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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Say it ain't so, Shin

Baseball is the national sport of Taiwan. Having been introduced to America's pastime by the Japanese, the Taiwanese have done well at the game, from their champion Little League teams which dominated play throughout the 1970's (even if the rules weren't always strictly adhered to) to the handful of local players who have reached the Major Leagues, most notably Wang Chien-ming 王建民 and Kuo Hong-chih 郭泓志, who was selected for today's All-Star Game (he pitched ⅔ of an inning, giving up an unearned run and walking a batter). There is a professional league in Taiwan consisting of four teams - Brother Elephants, La New Bears, Sinon Bulls and Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions. Unfortunately for the Chinese Professional Baseball League 中華職業棒球大聯盟, there has also been a long trail of gambling-related game fixing scandals which has dogged the league from time to time (see Wikipedia). The most recent of these came to light at the end of the 2009 season, and has ensnared a former Japanese manager, as this Kyōdō News 共同通信社 article in Japan Today documents:

"The Japanese former manager of a Taiwanese professional baseball team pleaded guilty Tuesday to game-fixing and fraud. Appearing at the Panch'iao 板橋 District Court in T'aipei County 台北縣, Shin Nakagomi 中込伸 pleaded guilty to five counts of game-fixing after confessing on June 25 to the offenses, which took place in 2008 and 2009 and led to the prosecution of some of Taiwan’s most prominent baseball players. Prosecutors are seeking an 18-month prison term for Nakagomi. Nakagomi, 40, admitted in April to one count of game-fixing, but he told the court Tuesday that he hoped his full confession will allow him to return to Japan as soon as possible to care for his daughter. But he may also face a substantial fine after the Chinese Professional Baseball League and two participating teams, the Uni-President Lions and the Sinon Bulls, said they would seek a combined NT$370 million (about $11.5 million/¥1.02 billion) in compensation from those convicted. Nakagomi pitched for the Hanshin Tigers 阪神タイガーズ in Japan and Taiwan’s Brother Elephants before taking up managing with the Elephants in 2008. Judgment is due to be handed down on Aug. 17."

In the USA, there was the infamous Black Sox Scandal during the 1919 World Series, and the game of 野球 in Japan suffered through the Black Mist Scandal 黒い霧事件 of 1969-1971, but baseball in both countries has long since recovered, and the sport remains as strong as ever. In Taiwan, however, the corruption seems more deep-rooted, and despite the vows to clean up the game every time new allegations of match fixing are raised, the scandals keep on occurring. Attendance is down, teams have disbanded and the interest of local fans is drawn increasingly toward the Majors. No wonder professional baseball in Taiwan is in a (permanent?) state of crisis, with its very future in doubt.

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