THE END OF BASEBALL IN FRENCH.

Another goodie via Derryl Murphy, “Expos’ move marks end of baseball era in French,” by Christopher J. Chipello of The Wall Street Journal:

For more than three decades, Jacques Doucet was the French-language radio voice of Major League Baseball.
Many Montreal baby boomers grew up listening to his mellifluous descriptions of lanceurs staring into home plate, frappeurs swinging for the fences and voltigeurs tracking down fly balls at la piste d’avertissement, or warning track.
But the Expos migrated south and started playing this spring as the Washington Nationals — the first move by a major-league team since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers 33 years earlier. That meant the disappearance of big-league baseball in French from North American airwaves.

Mr. Doucet and other announcers from the Expos’ early days were more than just broadcasters. They also helped hone modern French baseball lingo, polishing terminology that had been adapted from English over the course of a century.
A 1935 French-English lexicon put out by the Societe du Parler francais au Canada rendered the game, literally if awkwardly, as jeu de balle aux buts, and featured such quaint translations as batteur risque-tout (literally, daredevil batter) for “slugger” and gardien de but, (goalkeeper) for “baseman.”
In 1969, the Expos’ first season, the brewery sponsoring the team hosted a symposium for journalists and commentators to hash out terminology for le baseball. The recommendations included such colorful and enduring turns of phrase as balle papillon (butterfly ball) for “knuckleball” and vol-au-sol (theft at the ground) for “shoestring catch.”
But in a game of tactical nuance and long pauses, it often fell to the radio play-by-play men to figure out how best to paint word pictures in respectable French. Over the decades, Mr. Doucet, a former newspaper reporter who switched to broadcasting in 1972, became the acknowledged master of that art.
When Mr. Doucet described infielders moving to serrer les lignes de demarcation in the late innings of a close game, listeners would envision the players hugging the foul lines to guard against an extra-base hit. And if a frappeur de puissance (as sluggers are now known) hit a fleche (an “arrow,” or line drive) into the right-center field allee, listeners held their breath to hear whether the coureur (base-runner) would round third base and file vers le marbre (dash toward the “marble,” or home plate).
Mr. Doucet, “created the perfect words” to bring the action to life, says Jean Lapointe, a popular Quebec entertainer who is now a member of Canada’s Senate. “The quality of his language in French was incredible,” says Mr. Lapointe, who used to have aides record games during his stage performances so he could listen to them later…

A wonderful piece of nostalgia, both baseball and linguistic.
Incidentally, there’s a tornado watch over the Berkshires for the next hour, so if the house gets reduced to a pile of bricks, there may be a delay in posting…
Update. No tornado, just a rainstorm. And I was all prepared to blog from the cellar, too.

Comments

  1. Richard Hershberger says:

    It may be a wonderful piece of nostalgia, but it isn’t exactly accurate. This isn’t the end of baseball in French unless you subscribe to the curious parochialism that ‘baseball’ is the same thing as ‘major league baseball’. Even apart from any amateur efforts, there is still professional baseball in Quebec: http://capitalesdequebec.com/french/

  2. Yeah, it occurred to me that my title was doubtless inaccurate, but I liked the apocalyptic sound of it. Thanks for the Quebec link!

  3. Richard Hershberger says:

    The title touched on one of my pet peeves: the equation of ‘baseball’ with ‘major league ‘baseball’. A lot of interesting stuff has gone on and continues to go on outside MLB. My other baseball peeve is the implicit assumption that everything before 1901 doesn’t count. For a good time, state within my hearing that the 1962 Mets are the worst major league team in history and watch me jump up and down and froth at the mouth. (My current research, by the way, in on the Philadelphia Athletics of 1877 to 1879, after they were ejected from the National League following the 1876 season: both 19th century and non-major league.)

  4. I’m with you all the way (and in fact I seem to recall we’ve shaken hands on this matter over in Wordorigins). You should put your research online; I love reading about old baseball. And I get indignant when people reach back beyond the Mets and mock the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who had the worst record in history — those palookas weren’t the real Spiders! The Spiders’ owner, Frank Robison, had decided that a good team would draw better in St. Louis than in Cleveland, so he bought the hapless St. Louis Browns and transferred all the good Spiders players there (renaming the team the Perfectos). In the words of this site, “Pitching great Cy Young, batting champion Jesse Burkett, and all the other Spiders stars were replaced by minor-leaguers and semi-pros.” It was a rotten thing to do to “the team that had won the Temple Cup, predecessor to the modern World Series, only four years before.” The Spiders should be remembered as one of the best teams of the ’90s, not as history’s laughingstock.
    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!

  5. Richard Hershberger says:

    “You should put your research online”
    I am currently aiming for some SABR publication or another, but it will be available one way or another.

  6. This is a dfficult topic to discuss because baseball is really not a French or French Canadian phenomenon. I’ve known enough French Canadians in my life to tell you that.

  7. You mean you’ve known enough non-baseball-fan French Canadians. The baseball fans can be pretty rabid, but of course they feel as beleaguered as American curling fans.

  8. Richard Hershberger says:

    I have a soft spot for curling. I enjoy imagining that I might wake up some day and deciding that I want to compete in the Olympics, and that curling would be my path to glory. Undoubtedly it is much harder than that and top-level curling is a brutal, cut-throat competitive activity. But I enjoy the fantasy.

  9. Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals (the Dodgers AAA team) in 1946. I remember reading somewhere that Branch Rickey thought it would be easier on him in Montreal.

  10. Although a Red Sox fan through and through, I often listened to the Expos in French on nights when the Sox were off. It used to be possible to get Jacques Doucet’s Expos broadcasts in the Boston area when atmospheric conditions were right and AM radio reception was better. Obviously that was before all radio broadcasts were available online. Thanks for the nostalgia.

  11. Not is it not the end of baseball in Quebec, it isn’t even the end of Major League Baseball in French. Réseau des Sports regularly carries MLB games.

  12. I’m glad to hear it!

  13. Omy Blight says:

    I remember hearing Evangeline League games in Cajun down in Louisiana back in the fifties; the Abbeville Athletics, the New Iberia Shrimpers (or something like that), and the Thibodeaux teams I believe had Cajun announcers.
    Anybody know if they still do baseball games in Cajun down on the bayous?

  14. ivan arceneaux says:

    found this link while researching evangeline league baseball for memoirs i’m writing …i was 6 years old when the Evangeline began with 6 teams in 1934 and followed them to their demise in 1957 … Dad had downtown Vermilion Barber Shop where the players congregated … Andre Dubus, the author played for the Lafayette Bulls and has a couople of short stories about that team … yes, baseball is still played in cajun country, but it’s now done by LSU Tigers, ULL Ragin Cajuns, McNeese Cowboys … with softball spice added at the above universities as well …
    thanks for heariang me out …

  15. What great reminiscences! I’m glad you found the thread and felt like commenting.

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