Taiwanese baseball gets another chance at redemption

Tim Daiss
Chih Kuo 300x193 Taiwanese baseball gets another chance at redemption

(Getty Images)

Taiwan loves its baseball as much or even more than Japan and perhaps even the US, which has competing loyalties from pro football and the NBA. But it has been rocked in recent years by scandal and corruption that sent several players and even a politician to prison for fixing games.

Now, Taiwanese professional baseball has another chance at redemption. This time it comes from one of its own, Taiwanese-born Hong-Chih Kuo, a 32-year old, 6’2”, 240-pound former Los Angeles Dodger relief pitcher, who is expected to join the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s (CPBL) Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions in the near future.

Kuo, a southpaw, made his big league debut in 2005, becoming the fourth Taiwanese player to break into the Majors. He was an All-Star in 2010, posting a 1.20 earned run average (ERA) for the year.

His last Major League appearance for the Dodgers was on September 24 2011. The next month Kuo had to undergo surgery on his left elbow for the fifth time. In December and apparently in light of his nagging elbow problems, the Dodgers declined to renew his contract. The same month he became a free agent, signing a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners. However, the following March the Mariners released him during Spring Training.

Local media in Taiwan said that Kuo will become a “billboard pitcher” with the Lions in the foreseeable future, as both Kuo and the team have almost finished negotiations and may sign an official contract soon. Observers said that if Kuo signs with the Lions, he is expected to boost CPBL box office sales.

Yet, this year’s CPBL box office sales were the second-highest in the league’s 24-year history according to CPBL data, with average attendance reaching 6,226 fans per game as of September 20, just under 1992’s record high of 6,878 fans per game, the third year the league was in operation.

Just the possibility of Kuo’s signing is a welcome respite from a video that went viral in early September, showing a CPBL umpire grabbing the throat of a team manager after a balk call and an angry exchange. It will also help divert attention away from the more seamy side of Taiwanese baseball.

Last February, a CPBL coach and his wife were investigated after allegedly passing on information about his team’s strategy to what Taipei-based reporter Cindy Sui called “gangsters.” Sui said that in a sign of how widespread the problem has become, people chatting about the incident online were not surprised and are resigned to the fact that gambling is very much a part of baseball culture in Taiwan.

In an effort clean up the game, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou established a national task force comprised of the ministry of justice and the national police administration that will create anti-corruption units. Sui said that corruption has shrunk the CPBL to just four teams, has put teams at risk of losing corporate sponsors which will hurt the income of teams and the sport in the long term, and is also driving away fans that are turning to Major League Baseball (MLB) as more Taiwanese and other Asian players join its ranks.

So pertinent questions remain: Can former big-leaguer and native son Kuo give his country’s baseball league a much needed boost, and if so, will it be short term or can it help give the league new direction? Moreover, can Taiwanese baseball thrive or even exist as corruption allegations and corresponding negative press hound its existence?

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  • Jason Duncan

    Interesting and somewhat eye-opening post… what about baseball in mainland China? Do they play the Taiwanese teams?

  • JJL

    No, not a chance. I believe China would rather send players to minor league and expect them beating Taiwan in official games. (e.g. the nightmare for Taiwanese in 2008 Olympic.)

  • Jason Duncan

    Then it’s purely political, like everything else.

  • JJL

    mm..not exactly I think. Honestly, it’s not an efficient way to improve the competitiveness in Baseball by sending players to CPBL, if China sincerely want to advocate Baseball or even try to threat Japan, Korea or Taiwan in Baseball. BTW, if China is not willing to develop baseball, the conditions(salary, prospect…) of CPBL don’t provide enough attractiveness for Chinese players.

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