Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rough Diamonds

My man Jackson over at East Windup Chronicle has a short blurb on the signing of local lefthanded pitcher Ni Fu-te by the Detroit Tigers:
After what is probably the most ado ever about a fringy left-handed relief specialist, Ni Fu-Te has declined his option to join the CPBL’s Brother Elephants and will sign with the Detroit Tigers (translation tool required). Ni becomes the first CPBL player ever to sign with an MLB team.

Details are as yet undisclosed, and will be announced next week in a press conference in Taiwan. According to Yahoo!, the deal consists of a 150,000 signing bonus, 60,000 yearly salary, and a AAA start (translation tool required). The signing ends weeks of speculation as to whether or not Ni would remain in Taiwan or try his hand overseas.
Taiwan baseball is riding through (yet another) rough patch in the wake of (yet another) game fixing scandal, practically an annual rite in Taiwan's baseball league. This time two teams collapsed, leaving just four in the league. The scandal, which caught one of the owners, dmedia, even forced them to sell off their basketball team.

A few weeks ago in a commentary in the Taipei Times Jackson describes some of the problems Taiwan's teams, and Asia's teams, are facing, and suggests a pan-Asian MLB to counter the threat from America:
The last couple of months of baseball in Asia provided followers with a glimpse of the problems confronting the professional game in the Pacific Rim, as well as the possibilities and benefits that would arise from the creation of a pan-Asian major league consisting of pro teams from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and China. Last month’s Konami Cup — a competitive but ultimately meaningless annual exhibition series featuring champion teams from Japan’s NPB, Korea’s KBO, China’s CBL and Taiwan’s CPBL — showcased Asia’s best pro clubs and highlighted the movement toward international play. But the tourney was played to mostly empty seats, save for a handful of scouts, friends and families of players and a few die-hard fans in the Tokyodome.

Here in Taiwan, this year’s gambling and match-fixing scandal has caused two of the CPBL’s teams to fold, leaving the league on the verge of collapse with just four teams remaining. Meanwhile, Taiwanese fans who will stay awake until 3am or travel halfway across the world just to watch Wang Chien-ming (王建民) pitch a single game can’t be bothered to travel a few hundred meters (or even change the channel) to watch CPBL games.

In Japan, a select few pro teams remain profitable, but most are struggling to stay afloat as fans and baseball brass lament declining interest and an increasing defection of top talent to Major League Baseball (MLB).

At the same time, MLB teams are continuing to comb Asia’s professional leagues and amateur ranks for talent, in some cases signing “agreements” with Asian pro teams that treat them more or less as vassal appendages to the big league clubs. Recently there has been talk of adding an MLB franchise or even an entire division in Asia. But this doesn’t solve the problem for fans of local professional teams and leagues in Asia who want to see quality, homegrown pro baseball.
Read the whole thing; the discussion is excellent. With its low salaries and low level of public enthusiasm, Taiwan baseball could benefit from entering an international framework that could help it upgrade its professional skills and keep the circling gangsters at bay.

UPDATE: this was passed around the ESL job lists a couple of days later:
The Detroit Tigers professional baseball organization is seeking a person who is bilingual in Mandarin/English to act as a companion/translator/English teacher for a male Taiwanese professional baseball player. The ideal candidate is male, fluent in both Mandarin and English, interested in baseball/sports, energetic and able and willing to work flexible hours. For more information call: Sharon Lockwood, 863-413-4101 or send cover letter and resume to:


Anonymous said...

The way you get rid of the gangsters is have legal betting that is regulated. Any irregularities or jumps in the odds will be reported to the police and the league, and the game can be stopped or other measures can be taken. If the gangsters only bet small in an attempt to avoid changing the odds, they don't make any money.

Some things, you can't just solve with more laws and enforcement. Things just go underground. It's like some drugs, you might as well legalize and regulate--what did prohibition give us?

Roy Berman said...

Why in hell is the baseball industry deserving of a government bailout? If people don't care enough about a sport to support it financially, let it die. Particularly for something like baseball, which is a foreign import (introduced by the Japanese incidentally) that follows international rules and has no particular native characteristics. It's not like we're talking about some unique tradition like say, sumo or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Just because a sport is "foreign" or "international" doesn't mean it can't become an intrinsic part of a nation's culture. Soccer and basketball are the two most prominent examples, having transcended their English and American origins to become both international, and the "national" pastimes of many countries. In Taiwan's case, from the Red Leaf and Little League teams of the past and continuing up to Wang Chien-ming today, baseball has been a vehicle giving this island a sorely-needed presence on the international stage. This is what should be taken into consideration when it comes to the issue of possible government support.

Judging from Berman's blog, he of all people should know that while sumo is a unique Japanese tradition, baseball (an American import) matters far more to the average Japanese. And for a sport "that follows international rules and has no particular native characteristics", the differences between the way the game is played in the USA and Japan are significant, and have frequently been pointed out by writers such as Robert Whiting and Jim Allen.

