeed, for the most part, the men and women first imported, and still continue to patronize them."
Accordingly, Irish Rounders is not related in any way to English Rounders. It is a different game with different rules and playing field configuration. In fact, the supporters of Irish Rounders today make it proudly known that the game is Irish, decidedly not English, and certainly neither derived from nor in any sense related to cricket. In this respect, perhaps it is similar to the early days of baseball in America when anti-British sentiment mitigated against cricket and helped foster the popularity of base ball as “America’s game.”
The GAA asserts (without documentation) that in fact American baseball is derived from Irish Rounders: “Indeed it is now generally accepted that Baseball is derived from Rounders in some form or other, as it has been played on this island for a couple of hundred years now and was probably brought over to America by the early settlers.” Perhaps. However, Irish Rounders may have been a back formation from baseball. Certainly in the 19th century, Irish immigrants made up a large portion of the professional baseball players. It is not inconceivable that one or more of them took the game with them when they returned to Ireland, and since it was an American and not an English game, it was embraced. Nevertheless, the current leadership of Irish Rounders in the GAA insists that their game pre-dates baseball although there does not appear to be available evidence to support this.
The GAA is part of the Irish consciousness and plays an influential role in Irish society that extends far beyond the basic aim of promoting Gaelic games. The Association has its headquarters at Croke Park in Dublin where it has been based on a full time basis since 1908. The stadium has a capacity of 82,300 and hosts some of the highest profile events in the Irish sporting calendar. Irish Rounders does share many similarities with the New York game of the 1840s and 50s. Players wear no protective equipment, use no gloves to catch the ball, and pitch the ball with an underhand motion. There are, however, many differences, most of which are described below. Perhaps the most distinctive difference is that that the batter doesn’t have to run on either of his first two hits. So, in some ways, there is more strategy in Rounders. To run or not to run? That is the question.
In regulation Rounders games the foul lines must be at least 230 feet long. The four bases are placed about 82 feet apart.
The batting area is marked by a large rectangular box 13 feet deep by 7 feet wide. A line across the center of the box divides it into two equal squares—a batter’s box and a catcher’s box. Each of the bases is 25 inches square. A pitcher’s “stand” is also 25 inches square and is located 39 feet from the home base.
Pitchers, although delivering the ball with an underhand motion, generally throw as fast as possible.
A batter cannot encroach on the catcher’s box and the catcher cannot enter the batter’s box until the ball is in play. Although the catchers receive the ball directly from the pitcher without the ball first hitting the ground, they play several feet behind the batter so as to give them a better chance to chase down foul balls.
The round bats cannot be more than 2-3/4 inches wide and no longer than 40 inches or less than 28. The ball used is a hurling ball (that is, a ball used in the Irish game of hurling) called a “sliotar.” It weighs between 3.4 and 4.6 ounces and is between 8.9 and 10 inches in circumference and has raised seams. (Note: a regulation baseball must weigh between 5 and 5-¼ ounces and be 9 to 9-1/4 inches in circumference.)
No spikes or gloves are permitted. The ball must be caught with the bare hand. Fielders are permitted to wear helmets with face guards, primarily to protect themselves from the raised-seam ball, but few players do.
Only three substitutions may be made in any game. However, a temporary substitution can be made for a blood injury and only a blood injury. With any other type of injury after the three substitutions have been made the team must play shorthanded.
The infield players are referred to as “minders,” i.e., first base minder, etc.
The games are generally played to 5 innings. Seven inning games are used in All Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Finals and Finals. In the event of a tie at the end of the regulation innings, two additional innings are played to decide the winner, beginning with the first batter on each team. If the sides are still drawn, then the team which has won more innings is declared the winner.
The pitcher can take up to two steps onto the pitcher’s stand and deliver the ball underhanded, but must remain in contact with the pitcher stand when the ball is released. The ball must pass over home base between the batter’s knee and shoulder. If the ball is outside this strike zone, it is declared a bad ball. On a bad ball, the ball is dead and the batter cannot run. If a pitch hits the ground, bounces, and is hit by the batter, the call is also a bad ball.
On the third bad ball (not necessarily in succession), the batter is sent to first base, and all runners advance one base each whether forced or not. If in the umpire’s opinion, a pitcher deliberately delivers three bad balls, then each of the batters and runners is permitted to move up two bases. This is to encourage “good sportsmanship” by giving the batter every chance to hit the ball.
Each batter is entitled to three good pitches before being required to leave home base. That is, he does not have to run after hitting the ball on either of the first two good pitches, unless he chooses to do so. On the third hit, the batter must run.
On the third good ball which the batter hits foul he is declared out.
Any foul ball is a dead ball and no play can be made.
If, on a third good ball, the batter fails to hit the ball and the catcher holds the ball before it touches the ground, then the batter is out, and runners may try to advance and may be put out.
If, after hitting the ball, the batter leaves the batter’s box on a first or second hit, then he must continue to first base and cannot return to the batting position. The batter has to run on the third hit.
The ball is not in play until it is hit, or has passed, as a good ball, over home base.
Base stealing is not permitted.
If a batter hits the ball and does not run, then runners on base may not move to the next base unless it is the third good ball, or there is a catch. Runners may not leave the base until the ball is in play.
Despite the formalization of the rules in 1884, there is no evidence that Irish Rounders was played much until 1958 when several teams were formed in Dublin and Belfast. In 1970 a Primary Schools Rounders Championship was established and was soon followed by Senior and Minor Championships played across Ireland. Today there are about 30 Senior Teams playing regularly and many more youth and school teams. Some of the teams are mixed teams, where boys and girls, men and women play on the same team. Organized leagues operate throughout the playing season which runs from April to October. Rounders is clearly gaining in popularity yet it pales in popularity to Gaelic football, Hurling, and Handball. Still, it maintains a hard core of enthusiastic supporters who believe as a “limited contact sport it is perfect for both recreational and competitive play. It also draws on a different set of skills than the conventional GAA games and is very good for developing hand- eye coordination.”
Addenda, April 2013
 A spare webpage on Irish Rounders is at http://www.gaa.ie/about-the-gaa/our-games/rounders/.
 A note on Irish Rounders’ Scary Brush with Politics
In a separate note, Howard relates that the GAA, which oversees Irish Rounders and three more prominent sports, was deemed a “dangerous” entity by the British a century ago, leading to a banning of all Gaelic sports in 1920. In response, 54,000 countrymen organized “Gaelic Sunday,” when, at exactly 3PM games (including Irish Rounders) broke out all over the place. Not many of the world’s safe-haven ballgames have endured such dramatic collisions with politics. -– Larry McCray