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November 11, 2009
Taiwanese baseball fans outraged by game-fixing charges

Photo: Flickr user hihi_vita

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus, is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei. She writes how a game-fixing scandal has rocked Taiwanese professional baseball.

Unlike Phillies fans who vow for a comeback next season, baseball fans in Taiwan wonder if there is a tomorrow for the island’s beloved sport, as evidence says Taiwan’s pro league is all mobbed up.

The blow came in late October, when Taiwan’s own post-season thrill reached a high. Baseball fans astonishingly found out that many of their most favorite players deliberately lost the game in exchange for payoffs. The scandal hit Taiwan’s pro baseball badly, as it’s not only the largest but also the fifth game-fixing case in the league, since its establishment 20 years ago.

As angry baseball fans flooded to the street and vowed to stamp the mob out of the game, critics argued that the fragile baseball environment ia to blame.

Baseball players in Taiwan are generally underpaid, despite their world-class competence, said Richard Lin, secretary-general of the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association. The situation is especially true for topnotch players. Chin-Feng Chen, the first Taiwanese player who played in MLB, is paid $300,000 a year in Taiwan. Multiply this number by 20, you have the salary of Hideki Matsui when he played in Japan; multiply it by 100, and you get a sense of how much A-Rod earns each season.

While the mobs in Taiwan can easily rake in at least $30 million a season by fixing games, accepting the bribes seems to be an offer many players can’t refuse. In addition, the pro league in Taiwan has no free-agent rights, which pushes many players to go underground.

Still, the authority bears criticism for not enforcing the law against illegal gambling strictly enough. Even worse, it is widely considered that Taiwan’s corrupt political culture has spilled over into baseball and many politicians have been actively involved in the scandal. In some cases, players are motivated not by the carrot, but the stick. A tactic mobs often use is to destroy the fingers of a player and walk away with light sentences under “bodily injury” charges.

Chien-Ming Wang, a Taiwanese-born Yankees pitcher, said Taiwan’s pro league should apply the U.S. system, which assures players’ security so that they don’t need to worry about being blackmailed. He also said that, without a wholesome baseball environment, it’s very hard for Taiwanese players to take the mound on the world stage.

Baseball has been a part of Taiwan’s identity since 1968, when a Taiwanese team won the Little League World Series in Williamsport. At the dawn of the break-off between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Government and the Carter authority, it was baseball that gave Taiwanese a reason to hold their pride.

The Taiwanese version of a “Say it aint so, Joe” scandal has apparently become a political crisis for the government. President Ma Ying-jeou recently stressed that as baseball is Taiwan’s national game, the authority will grant full support, including a $3 million promotional fund, to build an environment free from game-fixing and outside interference.

Whether it works or not, most Taiwanese think it’s worth trying. Watching baseball fall seems too much to bear for the public — after all, the sport carries much more than just scores.

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