Haitien said...

Roy, the thing is people in Taiwan still like baseball a lot - just not necessarily domestic baseball, which has been tarnished by scandal after scandal, as well as low pay and poor treatment of players. Despite this, the major leagues in Japan and the US still have a large following in Taiwan, as does domestic high school baseball, which is perceived as being cleaner.

Anonymous said...

Roy Berman: right, because good ideas are the sole rights of their inventors regardless of how they are adopted or their popularity or how it is viewed unique to a people in a period of time. I hope Taiwan (as well as that bastard mutt mess of an American culture) purifies itself of all their foreign influences. Americans need to stop playing soccer, all Philharmonics need to be replaced with jazz bands, and rock and roll was a good idea, but it was essentially a cultural invasion by those stuckup British, and the not invented here part about it really makes my blood boil.

Roy Berman said...

This might be my personal bias due to a lack of interest in commercial sports, but I don't see how this talk of a government bailout for Taiwanese baseball is any different than the corrupt and economically worthless tradition of American cities shelling out huge amounts of taxpayer money to subsidize stadiums for local teams.

Anonymous: I'm not saying that Taiwanese can't enjoy baseball, only that I don't see why the government should be involved. Maybe sumo was a bad example, but I do see some difference between rare cultural institutions that might need government help to survive as a kind of museum exhibit, and something like baseball that thrives on its own merit. If the commercial baseball industry in Taiwan shut down tomorrow, there would still be plenty of kids playing baseball, right?

I'm pretty skeptical about the idea that the government should subsidize baseball because of "international recognition." But then again, I suppose many people say the same thing about the arts so maybe there could be a case for baseball. But even if that were a valid case (and I'd like to see it argued properly) there's still a world of difference between maintaining baseball the game and baseball the business.

Red A said...

I don't think a Pan-Asia League will help at all. This is the superstar effect, where the superstars in any profession make bucket loads of money while those lower on the tier will not.

Technology helps this effect along, so Taiwanese may prefer to watch their best play in the MLB against other world class players than watch lower tier teams in Taiwan.

This is even happening in the world of classical music where world class symphonies can broadcast their performances to 100 cities to be watched in a movie theater. Are you really going to watch the local symphony of lesser players? yes, maybe, but don't think they can afford to hire superstars to play for them.

As for gambling, even if you legalize it, the incentive for the player is still there to throw the game and get a pay-off. I wonder how the MLB recovered from the Black Sox scandal?

Anonymous said...

Roy: Skeptical or not, sports around the world, especially Olympic programs, are routinely supported by governments through subsidies, tax breaks, incentives and bonuses and so on. Do you think all such support, which is often carried out in the pursuit of international "glory" or "recognition", should cease? Or, to use yet another Japanese example, should the JOC only provide funds to judo, the one "Japanese" sport in the Olympic program, and let the swimmers, gymnasts, wrestlers, figure skaters and others playing sports without native characteristics get by on their own?

Anonymous said...

@Red A:

"As for gambling, even if you legalize it, the incentive for the player is still there to throw the game and get a pay-off"

You're not understanding the economics of gambling. It don't work like that. If you really want to make money, you need to go in with a lot of money with odds below what people will normally bet at. Otherwise no one will take the other side of your bet. In a transparent gambling operation (this requires it being legal for obvious reasons), the movement in the odds in combination with the large amount of money bet will set off alarms, and you will probably be found out. You know who's doing the betting and how much money. You can't hide. In illegal gambling, with the markets fragmented, only a few bookies will know, and they may be in on the fix.

If you try to go in with only a little money, yeah, no one will know, but you're not making anything from it either.

Just think about how ordinary securities are regulated and the rules for transparency and against insider trading. When there's disclosure, it's, how do you say... a whole different ballgame.

Anonymous said...

Also, I want to point out that gambling already IS everywhere in Taiwan. From mini mahjhong tournies to illegal gambling houses to places that take bets on any event you can imagine (sports, political, Chen Shuibian) to even illegal brokerages (futures)...

@RedA and others the people against legalized gambling: Do you not know about this or do you have a solution for ending the existing gambling? Anybody that really wants to gamble already can...

Roy Berman said...

"Do you think all such support, which is often carried out in the pursuit of international "glory" or "recognition", should cease?"

If I got to make the decision-sure, why not?

Anonymous said...

"If I got to make the decision-sure, why not?"

Well then, there must be many people around the world who are glad you didn't get that chance!

Anonymous said...

I am not against legal gambling - I am for it, in fact.

I see your point where if the market is large enough sudden movements in any large betting attracts attention. I was thinking that in Taiwan it is the actual gangsters who control the betting that also throw the game themselves, but that may not be true at all.

I also live in a part of Taichung surrounded by supposedly "illegal" casinos. So I agree its bizarre to make it illegal when its so widely and openly available.

Red A