Baseball Through Babelfish: Our Sport As Translated Through Foreign Languages


Baseball rules are pretty good, but would they be better if they were translated into multiple languages and then back into English? (Hint: they would not.)

Last week in the top-secret Baseball Nation chat room, I proposed a thought experiment to my fellow baseball enthusiasts: what if we were to take the Major League Baseball rule book firmly in our hands, feed it through Babelfish to translate it into foreign language, and then translate it back? How would the game of baseball change? What would it be like?

I proceeded by selecting passages of the rule book, translating them into Spanish and back, and then translating those results into Japanese and back. (I chose Spanish and Japanese because the results were, for the most part, somewhat complete sentences.) As you might expect, the results were terribly confusing.

This, according to the translated-and-deciphered rule book, is what the playing field looks like.


Area of the driveway is square of 90 feet. The field which you opened is area between two unpleasant lines which are formed and like diagram 1. [...] It is close, to be closest the beginning to the thing, interval of the basis of disturbance of support or other things of the territory the right is 250 feet more or. 320 feet or in the unpleasant line, and 400 feet or many intervals to the central garden are more desirable. Area of the driveway is described as the low line and handmade edition are level. Edition of the bottle is 10 inches of level of handmade edition. [...] remainder of area is the unpleasant territory.

- Babelfish translation

Yep. The infield is a driveway, which carries the implication that baseball is played in front of someone's house. The pitcher's mound is "the hill of the point," which sounds like a really boring chapter of The Hobbit. The way I'm reading it, there's a bottle on the mound. A bottle of handmade edition. So, like, rum?

Spencer Hall suggested to me that the pitcher is to take a swig of the bottle with every out. This would probably mean that no pitcher would last more than four innings. This would probably also mean that the fourth inning would be a ton of fun.

I wonder what's in the unpleasant territory. I'm picturing worms, bologna sandwiches, and the dried spat-out toothpaste your roommate leaves in  the sink. Your mileage may vary.

Let's move on to the baseball itself. What does the ball look like?


Sphere is the sphere which is formed by the scar of revolution, around the basis where the material of the cork of the rubber make is small or, the tableware set to which two leather strips of Hakuba which is sewn securely have been attached connects resembled.

- Babelfish translation

This ball presumably weighs more than the baseball we're used to, because it involved Che Guevara, and that's some heavy shit, man. Also, yep, it has some silverware strapped to it. At some point during the make-believe evolution of this imaginary game, there may have been some sort of relationship between home plate and the silverware. Did baseball begin as a dinner-table game? Goodness.

Anyway, this ball would be a real bummer to have to throw.

We move on, then, to the strike zone. Or, as this translation calls it, the Zone of Assault.


As for zone of assault [...] horizontal ones which are inferior are the upper limit where it is the line of the sky under the rhombus. As for zone of assault because the slope is prepared in order to make the pivot of the sphere where position of the slope was thrown it solves.

- Babelfish translation

So what are the rhombus and sphere about? Not sure. My guess is that the strike zone also includes those two areas. Like the strike zone is an archipelago or something. If the pitcher can manage to throw just outside the plate and at head level, it's a strike. That's kind of neat, although it seems like it would be a nightmare for an umpire to call. This nightmare also involves miniature clones, apparently. Look, I'm doing the best I can.

Seriously, that translation sounds like the Old Testament trying to tell you how to construct a basketball goal.

Of all the rules in baseball's rule book, the infield-fly rule is often among the most difficult for a newcomer to the sport to comprehend. Indeed, the rule is over 200 words long in the 2011 edition. Trust me, the translation of this rule would be impossible to illustrate or diagram without, like, a supercomputer, a space telescope, and a bong. I'll spare you the unreadable full text. Just know that these exact phrases pop up in the translation.

  • "First one takes worry in second"
  • "The sine which will be nervous"
  • "Worry of area of the profit"
  • "The bottle of the landscape architect"
  • "If it becomes the sphere whose shock is unpleasant, it handles the same 輩 and opposes." (輩 is a mysterious character for which Babelfish has no translation.)
  • "It is unpleasant sphere."

All told, I am really glad we don't play a variant of baseball in which a fork and spoon are strapped to the ball and the infield is some guy's driveway and the strike zone looks like Hawaii. It was really smart of Alexander Cartwright not to run the rule book through multiple translations. Also smart: baseball gloves, which I'm pretty sure Babelfish thinks are condoms.

I know all of this is hopelessly confusing and nonsensical, but this is what you asked me to do. You didn't? Well, hell. Listen, man, I'm really sorry.

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