Sunday, November 27, 2022

Baseball in French, Lesson 1: La Balle Papillon

Here's a fun little baseball card I came across recently that was issued in 1986 by Leaf, the Canadian counterpart to Donruss.

It hearkens back to fun times for collectors, and for Phil and Joe Niekro, who for a brief period found themselves both playing for the New York Yankees.
The caption on the bottom of the card refers to the Niekros as "knuckle brothers" — fitting as they both threw the knuckleball. But have a look at the French heading on the back of the card.

Frères Balles Papillon is the French translation of "knuckle brothers". Do you know how those French words translate back to English? 

Butterfly Ball Brothers

That's right. The French term for a knuckleball is balle papillon (butterfly ball).

Just think of the way a butterfly travels through the air, and then think of the way a knuckleball travels toward home plate.
Those French folks, I tell you what. They've got a romance for language.
And don't get me wrong, our own terminology of baseball is far from literal and dry. Relief pitchers are housed in the bullpen. A lazy fly ball is a can of corn. A home run is a dinger, a tater, a round-tripper. A pitch that's high and tight is chin music. A swing and a miss is a whiff. A ball hit hard on a line is a frozen rope.

But after I discovered la balle papillon, I did some research to see what other French baseball terminology existed. Turns out they've got a lot good ones, too. I started to wonder if many American baseball fans were aware of them. If not, that would certainly be reason for me to share.
Instead of listing them all here, however, I've decided to make it a series of blog posts. Each post will cover one French baseball term that I think many of you readers and collectors would find interesting, or entertaining, or clever.

And because this is a trading card blog, I'm going to try to add at least one French-inspired baseball card to each post—most likely an Expos player. And most likely an O-Pee-Chee card. Because that only makes sense.

I'll spread out the posts over this coming year, so stay tuned. Or reste à syntonisez.


  1. Butterfly ball is awesome. Can't wait to hear some more.

    1. Right? Stay tuned in 2023, Fuji. There are other good ones coming up.

  2. My French is not very good anymore, but hopefully you'll do "can of corn", because that one's kind of funny when it's translated back from French.

  3. I've loved that card since the moment I got it. I'm a fan of the knuckleball in general, and "balle papillon" is the perfect description of it.